Taking stock and moving forward

by President Dennis M. Hanno

As Wheaton says farewell to the graduating Class of 2019 and prepares to welcome the incoming Class of 2023, this is an opportune time to reflect on where we are as an institution and how we continue to grow and change as a community.

At Commencement, I called the Class of 2019 an action-oriented group. They have taken to heart Wheaton’s commitment to academic excellence, gender equity and diversity in all its forms, and social innovation. They reflect the very best values of a liberal arts education, and they have had a tremendous impact on me, with their collective passion for social justice issues on campus and beyond.

Celebrating Wheaton Changemakers

Though Commencement represented for the Class of 2019 a culmination of all their work and personal growth, the weekend was a celebration of the influence that Wheaton has had upon the world. The college conferred honorary degrees on two of its own, both changemakers whose careers serve to inspire everyone in our community:

Jeffrey K. Chin ’94, the CEO of Big Brothers Big Sisters of Central Massachusetts / Metro West. He is a lieutenant in the U.S. Navy Reserve and serves on the board of directors for the Massachusetts Nonprofit Network and United Way of Central Massachusetts.

Bonnie G. Wittner ’69, who had a distinguished legal career as a judge in the Criminal Court of New York City; was appointed to the Supreme Court, Criminal Term, of the State of New York; and served as a judge in Bronx County and New York County until her retirement in June 2017.

In addition, Alumni Achievement Awards were presented to two Wheaton graduates in recognition of their work as advocates for peace. Adar Cohen ’04, who won a Truman Scholarship in public service in 2003 and a Watson Fellowship in 2004, is the co-founder of the Civic Leadership Foundation. Betty Reardon ’51, the founding director of the International Institute on Peace Education, is the author of Educating for Human Dignity.

Measuring Our Progress

For the past three years, our Strategic Plan—the result of campus- and community-wide conversations about Wheaton’s strengths and its future—has guided the college in launching a number of new initiatives aimed at building on our strengths to empower students to be innovative problem solvers in their personal, professional, and civic lives. During the academic year, the college realized a number of historic successes that reflect the substantial progress:

  • Opening of the Center for Collaborative Teaching and Learning—a space for faculty, staff educators, and students to build a rigorous and culturally diverse learning community that advances a transformative education;
  • Nearing completion of a new residence hall that will open this fall and will accommodate 178 students;
  • Naming Dr. Imran G. Chowdhury as the inaugural chair for the Diana Davis Spencer Professor of Social Entrepreneurship, making Wheaton the first liberal arts college in the Northeast, to appoint a professor for an endowed chair in social entrepreneurship;
  • Developing and implementing a comprehensive set of plans for achieving an inclusive and diverse community of learners whose efforts are supported and who identities are honored;
  • Beginning renovations of the former Science Center, which will house Psychology and Business & Management—the re-imagined space will serve as a hub for social entrepreneurship, makerspaces, and the Filene Center;
  • Growing our resources through philanthropic initiatives, continued growth in enrollment, and diversifying revenue streams through new partnerships and intensified summer programs that bring motivated high school students from around the world to Wheaton.

Wheaton students enjoy exceptional outcomes after graduation—97 percent find success in gaining employment, pursuing graduate or professional studies or earning a post-graduation fellowship within six months of graduation. The Princeton Review named Wheaton to its list of “Colleges That Pay You Back.” The college also has been named a top 50 Liberal Arts College by Times Higher Education and the Wall Street Journal for two consecutive years.

Earlier in the spring, the Times Higher Education ranked Wheaton at #20 worldwide—and third among U.S. institutions—for its efforts in promoting gender equality. This recognition is even more impressive when you consider that every other U.S. school on the list is a large national research university.

Wheaton’s core strength is the amazing educational experience we offer students. It is an exceptional foundation for innovation. Wheaton still faces significant challenges, as do other small colleges, particularly those in the Northeast. But the progress we are making provides me with a sense of optimism that I believe everyone in our community shares: that Wheaton College is positioned to be the leading liberal arts institution in preparing students to create innovative solutions to big challenges—and to act on them.

Dennis M. Hanno