Presented to Connecticut College alumnae and alumni
by President Katherine Bergeron
Saturday, June 3, 2017
What a beautiful weekend. I'm so pleased to be here today: to celebrate this milestone with so many generations of alumnae and alumni; and to see just how far your Conn education has taken you. We have the gamut of life experiences on campus this weekend. There are artists, filmmakers, choreographers, writers; museum curators, architects, and designers; CEOs, financial managers, real estate moguls; economists, consultants, analysts; doctors, lawyers, nurses, veterinarians; engineers, mathematicians, teachers, professors; curriculum developers, librarians, superintendents; social workers, childbirth coaches, psychologists, therapists; and I believe there is at least one full-time ski instructor! A few members of the Reunion classes belong to the ranks of our esteemed faculty, including Peggy Sheridan '67, professor emerita of child development, who is celebrating her 50th reunion; David Jaffe '77, professor of theater, celebrating his 40th; and, on the other end of the spectrum, Jillian Marshall, '12, now a lecturer in psychology, who is celebrating her 5th reunion. There are also graduates from at least 70 legacy families visiting this weekend. So let me say: welcome to all of you! It's fabulous to have you back.
This has been a dynamic year for Connecticut College. In the fall, we launched a new curriculum with the class of 2020, which we call Connections. And we also completed a new strategic plan that will set course of this college for the next decade. The two initiatives are connected, and this morning I want to tell you a bit more about both, while also highlighting some of the notable achievements of our students, faculty, and staff in the past year.
And let me begin by saying what a critically important time it is to be educating young people for future leadership. We are living in a time when automation is transforming our workforce and knowledge is being produced and disseminated faster than anyone can consume it. We are living in a time when our students' future success will be increasingly determined by how well they can communicate and collaborate with other people. We are living in a time when the work our graduates do will require making connections all over the globe — as they work to find solutions to problems we cannot even imagine today. And because of this, I think it's fair to say that we are living in a time when those who have developed their imaginative capacities, their creativity, their ability to think and to connect ideas in novel ways: they will have the advantage.
This is our new reality. This is the new reality for higher education. So what are we doing about it at Connecticut College? We have created Connections. That's what we call our new approach to the liberal arts. We have reimagined liberal arts education in a way that is designed to transform our students' relationship to all the things I just mentioned: to knowledge; to the wider world; to collaboration; to problem solving; to innovation.
We know our students are passionate. We know they want to change the world. But we also know that the world's problems cannot be addressed through just one way of thinking or knowing. And so we are now asking our students to find new solutions by connecting their convictions to every dimension of their college experience: not just the work they pursue in courses and research but also in jobs, in the community, across the globe, and ultimately in their lives beyond college: I'm talking about a whole integrated experience.
How does it work? First- year students begin with specially engineered introductory courses supported by a new, team-based advising system to set them on the right path. In the sophomore year, we ask students to step back and reflect on what really matters to them. What have you always wondered about in life, and what do you want to do about it? That question functions as an important frame for all the choices sophomores make: the choice of their academic major; the choice of how or where to study abroad; but, even more important, the choice of that element that we consider most central to "Connections" — what we're calling the Integrative Pathway.
The pathway is a set of interdisciplinary courses and other experiences organized around a central theme (For example, there is a pathway in public health; a pathway in entrepreneurship; a pathway in sustainability; a pathway in peace and conflict; a pathway in urban education; and several others in the making.) It's the place where students explore their question over the next three years.
In the junior year, they expand that inquiry by doing internships and research in the community and around the world. And in the senior year, they tie it all together in an integrative project.
It's a beautiful package with a real purpose. Our goal is for every student to explore different cultures and identities; for every one of them to grapple with complexity; for every one of them to contribute to the community; for every one of them to put the liberal arts into action in their own unique way. We see it as the new liberal arts for our interconnected world. The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation and the Christian Johnson Endeavor Foundation were so convinced by what we are doing that they awarded us $1.55 million to support the development of Connections over the next few years.
Building on Strength
And, now, we have built our strategic plan on the strength of this educational vision. Completing the plan was another major accomplishment of this past year, and I want to tell you a bit more about it now.
I had the opportunity to talk about the plan to alumni all across the country on a 12-city tour this spring, and the response has been terrific. We call our plan "Building on Strength," and it has three priorities: to elevate the College's academic distinction; to deepen the student experience; and to support a more just and sustainable community. These priorities are also interconnected. You cannot have a distinctive academic program without a vibrant life beyond the classroom; you cannot have a vibrant student experience without sustaining a more just community; and a just community is a necessary condition for any truly distinctive educational endeavor.
At the center of these priorities is the ideal of what we are calling full participation: we are committed to creating an environment that allows all people to thrive, achieve their full potential, and contribute — to the college, to their community, and ultimately to a vibrant and healthy democracy.
Achieving these conditions will, in turn, bring distinct benefits to Connecticut College. Through the plan:
- We will be a leader in integrative education
- We will advance our excellence in research, technology, and the arts
- We will develop the best liberal arts career program in the country
- We will support more competitive athletics and wellness for all students
- We will become a beacon of sustainability
- And we will build an exemplary community based on understanding, dialogue, and a deep respect for difference.
There are a number of projects that we are working on right now, and others that we are planning to do over the next several years.
In the coming months, for example, we will start renovations on the lower floor of the Blaustein Humanities Center to create the "global commons," a vibrant new center for 21st century learning that will bring together world languages and cultures; educational programs abroad, our centers for international study and the comparative study of race and ethnicity; along with opportunities for local and global engagement all under one roof, in order allow every student to integrate a global perspective into their four-year experience. With support from three educational foundations and one generous alumna, we have now raised 1.7 million, all the funds needed for the project. By this time next year, the space will be transformed.
In a similar vein, we are looking to relocate our career center to the heart of our campus as we also place that kind of learning at the center of a liberal arts education.
In fact, in the fall of 2015 we received a gift of $20 million from Rob Hale '88 and his wife Karen Hale, focused on strengthening our career program, our athletic program, and financial aid. To that end, we are launching a new campus master plan which will also consider strategic renovations to our athletic facilities.
Building on our historic strength in the arts, we want to elevate the venerable Palmer Auditorium, a wonderful example of art deco architecture on South campus, into a site that will inspire cutting edge performance and research.
And, speaking of research, we also have plans to renew Bill Hall, as our only facility designated for animal research and the home of our fastest growing major in neuroscience.
Finally, we plan to redesign the building that you are sitting in right now — the College Center at Crozier Williams — so that it catalyzes a new kind of community and becomes a hub of alternative learning beyond the classroom. We had some conceptual renderings done this year that revealed the great potential in this space to become a true focal point for the campus, a place for students, faculty, staff, alumni, and visitors to interact and see what the Conn community is all about.
So, as you can see, we have some ambitious plans and we are now in the process of designing a campaign that will help bring them to life. But the purpose of all this, of course, is to support the ongoing success of our excellent students and faculty. And so let me shift focus for a moment and share with you, by way of conclusion, some of the recognition that they have received in the last year.
And I'll start with athletics. The Camels fared quite well this year both in our conference and on the national stage. The women's soccer team, for example, had a 10-win season and qualified to compete in the NCAA championships for the second time in three years.
Six of our teams made it to the playoffs within our own New England Small College Athletic Conference as well. Our women's volleyball team qualified for their 12th straight NESCAC playoff. Men's soccer team competed for the 6th time in a row. And women's ice hockey advanced all the way to the semi-finals for the third time in four years.
On the water, our men's and women's varsity 4 rowing teams brought home a silver and a bronze at the New England Rowing championships. And our coed sailing team won the Atlantic Coast Championship in the fall.
Finally, our men's and women's swim teams had an extraordinary season. Our men's team placed fourth in the NESCAC. The women finished third. Together we sent 15 swimmers to NCAAs championships in Shenandoah, TX: 10 women and 5 men. Seven of the 10 women earned All-America status and all 10 took home either All-America or Honorable Mention All-American honors. Mary Erb from the class of 2020 took first place in the 200-meter breast stroke. This is the first time a first-year student at Conn has ever won a NCAA championship. As for our seniors, the team captain Val Urban, a six time all American from the class of 2017, has been nominated as NCAA's Woman of the Year.
Every year our faculty rack up the honors as well and this year was no different. Professor of Philosophy Derek Turner, for example, was chosen to be the Fulbright Visiting Research Chair in Philosophy of Science at the University of Calgary. He spent a semester away from campus this spring pursuing an impressive project on evolutionary stasis.
Eileen Kane, an associate professor of history, has received accolades for her work on the history of Muslim migration. Her first book — on Muslims in Russia in the late 19th century — won a major award from the Association of Slavic, Eastern European and Eurasian Studies in the fall. Last summer, she won a NEH fellowship to develop a new book project called Black Sea Crossings. And for that project, the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation awarded her a prestigious "New Directions" Fellowships, which provides her with $237 thousand to pursue her work as a visiting fellow at Brown University with colleagues in the Program in Middle East Studies.
In the arts, Ross Morin, class of 2005, who just earned tenure in our film department, won honors for his first feature length film, "A Wheel Out of Kilter." It was nominated for no less than 14 awards and picked up 8 along the way, including Best Feature Film in the Macabre Film Festival this past January.
And, finally, our very own David Dorfman (MA '81) took his work to Broadway in April. He conceived the choreography for Indecent, which is running at the Cort Theatuer. It's a new work by Paula Vogel about a Yiddish play that was European sensation at the turn of the 20th century but condemned when it opened in New York in the 1920s. Indecent was nominated for a Tony this spring. And David took home the Lucille Lortel Award for outstanding choreography.
Great faculty always inspire great students, and this was a banner year for student achievement.
In the STEM fields, Stephanie Jackvony '16 won a Barry M. Goldwater Scholarship, making her the College's sixth recipient of the prestigious award in the last eight years. Jackvony plans to pursue a Ph.D. in neuroscience.
The Posse Foundation named Christian Vazquez '19 to its very first cohort of Ubben fellows. He is one of five students in the country to receive this honor, which is awarded to Posse scholars who have excelled academically and demonstrated exceptional leadership. Vazquez will be using his fellowship to intern in Hollywood this summer with the producer Jason Blum.
Three more sophomores, Kate Stockbridge, Allie Girouard and Sarah Potter, were selected to receive a $10,000 Davis Projects for Peace award. They plan to develop an after-school program that uses media literacy education and mentorship to empower middle school girls toward greater achievement.
On the international front, two Conn students won very competitive Critical Languages Scholarships from the U.S. State Department: Anne-Marie Feeney '19 will be studying Japanese in Hikone, Japan. And Nam Hoang '17 will be studying Chinese at National Cheng Kung University in Taiwan. Lera Shynkarova, from the class of 2020, was one of just 75 youth representatives selected from around the world to attend the 2016 World Forum for Democracy in Strasbourg, France, in November. And a total of five of our students were awarded Fulbright Fellowships this year to teach or conduct research in Germany, Jordan, Spain, Taiwan and Thailand. Connecticut College has been named a top producer of Fulbrights seven times in the past eight years, and with the current crop we expect that recognition to continue. The College was also named a top producer of Peace Corps volunteers this year. We are now ranked No. 13 in the country, with 10 alumni serving in countries all over the world.
As you can see, this is a dynamic moment for our great College, and with our plans for the future, I feel more optimistic than ever. Everyone who is in this room wants to see Connecticut College advance to new levels of distinction. So I do hope you will think about the kind of project you would like to support, and the way you would like to support it. And in the meantime, I hope you will continue to give generously to the Connecticut College fund through your class gifts. We are hoping for 100 percent participation from those who are participating in Reunion this y. Your generosity will help us ensure that we are providing the very best educational experience for our students, and that we continue to be one of the truly great liberal arts colleges in the country.
So let me thank you all again for being here — and for your commitment, your love, and your loyalty to Connecticut College. As I look out I am more convinced than ever: our future will be bright because it will be built on your strength!