Presented to Connecticut College alumnae and alumni
by President Katherine Bergeron
Saturday, June 2, 2018
What a wonderful weekend. I’m so happy to be here today to celebrate these anniversaries with so many generations of alumnae and alumni and to see the wonderful places your lives after Connecticut College have taken you. Some of you have traveled to campus from as far away as Canada, the U.K., Peru, and even Buenos Aires to be here this weekend. Thank you for making the trip! All of you demonstrate the great bounty—and benefit—of our mission of putting the liberal arts into action, through the range of life experiences you represent. Among you alumni and alumnae visiting this weekend there are architects, engineers, scientists, psychologists, and economists. There are CEOs, consultants, and retailers; lawyers and law students; doctors, veterinarians, and social workers. There are graphic and interior designers, filmmakers, museum curators, artists, musicians, illustrators, and at least one cartographer. There are writers, translators, editors, librarians, curriculum developers, and educators whose expertise ranges from preschool to the professoriate. There is even a pipe organ technician and not one but two Episcopal priests.
A number of former staff members of this College are also celebrating reunions, as well as one current staff member, Bridget Pupillo ’98, who teaches Italian and works in Library and Information Services. And there are graduates from at least 30 legacy families returning this weekend. So let me say: welcome to all of you! It’s fabulous to have you back on campus.
This has been a great year at the College: a historic year, when we celebrated our 100th Commencement, and a year of progress and promise. In 2016, we launched a new strategic plan, Building on Strength, that called for investments in facilities, programs, and endowment to enrich teaching and learning across the whole spectrum of the student experience. And in the past 12 months, we have advanced those goals considerably. I want to spend some time this morning talking with you about that progress, while also highlighting some of the notable accomplishments of our students, staff, and faculty.
And I want to begin where it all begins: With admissions. I am happy to report that the College had an excellent admission season this year. We received over 6,400 applications—a record number—and I want to thank all of you who may have been involved in recruiting or interviewing. You helped us yield one of the largest classes ever: There are about 550 first-year and transfer students now set to join us in the fall. The class of 2022 is not only one of the largest but also one of the most diverse classes in our history, with 23 percent domestic students of color and 10 percent international students.
One of the things that is drawing students to Conn is Connections, our reinvention of the liberal arts. Connections takes what has always been great about an education at Connecticut College and makes it even greater, by putting all the elements together in new ways. It intentionally combines a student’s academic major with interdisciplinary study, a relevant internship, a world language, and meaningful engagement in the local community and around the globe. The result is a uniquely Integrated Pathway that prepares students to have even greater impact in an increasingly interconnected world. We see it as another fulfillment of the College’s mission of putting the liberal arts into action. If you’d like to read more about the curriculum, we have a new feature in the back of CC Magazine called “Connections Corner,” and in this issue, there is a great article on the Pathways.
Connections is also fulfilling one of the main priorities of Building on Strength: to elevate the excellence and distinction of this College. Our goal is to become a recognized leader in integrative education, and it is happening. Over the past year, our deans and faculty have been invited to more and more conferences and events to speak about the benefits of the Pathways approach. In just a few weeks, in fact, a delegation, led by Professor Sarah Queen from the History department, will be heading to Copenhagen for the 2018 Aspen Institute’s consortium on the Business of Teaching, to present on our Pathway on Global Capitalism. I ran into Professor Queen right after Commencement and her enthusiasm about the first cohort of students she has taught in this Pathway, and about all they had learned, was infectious. It’s clear that the new curriculum is as stimulating for our faculty as it is for our students.
This real-world curriculum is building on many of the College’s well-known strengths, among them our nationally recognized career program—one that Princeton Review singled out again in 2017 for its excellence. Our goal is to develop the best liberal arts career program in the country, and we are making progress on that front. This past year our career office added new personnel and new resources to enhance employer outreach. We also launched a wonderful new initiative that allows faculty to infuse Career Informed Learning into their regular courses. The idea is to bring industry professionals from our alumni and parent communities to stimulate work on real-world problems in many professions across the breadth of the curriculum. What got started as an experiment with just one course in Spring 2017 grew to 25 courses this past academic year. And there will be more to come.
An even more ambitious effort along these lines will be available to the Class of 2022. In April, we announced a new partnership with Worcester Polytechnic Institute that will create, for the first time in our history, a dual-degree (bachelor of arts/bachelor of science) program in environmental engineering. Students who enroll will earn a bachelor of arts degree in environmental engineering studies from Connecticut College and have the option of earning a second bachelor of science degree from WPI in a fifth year of study. And because juniors in the program will be able to participate in WPI’s project-based field studies around the world, the new degree enhances our offerings in not just STEM but also global education.
This is important. We know that developing a global perspective is critical for our students’ lives after college, and so one of the most notable—and noticeable—achievements in the past year was the opening of the Otto and Fran Walter Commons for Global Study and Engagement. It’s a vibrant new space on the ground floor of the Blaustein Humanities Center that brings together, in the same building as our language departments, new global learning facilities; study abroad offices; our centers for international study and the critical study of race and ethnicity; along with engagement opportunities with communities both locally and overseas. The goal is to help all students integrate a meaningful world perspective into their four-year experience. I hope you will have a chance to walk through the space this weekend.
The Walter Commons is just the first of many investments in campus facilities outlined in Building on Strength. To that end, one major effort we are pleased to have completed in the past year is a new master plan for the College. I would describe the plan in two ways: on the one hand, it is a conceptual analysis of our campus assets and their latent possibilities; and on the other, it is a roadmap for future facilities development and renewal over the next 10 to 20 years. One of the things the analysis revealed was the great potential we have to make even more intentional connections (as we are doing with our curriculum) among the different regions of our campus, by drawing out the strong north-south axis that defines the central academic corridor; and defining an even stronger east-west axis from the waterfront on the Thames River all the way to the Arboretum. It is exciting to consider how a few judicious interventions in buildings and landscape will allow the College to have not only a more physically arresting presence, but also an even greater impact on academic and student life.
At their most recent meeting, the Board of Trustees approved the new plan, which anticipates important renovations to our athletic facilities, to the College Center at Crozier-Williams, to Bill and Fanning halls, and to Palmer Auditorium. Most of these initiatives are still in the concept stage, although we have made progress. In May, we hired the architectural firm that will redesign Cro. And in April, we announced the incredible news that the College had received $20 million to transform Palmer Auditorium and Castle Court into a new center for performance and creative research. The Sherman Fairchild Foundation, which has supported the College generously over the past four decades, provided the first $10 million grant. Then Nancy Athey ’72 and her husband, Preston Athey, great patrons of the arts, matched that gift in a stunning act of personal generosity and loyalty. It means we can begin this project within the coming year. Both the Atheys and Sherman Fairchild see this renovation, as I do, as not just benefitting the arts but as a space that will benefit the College and the greater New London community in innumerable ways, by activating a vibrant new hub of creativity and community on South campus.
Realizing all these projects require robust fundraising, there is much to report on that front in the past year. In November, we welcomed a new vice president for advancement, Kim Verstandig, and she wasted no time as we dived into the “silent” phase of our next comprehensive campaign, which has brought even more good news. In fact, this has been the single best fundraising year in the College’s history. It started with a gift of $2.5 million from Carolyn '60 GP'07 and Jerry Holleran, which doubles the endowment to the Center for Community Action and Public Policy that bears their name. It continued with a grant of $5.5 million from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation to extend the support for an initiative in faculty diversity in which Connecticut College was a founding partner. It went on to include another, wonderful $7 million commitment from Pamela Zilly, the chair of our Board of Trustees, who will end her term on the Board in July, but will continue on as one of the co-chairs of our campaign. And then it culminated with the amazing news of the two $10 million commitments that I just mentioned.
Accounting for all the other generous donations we have received—including your reunion pledges—we have now raised over $52 million in new gifts and commitments this year alone. That is a record. When we add in the campaign gifts that came in before July 1, 2017, the total comes to $77 million raised toward our campaign goal. And depending on what happens by the end of the month, the total could reach even higher. Thank you so much for your support!
The point of a campaign is, of course, to help us realize the goals of our strategic plan, which, in turn, is meant to support the excellence of our students and faculty. So, to close this report on the State of the College, I want to discuss some of the most notable achievements of the last year.
And let me start with Athletics. The Camels had a great year both in the NESCAC and on the national stage. In the fall, the women's and the men's soccer teams qualified for the NCAA tournament—that was a first. The men ended up No. 4 in the NESCAC, the women No. 2. In the winter, both men’s and women’s hockey ranked No. 2 in the NESCAC, earning the right to host the playoff games on home ice in a dramatic doubleheader. For the women’s hockey team, who were ranked as high as No. 8 in the country, it was the third straight trip to the NESCAC final four. The men’s team were honored with NESCAC Rookie of the Year, Player of the Year, and Coach of the Year.
In the water, our swim teams were at it again, finishing in the Top 5 in NESCAC and swimming to 21 All-America finishes at the NCAA championships. The women finished in the Top 16 in the country for the third straight year. Our sailors had a good run, too, christening a second fleet of boats, and sailing all the way to the Nationals.
Finally, in track and field, Aly Saperstein ’18 led the women’s team to its highest finish ever in the NESCAC. And Scott Mason ’19 became a two-time All-American by finishing 22nd overall at the 2017 NCAA Cross Country Championship. But the greatest achievement, from my perspective, is that all these students earned high marks in the classroom as well. In total, 200 Camels were named to the NESCAC All-Academic team this year, another College record.
Our faculty racked up similar wins in their scholarly and creative work. Blanche Boyd, our Weller Professor of English and writer-in-residence, brought out her newest novel, Tomb of the Unknown Racist, just last month and it was immediately listed on Best Books for May on both Amazon and the BBC, and praised in Vanity Fair and Kirkus.
Eileen Kane, a prize-winning scholar of Russian and Eurasian history who speaks five languages and has worked extensively on Islam in Russia during the Ottoman Empire, spent the year at Brown University on a New Directions Fellowship funded by the Mellon Foundation, where she studied Hebrew and developed her expertise on and connections with scholars of the Middle East.
Our scientists have continued be recognized for their excellence, as well, and this year was no exception. At a time when labs are losing federal research dollars, Professor Bruce Branchini, a distinguished member of our Chemistry department, won yet another $300,000 from the U.S. Air Force for his research on bioluminescence. Professor Peter Siver, from Botany and Environmental Science, was awarded $225,000 from the National Science Foundation for his work on climate change. Anne Bernhard, professor of Biology, was awarded a two-year, $120,000 grant from the Gulf of Mexico Research Initiative to continue investigating the effects of the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill on the salt marshes of Louisiana. And Assistant Professor of Economics Wei Zhang was awarded $215,000 from the National Institute of Food and Agriculture to develop innovative ways to measure agricultural productivity in the United States.
Our students work alongside these researchers and therefore benefit directly from the grant support. But students have won their own awards, too. Amiansu Khanal, from the Class of 2020, won a $10,000 Davis Projects for Peace grant to develop a menstrual hygiene curriculum for young women in Nepal. Esteban Melendez, a Botany major also from the Class of 2020, won the Minor Meyers Fellowship to study the social and environmental impacts that fungi can have on communities in soil regeneration, medicine production, and pollution reversal. And Rachael Lieblein-Jurbala ’19 will be traveling with five dancers to Washington, D.C., in June to see her choreography performed at the Kennedy Center as part of the American College Dance Association national competition.
Earlier this year, the College was again named a top producer of Fulbright scholars for 2017-18. And just this spring, two more recent graduates—Aiden Gorell and Claire Loughlin, both from the Class of 2018—were notified that they had been selected for teaching Fulbrights to Germany and to Malaysia in the fall.
Finally, I hope you all noted with pride that in the Forbes “30 under 30” list for 2018, Connecticut College had not one, not two, no: we had three alumnae represented. Three Camels! Emily Callahan ’11, Aditi Juneja ’12, and Jazmine Hughes ’12 join previous winners Molly Hayward ’10 and Lauren Burke ’06, to make a total of five graduates who have been named to Forbes’s list since 2013. This is a sign of the outsized influence of a Connecticut College education in the world. Jazmine Hughes, incidentally, was an inspirational keynote speaker at our 100th Commencement. I encourage you to read her address.
One last story to tell before I end. Connecticut College had to undergo its 10-year reaccreditation this year by the New England Association of Schools and Colleges. The process involves a long report that we produce, followed by a site visit by a team of higher education professionals. Since nothing says “State of the College” more than reaccreditation, I thought I would end with a few words about that visit.
The team that came to campus included representatives from all the best colleges you’ve heard of, and they were quite impressed with what they found. The president of Smith College, Kathleen McCartney, was the chair of that team. Before she delivered her final report, she told me: “You have an extraordinary culture here, and I have never seen anything like it.” The rest of the team concurred. She admitted, in fact, that some of them felt a bit jealous as they spoke with our faculty, students, and staff, and saw how engaged the community was in every aspect of the College.
They didn’t talk to our alums, of course, but if they had, they would have said the same thing—because you are all part of that extraordinary culture. And your continued commitment to this College will help ensure that it grows only more extraordinary. 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 particular projects you would like to help us advance in the coming years. And, while you are doing that, I hope you will also give generously to the Connecticut College Fund through your class gifts. We are hoping for 100 percent participation from those who are present for Reunion this year. 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 as 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.