Presented to Connecticut College alumnae and alumni
by President Katherine Bergeron
Saturday, June 4, 2016
It is wonderful to be with so many generations of Conn alumnae and alumni this weekend and to learn about the many places your Connecticut College education has taken you. We have people here from an incredibly wide range of professions: in addition to proud mothers and fathers, and grandmothers and grandfathers, there are among us current and former teachers, musicians, dancers, artists, entrepreneurs, doctors, professors, research scientists, and people involved with many aspects of the law. There is also at least one air traffic controller, someone who specializes in luxury expeditions, a magistrate, and a former president of this College from the class of 1966!
Some of you have traveled great distances to come here this weekend, as well, and we appreciate that. You have flown in from Costa Rica, Belgium, the United Arab Emirates, the UK, and Canada, as well as from Hawaii and Alaska. But the winners of the long distance travel award this year, I think, are Carolyn Dean, class of 1991, and Christopher Selby, class of 1986, who have come all the way from New South Wales, Australia. For another kind of long-distance award, I also have to mention Priscilla Wescott Huber, from the class of 1941, who is here in the audience today celebrating her 75th reunion! Thank you all for being here.
Year of Transformation
This has been a year of transformation for Connecticut College. It began with a bang: with the announcement of the spectacular $20 million gift from Robert Hale, class of 1988, and his wife Karen Hale. This gift is so important for our future: half of the total — $10 million — will support new endowed financial aid resources; the other half is designated to enhance our career program and to improve our athletic facilities. I wish you could have been there back in September when we announced the news. There were hundreds of people gathered outside of Shain Library on a hot Indian summer afternoon. A cry of astonishment went up when we revealed the amount of the gift, and another cry of joy when people learned how much was being designated for financial aid. It was a truly great day for this College.
This has also been a historic year in other respects. Just a few days before that announcement, we marked another milestone when we celebrated the College’s 101st convocation. That’s right, it was one hundred years ago this academic year — in the fall of 1915 — that Connecticut College opened its doors for the first time, with 3 buildings, 151 students and 17 faculty members. At this year’s convocation we welcomed almost 40 new faculty, coaches, and staff members, along with about 500 new first-year, transfer, and return-to-college students. The newest students are well traveled and well spoken: they came from 6 continents, 31 different countries, and 28 states, and they collectively speak 37 Languages, from Arabic and Armenian to Persian, Polish, Portuguese and Pushto. 35 of them had parents or grandparents who attended Conn. 65 were the first in their families to go to College. It was the most diverse first-year class we have ever admitted. And I must say that the class of 2020 looks equally promising. We saw a 14% increase in applications in January and so this year was one of the most competitive admission cycles in recent history.
Our new students are arriving at a very special time in the history of this country, when major questions are being raised about the core values of equity and inclusion that undergird our social fabric. And they are arriving at a very special moment in the history of this college — when, in light of these questions, we, too, are re-examining our core values as an educational institution, strengthening our approaches to liberal education, and developing these into a strategic plan for our future. I want take a moment this morning to give you a sense of these larger initiatives, while also highlighting a few notable accomplishments of our students, faculty, and staff in the past year.
Let me start with one of the biggest accomplishments: our new approach to liberal arts education. I think you all know we completed an award-winning library renovation last spring. And as that project was underway, our faculty was hard at work at an equally transformative renovation: rebuilding the Connecticut College curriculum. It has been utterly inspiring to watch this project unfold. I’ve worked at many fine institutions during my career, but I have never known a faculty as deeply committed to excellence in teaching and learning as the faculty at Connecticut College. And this new curriculum is a reflection of that excellence.
It is, I like to say, a bold new venture in integrative education. We call it “Connections,” and it’s pushing us to take our mission statement even more seriously. We say that our mission is to teach students to “put the liberal arts into action”; we say that we should be producing leaders capable of addressing the complex global issues of our day. How do we accomplish that? Our faculty essentially said: you have to create the structures — the connections — that will lead students to understand such complexity: that means the connections between the different disciplines and languages they are studying; between what they are doing in class and what they are doing in the world; and, most importantly, between their lives in College and their lives after College.
That’s exactly what our new curriculum is designed to do. It starts with a strengthened first-year experience, supported by a more robust, team-based advising system. It continues with a redesigned sophomore year when we ask students to formulate a critical question (What is the most interesting thing you have wondered about in life and what would you want to do about it?). The question helps them choose a major but it does even more than that: it leads them to the central feature of the new curriculum, what we’re calling the integrative pathway. The pathway is a set of interdisciplinary courses and other experiences curated around a central theme (Examples: a pathway in public health; a pathway in entrepreneurship; a pathway in sustainability; a pathway in peace and conflict). It’s a vehicle that will allow students to explore their question over the next three years. In the junior year, students extend that exploration through internships and research in the community and across the globe. In the senior year, they tie it together in an integrative project.
The point is: every student will master the art of complex problem solving. every student will put the liberal arts into action in a unique and special way. Most importantly, every student will be given the tools to participate fully in the life of the College, to reach their full potential, and to contribute to the flourishing of others. I like to think of it as the new liberal arts for our interconnected world. It’s going to launch officially with the class of 2020.
There are many reasons why Connecticut College has invested so much in this new curriculum. An education in the liberal arts is, as you know, an education for life. Its purpose has always been to prepare students for lives of leadership in a democratic society; to develop the intellectual, social, and imaginative capacities that will produce vibrant and thoughtful citizens.
But the world we inhabit today clearly calls for a different kind of citizen. As I was saying to our admitted students in the spring: this is a very important moment in history to be a college student. We are confronting some of the most difficult challenges of our time: challenges that threaten our families, our schools, our neighborhoods; challenges that threaten our economies; and challenges that threaten the very idea of democracy, and our ability to live and work meaningfully together as a society. Students across the country are aware of these challenges and asking the toughest questions.
At Connecticut College, we want to produce citizens who are ready to not just to ask but also to answer these questions. That means citizens who have the curiosity, the creativity, the perspective, the tolerance, the empathy, and, ultimately, the courage to address the complex issues that divide us on a national and global scale. And that’s exactly why we want them to seize the power of the liberal arts: to grapple with the questions, the languages, the biases and beliefs, the ways of speaking and knowing that will connect their education to the world, and, in that way, make a world of difference. That’s what our new “Connections” curriculum is all about.
It’s a remarkable development that has generated excitement both on and off campus. In fact, in April we learned that the Endeavor Foundation, a private foundation in New York that supports higher education, will be awarding us $800,000 — one of their largest grants ever — to help us put our new curriculum into action over the next three years.
The strengthening of our educational programs is at the center of the second ambitious project we took on this year: a new strategic plan for Connecticut College. I want to tell you a bit about that now.
We embarked on it October, with the help of a very a broadly representative planning committee made of students, faculty, and staff from all areas of the College. We were also supported by a great group of consultants: Keeling & Associates. With their help, we spoke with hundreds of people on campus; conducted focus groups and other meetings with alums; pored over the thousands of survey responses from students, faculty, staff, alumni, parents, and trustees. . . In the end, after sifting through all this input, we identified three broad priorities for our future:
to enhance our academic distinction
to enrich the overall student experience
to support a vibrant, just, and sustainable College
There are 8 headline goals associated with these priorities:
- Education: we want to become a national leader in innovative, integrative education.
- The Arts: we want to advance the College’s pre-eminent position in the arts.
- Research: we want to expand faculty and student research opportunities.
- Career: we want to establish the premier liberal arts career program in the U.S.
- Athletics: we want to heighten the competitiveness and success of our athletic programs
- Campus Life: we want to deepen opportunities for student engagement and leadership in the 4-year residential experience
College and Community
- Full participation: we want to support a truly diverse campus, where every student, faculty, and staff can participate fully in and contribute to the life of the college
- Sustainability: we want to steward and develop the College's natural, physical and human resources in order to create an ever more sustainable institution.
This, of course, is just a high-level summary. But even at this level, you can see that it's an ambitious agenda. Accomplishing it will be critical for ensuring the success of this College for the next 100 years. During the summer, we will be working on the last phase of the planning: the timeline and costs of the specific initiatives that we will undertake to put these goals into action. So stay tuned — and stay in touch. I look forward to bringing you more news in the fall. Your support will be so important for our success.
Faculty & Student Achievement
The whole purpose of planning like this is, of course, to advance the distinction and standing of our already great college. And so let me close today by speaking about some of the good things that have happened in the past year that reflect this distinction. I’ll start with Athletics.
It was a good year overall for the Camels. Three of our teams made it to the quarterfinals of our elite conference, the New England Small College Athletic Conference. They were: men’s soccer, women’s ice hockey, and, for the first time ever, women’s basketball, who were 17-7 this year, their best record in over two decades. In indoor track and field, the men’s distance medley relay qualified for the NCAA Division 3 Cross Country Championship. And our men’s and women’s swim teams sent nine swimmers to the NCAAs. The women finished #15 in the nation. The men finished at #20. Coach Marc Benvenuti was named NESCAC Men’s Coach of the Year.
Continuing on the water, our co-ed sailing team qualified for the Intercollegiate Sailing Associations National championship in San Diego, which took place just last week: they started as an unranked team and amazingly finished 15th in the country. There was good news for rowing, too: the women’s varsity four took the gold medal at the New England Intercollegiate Rowing Association Championship in April. And, finally, our women’s water polo team won the Collegiate Water Polo Association Division III Championship for the fourth year in a row. Senior Kelsey Millward was named Division III Player of the Year. And Matt Anderson was named Coach of the Year.
But these successes represent just one kind of recognition earned by our students and faculty in the past year. There were just as many notable academic achievements. Here are a few of the faculty successes that come immediately to mind:
Eileen Kane (History) won a very competitive summer fellowship from the National Endowment for the Humanities to develop her new book on the history of Muslim migrations.
Leo Garafolo (History) was awarded a fellowship from the University of Connecticut’s Humanities Institute to work on his new book on black European sailors, soldiers and traders to the Americas.
Bruce Kirmmse (Professor Emeritus of History) won $225K from the National Endowment for the Humanities to continue his massive research project on the journals of the Danish philosopher Soren Kierkegaard. This is the 6th consecutive grant he has received from the NEH for this project.
Derek Turner (Philosophy) was awarded the Fulbright Visiting Research Chair in Philosophy of Science at the University of Calgary, Canada. He’ll be there for part of next year to work on his book on evolution.
Jennifer Fredricks (Human Development) won a fellowship from the Nellie Mae Education Foundation to join a new research collaborative on student-centered learning.
Martha Grossel (Biology), along with a team of three students (Joe Donahue ’16, Franky Santana ‘18, Jermaine Doris ’19), won third place in a national competition sponsored by the National Institutes of Health to raise public awareness about sickle cell disease. This was the only winning team from a liberal arts college.
And now that I’m speaking of students, let me keep going, for their accomplishments are as impressive as the faculty’s:
Brandy Darling ’19, won a very competitive Critical Languages Scholarship from the U.S. State Department. She will be traveling to Dalian, China this summer to advance her linguistic and cultural fluency.
Simon Luxembourg ’18 won a grant from the World Jewish Congress to develop programming to promote understanding of Israel’s history and culture.
Annette Davis ’18 and Emma Race ’18 won a $10,000 fellowship from Davis Projects for Peace to develop childcare services in Quito, Ecuador
Juan Flores, a very talented artist from the class of 2016, and scholar in the Ammerman Center for Arts and Technology, won a coveted Mortimer Hayes Brandeis Traveling Fellowship, which provides $20,000 for him to advance his craft in Mexico next year.
And, finally, this spring, 6 of our students were awarded Fulbright Fellowships for next year: they are Kaitlin Cunningham ‘16 (to Republic of Georgia); Jessica Durning ‘16 (to Thailand); Taryn Kitchen ’16 (to Mexico); Stephanie Reeves’16 (to Russia); Leela Reisz’16 (to Spain); and Kevin Ith (to Azerbaijan). This success, which reflects the College’s longstanding commitment to global education, positions us once again as a top producer of Fulbrights in the nation.
So, as you can see, these are exciting times, with a lot to be proud of, and a lot to look forward to. And I want to end by thanking you for the extra inspiration have given us through your contributions to your class gifts and to the Connecticut College fund this year. I cannot say enough how important this is for the College. The Connecticut College Fund is still the most direct vehicle through which you can ensure that the College you love will flourish and thrive in its second century.
Again, thank you for being here. Thank you for the joy you’ve brought back to campus. Thank you for your love of, and your loyalty to, this great College. I wish you all a wonderful Reunion!