Connecticut College selects Les Wong as interim president
The Connecticut College Board of Trustees has unanimously elected Leslie E. Wong, Ph.D., a nationally respected leader in higher education, to become interim president of Conn, effective July 1, 2023.
Wong will succeed Katherine Bergeron, whose nearly decade-long tenure as Conn’s 11th president concludes June 30. He will serve until the College’s 12th president is selected and assumes office.
Wong, a former president of San Francisco State University and Northern Michigan University and a former interim president of the University of Southern Colorado, has been a member of Conn’s Board of Trustees since 2019. He will resign his role as a recently re-elected trustee and serve on the Board in an ex officio capacity, as is customary, until the 12th president is appointed.
In his announcement to the Conn community, Debo P. Adegbile ’91, chair of the College’s Board of Trustees, said, “Les has deep experience in higher education leadership and a strong understanding of Connecticut College through his Board of Trustees service and committee-related work. As a member of the Board of Trustees since 2019, Les is well known to many in the Conn community. His commitment to diversity, equity and inclusion has been evident throughout his academic career. Due to his extensive presidential leadership experience and knowledge of Connecticut College, Les is uniquely positioned to assume this important role.”
In his initial message to the Conn community, Wong said, “It is such an honor to be named interim president of Connecticut College. Since I joined the Board in 2019, the faculty, staff, students, administrators and alumni have shown me the resolve, the persistence and the spirit that are needed for a great college to confront whatever comes before it.”
He added, “As a steward of this institution, I believe we have a tremendous opportunity at hand, particularly in executing our strategic plan, Building on Strength, which will guide me during my role as interim president. This role requires considerable listening and dialogue as well as a willingness to engage ideas and aspirations of everyone at Conn.”
As a member of the Board of Trustees since 2019, Wong has served on the Executive Committee, chaired the Faculty-Trustee Liaison Committee and served as vice chair of the Committee on Academic Affairs. He received his Ph.D. in educational psychology from Washington State University and previously served as president of San Francisco State University and Northern Michigan University for a combined total of 15 years. Before these roles, he served as vice president of Academic Affairs of Valley City State University and as interim president, provost and academic vice president of the University of Southern Colorado. He is married to Phyllis Michael Wong, who is the author of the award-winning non-fiction book We Kept Our Towns Going.
Wong, who identifies as a person of Mexican and Chinese ancestry, has served on the NCAA’s Task Force on Equity and Inclusion. He led a national effort to admit Mexican universities into Division II of the NCAA and since 1985 has worked closely with the State Department to promote U.S.-China relations as well as the well-being of Chinese Americans. He also led California’s statewide effort to expand Project Rebound, a social justice initiative that helps formerly incarcerated students to earn college degrees.
With Conn’s interim president position now filled, the Board of Trustees will turn its full attention to the search for the College’s 12th president. A 15-member search committee of trustees, faculty, staff and students plans by late June to select a national executive search firm that specializes in higher education. The firm’s first steps will include seeking input from a cross-section of senior administrators, faculty, staff, students, alumni, parents and other friends and supporters of the College.
Joy Harjo’s “Crazy Brave” Chosen for 2020’s One Book One Region
This year’s read for One Book One Region will be “Crazy Brave,” written by Joy Harjo, the first Native American to be named U.S. poet laureate. The memoir will be formally introduced at a virtual kickoff event on June 17 at 7 p.m., featuring a presentation on the book’s themes by Sandy Grande, professor of education and director of the Center for the Critical Study of Race and Ethnicity. Harjo will join the southeastern Connecticut community for an event to be determined this fall.
Winner of the PEN USA Literary Award in Creative Non Fiction and the American Book Award, “Crazy Brave” is a transcendent memoir grounded in tribal myth and ancestry, music and poetry, which details Harjo’s journey to becoming a poet. Born in Oklahoma, the end place of the Trail of Tears, Harjo grew up learning to dodge an abusive stepfather by finding shelter in her imagination and connection with the natural world.
“‘Crazy Brave’ is a story about finding your voice through life’s challenges,” said Jefferson Singer, Dean of the College and Faulk Foundation Professor of Psychology at Connecticut College. “Given these extraordinary times, we believe her story will resonate with our students and the southeastern Connecticut community, who may be working through personal difficulties during this worldwide pandemic. It is our hope that Harjo’s words will prove inspiring and hopeful.”
Harjo is an internationally known award-winning poet, writer, performer and saxophone player of the Mvskoke/Creek Nation. She is the author of nine books of poetry in addition to “Crazy Brave.” Her many writing awards include the 2019 Jackson Prize from the Poetry Society of America, the Ruth Lilly Prize from the Poetry Foundation, the 2015 Wallace Stevens Award from the Academy of American Poets, and the William Carlos Williams Award from the Poetry Society of America. A renowned musician, Harjo performs with her saxophone nationally and internationally, solo and with her band, The Arrow Dynamics. Harjo is a chancellor of the Academy of American Poets, holds a Tulsa Artist Fellowship, directs For Girls Becoming, an arts mentorship program for young Mvskoke women, and is a founding board member of the Native Arts and Cultures Foundation.
One Book One Region of Eastern Connecticut is now in its 18th year. This is the fifth year that Connecticut College has partnered with this initiative to bring community members and the college community together to discuss ideas, broaden appreciation of reading and break down barriers among people.In addition to this year's selection of “Crazy Brave,” previous summer read selections were “Hey, Kiddo” by Jarrett Krosoczka, “Exit West” by Mohsin Hamid and “Homegoing” by Yaa Gyasi.
One Book, One Region is made possible through The Community Foundation of Eastern Connecticut, Libraries of Eastern CT, the Frank Palmer Loomis Fund, Bank of America, N.A., Trustee, and Connecticut College’s Office of the President. Bank Square Books arranged for the purchase of “Crazy Brave” for the Class of 2024 and their advisers.
Registration for this event is required. Visit onebookoneregion.org to register and learn more about upcoming programming. Additionally, One Book One Region invites New London County residents to submit a one sentence memoir to be compiled in a self-published book entitled “A Life in One Line.” Submissions may be made via a Google Form.