I took a look at my social media accounts during a break between meetings earlier this summer and found a flood of posts from people congratulating me on completing my first year at Wheaton.
The encouragement was great. To be honest, the attention on my one-year anniversary surprised me, because I hadn’t noticed the approach of that particular milestone. I’ve been too busy enjoying the past 12 months—really getting to know the college, the inspiring people who are part of Wheaton, and the incredible accomplishments of our community.
One thing the past year has reinforced for me: Wheaton has what the world wants. When experts weigh in on what matters, such as the Gallup poll on college experiences that lead to fulfilling lives, they describe what we offer. Rigorous academics, faculty and staff who get to know students well and support them, a focus on providing experiential education, such as internships and research—that is what we do exceptionally well.
Other colleges know of our reputation for excellence. From the balanced curriculum project of the early 1980s to the Connections Curriculum launched in 2000, the college’s educational programs are pioneering and ahead of the curve. More recently, our makerspace, the WHALE lab, has inspired great interest beyond the campus. The Hearst Foundations awarded Wheaton $100,000 to create a large, open workspace in the Science Center that will quadruple our existing makerspace and create room to house state-of-the-art equipment, including a laser cutter, a computer numerical control (CNC) mill, a programmable loom and additional 3D printers. The Sherman Fairchild Foundation granted the college $500,000 to expand the model across campus, and other liberal arts colleges are starting to open their own centers to facilitate student creativity.
The most compelling thing, however, is the many ways in which Wheaton people contribute to creating a better world. This is particularly important to me. Throughout my career, I have consistently focused on the importance of giving back to our communities and to the world as a whole. I strongly believe that by working together to give back, we strengthen the college as well as the communities in which we work. Plus, working together gives us a shared purpose and can be a lot of fun.
In July, I joined incoming students, current students, their parents and graduates volunteering at the San Francisco Food Bank on a Saturday morning. The next day, I met up with another Wheaton group helping out at the first one-day “Back 2 School” shopping event for children in need in Los Angeles. In both locations, we worked, and we had a great time, getting to know each other better and contributing some energy to creating stronger communities.
Service is one of the more obvious ways in which Wheaton is changing the world, but the college’s impact in creating change goes far beyond that. In fact, it starts right here on campus with faculty and students working together on research and scholarship. Examples abound: the study of the ways in which public art reflects changing societal views of history, theater productions that spark conversation about critical issues, developing standards for using computers to analyze historical financial records, studying the geological processes of other planets in the solar system, investigating the mercury contamination of waterways, and exploring new methods of testing for water pollution.
I could cite so many more examples on campus and from among our extended community of Wheaton alumnae and alumni. Consider the many businesses that exist and thrive because of the insight, energy and creativity of the college’s graduates—from the cutting-edge bakery Dancing Deer founded by Trish Karter ’77 and the online fashion marketplace launched by Sam Sisakhti ’05 to Beth Ann Caspersen ’96, who works for the fair-trade coffee company Equal Exchange, and honorary degree recipient and former trustee Virginia Weil ’65, who has worked to promote international understanding between government and business leaders.
When you step back and take a look, the college’s record for generating change is amazing. It’s something Wheaton has done well for a very long time, and it continues to be an essential part of the college’s mission. The world clearly needs and wants what we do.
As the new academic year begins, I’m looking forward to seeing and being involved in contributing to the many ways that the Wheaton community will change the world for the better in the years ahead.