President Hanno November 2021 Community Update

Dear Wheaton Community, 

Two-thirds of the fall semester has already passed. I hope you’ve enjoyed it as much as I have. It has been busy and eventful in so many ways—in-person classes and labs, well-attended community gatherings, enlightening lectures, conferences and art shows, spirited athletic contests and the simple pleasure of greeting others in passing on the Dimple.  

The success of the return to a more fully in-person campus experience has everything to do with our shared commitment to following the protocols and policies intended to mitigate the impact of the pandemic on campus. It has not all been easy nor has it all been comfortable, but it has worked, thanks to everyone’s care and cooperation. Of course, we need to remain vigilant to ensure the campus community remains safe and healthy for the remainder of this semester and for the spring semester to come. 

Since my last community update at the beginning of the semester, the college announced the appointment of Wheaton’s ninth president, Michaele Whelan. In the weeks following the announcement, she and I have been meeting regularly, mostly virtually, in advance of the start of her tenure that will take place when she joins us here at Wheaton on January 1, 2022. We already knew each other from our shared service on the New England Commission of Higher Education, and it is a pleasure to work with her to prepare for the transition.

You can look forward to other changes coming in the spring semester. For one, the renovation of the old science center remains on schedule. While it might be hard to tell from the outside, the building’s transformation is well underway. We expect faculty and staff will move into the facility early in 2022, hopefully in time to welcome students back for the spring semester. 

We had hoped to officially dedicate the project in mid-October, coinciding with the weekend meetings of the Board of Trustees and the Alumni Board of Directors. Out of an abundance of caution, the celebration was postponed until May. However, I’m happy to share that the trustees have voted to rename the building as the Diana Davis Spencer Discovery Center, Dedicated to Free Speech and Innovation, in honor of Wheaton Life Trustee Diana Davis Spencer ‘60. 

The 70,000-square-foot Discovery Center, with its connections to the library and the Mars Center for Science and Technology, will be a magnet for academic and co-curricular activities. The newly renovated space will be the home for the college’s makerspaces and innovation labs, social entrepreneurship programs, the departments of business and management and psychology, and the Filene Center for Academic Advising and Career Services. 

The philanthropic support of our alumni and donors continues to move me. Thanks to the support of donors, a new fundraising initiative, the Catalyst Fund for Wheaton Athletics, was recently launched with the goal of improving athletics, recreation and the overall student experience. A generous $3 million in seed funding from a long-time supporter established the effort and has inspired new leadership commitments to Wheaton athletics and recreation from other members of our community. Current gifts and pledges to the fund total just under $3.5 million toward a $6 million goal. This effort will provide Wheaton with the resources to strategically—and significantly—enhance and expand our focus on intercollegiate and recreational athletics as well as student health and wellness.

The college also will be looking to fill out its senior leadership team. While we continue to enjoy the expertise and experience of Interim Vice President of Finance and Administration Phil Shapiro, the search for a permanent Vice President for Finance and Administration is underway. Co-chaired by Professor of Education and Professor of History Linda Eisenmann and Vice President for Enrollment and Dean of Admission and Student Aid Walter Caffey, the search committee will consist of faculty, staff and students who will make their recommendations to President Whelan. The national search will be conducted in partnership with Koya Partners, a leading executive search and strategy firm.

The past 18 months have certainly been challenging for Wheaton. I’m happy to report that the creativity and flexibility of our community—students, faculty, and staff—have allowed us to navigate the difficulties presented by the pandemic as well as the broader challenges facing all of higher education. It is clear from our recent board meetings that the trustees share my confidence that Wheaton can continue to thrive by remaining focused on our efforts to be innovative in meeting the needs of current and future students. 

On that note, I want to share some noteworthy news about our efforts on diversity, inclusion and equity. The Providence Business News and Colleges of Distinction have both recognized and applauded the work that we are doing, and the structures and processes that are in place, to help us become a truly anti-racist community. These local and national accolades offer an affirmation that our efforts are headed in the right direction, and it should encourage us to continue this important work. 

Best wishes for a great November and a successful close to the fall semester. You will certainly all hear from me before I leave Wheaton at the end of the semester. Have an excellent weekend!

Dennis Hanno
Wheaton College