State of the College
Alumni Convocation
June 1, 2019 

Good morning, everyone, and welcome to this beautiful morning on this beautiful Reunion weekend! I hope you have been enjoying this special time together, and, while we’re at it, let’s give another round of applause for the amazing Class of 1969!

We have record–breaking attendance this weekend, with quite a number of alumni from the West Coast and at least one who has traveled here from Budapest. Among everyone in attendance, we have engineers, financial analysts, and lawyers, including a judge from Pennsylvania, and an assistant attorney general from Oregon. There are also a number of scientists, accountants, and presidents of companies both large and small. There are psychologists, social workers, higher–ed administrators; librarians, teachers and educators at every level; writers, editors, and video journalists. There are musicians, artists, designers, choreographers; there are nurses and doctors, a neurosurgeon; a minister, a bishop, and a llama farmer!

Thank you all for coming. It’s wonderful to have you back. We celebrated another great day just a couple of weeks ago: the 100th anniversary of our very first Commencement in 1919. And so it’s a thrill to be here with all of you, people who care deeply about Conn, and to have this opportunity to talk about what we are doing not just to steer the College into the future but also to ensure that its second century shines even brighter than the first.

This is quite a dynamic time in higher education. It’s a challenging time, as we face increasing competition and disruption in our sector. And it’s also a promising time, as we see the boundaries of higher education shifting, with a surge of new thinking and new energy about how we should be educating young people for future leadership. That’s certainly what’s has been happening at this College. And it’s what I want to talk about today.

One of the most exciting examples of new thinking on our campus is Connections. That’s what we call Connecticut College’s reinvention of the liberal arts for the 21st century. Our mission is to educate students, as we say, to “put the liberal arts into action,” to produce leaders capable of addressing the complex global issues of our time. How should we be doing this today? That’s what our faculty wanted to know. And so they set out to design a holistic curriculum that would prepare students for next-generation success. Connections takes the traditional academic major and makes it even more relevant by linking it to a personally meaningful pathway of interdisciplinary study, off-campus learning, guaranteed internships and other professional development. The idea is to unleash curiosity; to teach complex thinking; to promote real-world problem-solving; and, ultimately, to ensure successful lives and careers for our students beyond college. We see it as the new liberal arts for our interconnected world. And it’s unique to Conn.

We launched Connections in 2016. That’s the same year we released a strategic plan that is essentially built on the foundation of this new educational vision. The plan actually expands the vision by calling for investments in facilities, programs, and endowment that will strengthen teaching and learning across the full range of the student experience — and will also ensure the College’s sustainability into the next century. To go along with that, a new facilities master plan spells out the kind of capital development we will need to realize these goals.

All this energy — from a new curriculum, a new strategy, and a new master plan — has really ignited the campus imagination. Our faculty has been working together in new ways, not only in their research but also in their teaching, by developing scores of new courses and creating new interdisciplinary pathways with themes ranging from entrepreneurship to public health to creativity to communications to food. Our students are being inspired, in turn, to compete for even greater recognition in the classroom, on the playing fields, and in their off-campus work. And our campus landscape is now being reimagined in some very meaningful ways to support this new activity.

Let me give a few examples. This time last year, you remember, we announced the exciting news that we had received two gifts amounting to $20 million dollars to revitalize our historic theater, Palmer Auditorium, into a new center for performance and creative research. That project is now underway. We hired a wonderful firm from New York, Ennead Architects (who designed the Zankel Hall inside Carnegie Hall), and they are now about halfway through their schematic design. They have some wonderful ideas for activating the teaching capacity of Palmer while preserving its historic character. So we are very excited about what is to come.

A year ago we also opened the Walter Commons for Global Study and Engagement on the ground floor of the Blaustein Humanities Center to help students integrate a meaningful world perspective into their four-year experience. It transformed an underutilized space within a central campus building into a vibrant center of learning, while making the College’s longstanding strength in global education even more visible. If you have not seen that space I encourage you to visit it this weekend.

I mention the Walter Commons here because we are now at work on a new project that I think will have a similar impact. In April, we began construction on a new center for career and professional development that will reside in a very prominent space: the ground floor of Fanning Hall, the first building you see when you arrive on campus. We think this will send a very strong message about our commitment to educating graduates who are prepared to put the liberal arts into action. In addition to the career center, the renovation will add a new roof and new classrooms to Fanning as well as an elevator to make the building accessible for the first time in its history. We will re-open the building’s front and back entrances, too, which have been closed for decades. The center should be ready for business in September, and we cannot wait to see the impact it will have.

But that’s not all. We are also in the midst of reimagining the space you are sitting in right now: the College Center at Crozier-Williams. Over the past 12 months, we have been engaged in an intensive and very creative design process with JCJ architects, who are working to turn all the generous spaces of this building into a campus center that will be as exciting for our students’ social development as the new library is for their academic development.

And, I should mention, we just kicked off a process to do the same for our athletics complex. We want not only to improve its functionality but also — especially — to find ways to capitalize on our most stunning asset: as the only College in the NESCAC with a generous waterfront location. We are now planning a series of events in the Fall to unveil these and other ideas related to athletics in Washington, DC, New York City, and Boston to inaugurate our new Camel Athletic Network.  

All these initiatives are not only helping us raise our own sights about what is possible at Conn; they are also helping us raise the profile of the College. So what are we seeing?

First, we are seeing Connections changing the narrative about a Connecticut College education. Here’s an important statistic: 93% of this year’s entering class, the class of 2022, told us they chose Conn because of Connections.

We are seeing record applications, with 6800 this past year alone. That represents a 35% increase since I became president in 2014.

Even more important, we are seeing record admissions. The most recent first-year class, the class of 2022, was one of the largest and most talented in our history. And next year’s class, the class of 2023, appears to be following suit. According to our most up-to-date data, 533 first-year students are planning to attend Connecticut College in the fall, with an academic profile that is even stronger than last year.

But most important of all, to me, is that we are also seeing record outcomes, on our playing fields, among our faculty, and in our amazing student body. And I want to take a moment now to fill you in on each.

There were a number of noteworthy accomplishments among our teams this year, especially with men’s and women’s sailing, squash, and cross country. But today I am going to focus on just two teams, men’s soccer and women’s swimming, who outperformed. Men’s soccer had an amazing season. While they had made the NESCAC playoffs in each of the four years, this year was the most memorable, with a stunning record that allowed the College to host the NCAA soccer playoffs on our own fields in the fall—a first. The initial game resulted in a 4–0 shutout over Thomas College, which was not only thrilling to watch but allowed the team to advance to the second round, another first. Men’s soccer also distinguished itself with having two senior All–NESCAC selections, Ben Manoogian and Uzii Deing, and by having sophomore A.J. Marcucci honored as NESCAC Player of the Year and Kenny Murphy recognized as NESCAC Coach of the Year. Coach Murphy will be retiring from the College in June after 10 years of service. We are grateful for all he has done to elevate the men’s soccer program, and we are excited to welcome Rueben Burk, former assistant coach, as the new head coach.

The second team I have to call out is women’s swimming. This team has qualified for the NCAA championships for the past four years and finished among the top 16 in the nation each time. But here’s another great statistic: as a team, they had 52 All–American swimming performances at Nationals over the last four years, 10 by Olivia Haskell ’19 and 3 by Maeve Wilber ’19. The team also achieved a total of 60 All–NESCAC swims—one of the highest totals of any graduating class. And one of the graduating seniors, Nicki Abraham, will be continuing her service to the College as our newest Young Alumni Trustee, starting in the fall.

Our faculty have earned similar accolades in the past year. The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, for instance, awarded Associate Professor of History Eileen Kane a grant of $806,000 to support the growth of our new interdisciplinary Global Islamic Studies program at Connecticut College.

James Lee, the Tempel Assistant Professor of Computer Science, received $325,295 from the National Institutes of Health to develop a mobile phone app enabling HIV care among African American men.

Professor of Chemistry Bruce Branchini received $159,194 from the Air Force Office of Scientific Research for specialized equipment related to his work on bioluminescence.

Abby Van Slyck, Dayton Professor of Art History, received a Fulbright Scholar award that will take her to York, England, in the fall, to study architectural spaces built for the children of Queen Victoria and Prince Albert.

Professor of Dance David Dorfman was named a United States Artists Fellow for 2019. He will receive $50,000 to support a project of his choice.

Blanche Boyd, the Weller Professor of English and Writer in Residence, was one of three finalists for this year’s Pen Faulkner Award for her book, Tomb of the Unknown Racist. The Pen Faulkner award is the largest peer–adjudicated prize in fiction in the country.

And two of our faculty won very competitive summer stipends from the National Endowment for the Humanities: Jim Downs, professor of history and director of the American studies program, and Luis Gonzalez, associate professor and chair of Hispanic studies. Only about 9 percent of these awards are funded across the 4,000 institutions of higher education in this country, and we are proud to have received two of them at Connecticut College!

Our students are inspired by the faculty to reach similar levels of success. You know, each year, Forbes magazine publishes a list they call “30 under 30”–young people across 30 different professions who represent the world’s brightest leaders, entrepreneurs, and stars–people who are making a real difference with their creativity and their conviction. This year, for the second year in a row, there were not one; not two; but three recent Conn graduates on that list: Ipek Bakir ’12, James Finucane ’13 and Daniel Shoukimas ’13. Three Camels! For the second year in a row! Isn’t that amazing?

But our current students have just as much to be proud of: Pansy Nguyen ’19, for example, just won a $10,000 Davis Project for Peace fellowship to develop new community spaces on the land of the Eastern Pequot Nation.

Brandy Darling ’19, an aspiring diplomat, won a coveted Thomas Pickering Foreign Affairs Fellowship from the U.S. State Department to prepare her for leadership in the foreign service. She will be attending Johns Hopkins in the fall to study in their program in Nanjing.

Speaking of China, Sam Simonds ’19, recently completed an unbelievably beautiful film called “Smoke of the Sea,” on the effects of colonialization on indigenous communities in Taiwan. The film was shot on location in Dulan, featuring local actors and three languages, Mandarin, Taiwanese, and Amis. It has been selected to be shown in November at the Amis Music Festival at Dulan Point to an audience of 10,000.

Continuing in the international vein, four Conn students won critical language fellowships from the State Department for this summer. But even more stunning, there were six winners of Fulbright fellowships: Lauren Baretta ’18, to teach English in Malaysia; Alison Corey ’19, to teach in Vietnam; Olivia Domowitz ’19, to teach in the Côte d’Ivoire; Samantha Feldman ’19, to teach in Germany; and Giselle Olaguez ’19 and Maddy Quirke–Shattuck ’19, to teach in Spain.

This means that, once again, Connecticut College will be a top producer of Fulbrights for 2019. All this, to me, shows the outsized influence of a Connecticut College education. And it’s why we need to be investing in its future.

Which is exactly what we are doing. To support these students, to support our faculty, to support the vision of Connections and all that we want to do in our strategic plan, we have launched the most ambitious campaign in the College’s history. Our plan is to transform teaching and learning at the College; to ignite our student life; to elevate athletics; to launch students in meaningful careers; and to build our financial strength for the future.

And with your generosity, we are getting there. This is the second “silent” year of our campaign, and we have already surpassed the $100 million mark. I am so grateful to all of you who have contributed so far. But we know this is just the beginning.

We need the participation of the entire College community to ensure our success. And so I am asking you to join us in a campaign that will break through limits and raise our sites even higher as we set a new standard of excellence for Connecticut College.

I began this talk by noting the 100th anniversary of the first Commencement at Conn. I am always inspired by the audacity of our origin story, as a College born in passion and born with a mission: to become the first institution in the State of Connecticut dedicated to the higher education of women. That was a bold step. Fifty years later we confidently embraced the new path of co–education. And today, we find ourselves at a similar turning point. We need you to help us remain true to our high ideals and to allow us to be as bold and audacious as we enter our second century!

So I hope you will think about how you want to support our campaign. And in the meantime, I ask you to give generously to the Connecticut College Fund through your class gifts. We are hoping for 100 percent participation from all who are present for Reunion this weekend. With your support, we can ensure not only that we are providing an exceptional education for our students but also that we will become increasingly recognized for what we are: one of the truly great liberal arts colleges in the country.

So, let me thank you again for being here–and thank you, above all, for your love and your loyalty to this very special College. As I stand with you today, I am more convinced than ever: our future is bright because it is built on your strength.