State of the College
by

Adam Weinberg

March 31, 2017
students on campus lawn

Dear Denisonian,

Denison is a remarkable college. In my view, anybody connected to it has a right to feel deeply proud of that association. As I finish my fourth year at Denison, I want to share some updates on the college.

First, Denison is doing remarkably well.

  • We continue to have record-breaking admissions numbers. This year, we have more than 7,500 applications for about 625 slots in the class of 2021. Applications are up 58% over the last three years. Early decision applications were up 56% this year alone.
  • Students are doing great work across the campus. This work starts in classrooms and labs, extends to athletic fields, art stages and studios, and into community work.
  • Our alumni are doing well. We have completed our second annual survey of alumni five years after graduation. For the class of 2010, a remarkable 96% are successfully on-boarded into the profession of their choice. Fully 95% say Denison prepared them well. And 91% felt very prepared for graduate school.

Second, the college is moving in exciting directions. We are in the second year of implementing a new strategic plan. The goal is to deepen student learning in ways that also will prepare our students to succeed post-Denison across the professions. To do this, we are focused on important issues:

  • Enhancing mentorship. The difference between a good college experience and a transformational one is mentorship. Nationally, about 24% of all college students will find a mentor. At Denison, that figure is closer to 93%. Our faculty are incredibly engaged, and the quality of student-faculty relationships is second to none. We are building on this legacy. For example, many first-year students are participating in the Advising Circles program, in which students meet once a week during the fall semester. Each Circle has a faculty member, ten first-year students, and an upper-class peer. The focus is on transitioning well into college. Our coaches also have been doing a lot of great work with our athletic teams. We often celebrate the incredible successes our teams have been having with NCAC league and NCAA championships. (I am writing this letter from Houston, where I am watching our men’s and women’s swimming and diving teams compete for the NCAA national championship, which the men won last year.) What I admire most is the quality of mentorship our students are receiving from the coaches.
  • Expanding the curriculum. This year, we have launched new academic majors in Global Commerce, Data Analytics, and Health, Exercise and Sport Studies, along with new concentrations in Financial Economics and Narrative Journalism. In particular, the new academic programs in Global Commerce and Data Analytics have attracted a lot of attention nationally and are resonating with both current and prospective students. The Narrative Journalism concentration builds on Denison’s huge strengths in writing.
  • Developing global programs. We now have sister colleges in 17 countries and have started to develop new programs with these partners. For example, this fall, we hosted a number of faculty from our sister colleges, including a faculty member from Ashesi University in Ghana, who taught in our Department of Economics. This summer, we will pilot a program on International Business at the American University of Paris. We also will have students studying dance and the arts in Sri Lanka. These are a few of many new global opportunities available to our students. 
  • And we are making a huge push in the arts. Denison has long-standing strengths across the arts, including music, dance, theatre, cinema, studio art, art history, and creative writing. We recently broke ground for the Michael D. Eisner Center for the Performing Arts. The Center will house our departments of Music, Theatre, and Dance. It will have four performance spaces, including a 400-seat proscenium theater. Our goal is to position Denison as the best liberal arts college for arts-oriented students who want more than a conservatory environment. 

Third, we are focused on setting the gold standard for career exploration. We are developing new ways for students to explore the kinds of lives they want to live, understand how careers fit into those lives, and use the Denison experience to develop the skills, values, habits, and networks to get started.

This work starts in the classroom. A liberal arts education provides the skills students will need in the emerging job market. The ability to communicate, work effectively with others, connect disparate ideas into new ways of thinking, critically think and problem-solve, adapt to change, thrive in diverse and global environments, and to learn continually are becoming more important, not less, in every profession. For those who are interested, I have a Twitter feed (@AdamAtDenison) that contains a number of recent studies and articles on this topic.

A key piece of this work is happening in our new Austin E. Knowlton Center for Career Exploration, which was formally launched this fall. The Knowlton Center provides support to students as they explore career opportunities, assists them in gaining experience, offers preparation initiatives to successfully launch post-Denison, and (re)engages alumni to both leverage alumni connections and offer post-graduate coaching. We have hired great staff, opened a two-story office in Burton Morgan, and rolled out a series of programs that directly address student career needs:

  • Students get involved early in their Denison career as they begin to explore careers through internships, externships and campus visits by alumni. We also are running programs like First Look, that takes groups of Denison students to major cities to explore different professions by spending two to three days meeting with alumni and parents. This program is designed to give students “taste-of-industry” tours, as well as opportunities to network, and perhaps to land an internship.
  • We are closing the skills gaps between what we teach in the curriculum and what students need to compete for jobs, internships and graduate programs. We are using the time between semesters to do this work. An example is an exclusive new program called OnBoard that consists of 50 online skills training units (e.g., finance, accounting, project management) that are offered during the winter break. OnBoard gives students opportunities to gain knowledge and skills that are not part of a traditional liberal arts curriculum but that we know are helpful as our students begin their professional paths.
  • Alumni mentorship is a critical element of student success. We are trying to connect as many students as possible to alumni as coaches and mentors. Without investing a lot of time, alumni can play a hugely positive role in helping students understand the career exploration process.
  • Internship opportunities continue to expand, with increased financial support that is funded by Denison. The Denison Internship Program offers students a structured learning experience as they explore career fields and apply academic coursework to the workplace.
  • We are supporting alumni as they launch their careers. Many of you have participated in Denison Connecting events. We have been running these in cities in the United States and abroad. Each Denison Connecting event brings together alumni for evenings of job networking. More than 2,000 alumni have participated.

Fourth, we are working on a range of campus issues. A lot of learning takes place outside the classroom. The best data we have on college success documents the importance of students being involved in campus organizations. Nationally, about 30% of all students will get involved in a co-curricular activity on their campus. At Denison, the figure is almost 100%. Additionally, 75% of our students will have a significant leadership opportunity during their time at Denison. We continue to do a lot of work on leadership training through our signature programs, LeaderShape and D. U. Lead. We also are doing more work to give students opportunities to take ownership on campus and to create the community they want to live in. The ability to self-govern and lead are important college experiences, and we do this work well.

A lot of alumni have asked me about the political climate on campus. Denison is unique among liberal arts colleges. We are very politically diverse with a wide range of views on campus. My strong view is that a college campus should be a place where students hear a range of political views, and where students are given opportunities to develop their own political views and skills.
This election was a hard one for students, and we are working through a range of issues. This creates challenges on campus, but it also is a tremendous opportunity for students to learn to live and work effectively with people who see the world differently than they do. This is a fundamental skill of living democratically. We have an outstanding faculty who believe deeply in free speech and intellectual diversity. Last year, they passed a new academic freedom statement that reads in part: “The ideas of different members of the University community will often conflict, but it is not the proper role of the University to shield individuals from ideas and opinions they find unwelcome, disagreeable, or offensive.”

This is hard work, and I am proud of where we stand as a college.

The bottom line is that there is a great deal of important and exciting work happening at Denison. A lot of this work is being made possible by the tremendous growth of Columbus. Many colleges are located in rural locations. We are fortunate to have a beautiful campus in an idyllic setting that is 30 minutes from one of the fastest growing and most dynamic cities in the country. We are taking advantage of the recent growth of Columbus in a range of ways. Music and Theatre students are performing on stages throughout the Columbus Metropolitan region. Faculty are taking students into Columbus for lectures and performances and to visit distinctive neighborhoods. Students have access to internships, externships, and interesting class projects with organizations throughout the city. We believe Columbus allows Denison to offer students opportunities that are rare, especially among liberal arts colleges. We are focused on doing more to take advantage of them.

The college is thriving because of relationships. Education is about relationships, and Denison is a highly relational college. Education is formed as people come together in different ways and learn from one another. Relationships matter. I marvel at the strong friendships our students form with their classmates. And I deeply value the way our professors, coaches and staff mentor students in a multitude of settings around campus. Denison is a place where people care, connect, and often catalyze one another in the best of ways. This has been true for decades and remains core to our DNA today.

Let me end with a thank you. You support the college in a myriad of ways. Your financial support is crucial to everything we are doing. Everything that I just described is only possible because of the financial support you have provided the college over the last three years. Thank you! You also support the college in other ways that are of equal importance. Thank you for encouraging high school students to apply. Thank you for helping coach and connect current students to internships and jobs. Thank you for helping raise Denison’s visibility by putting Denison coffee mugs in your homes and places of work. Thank you for caring about and supporting this remarkable college.

I am excited about the current health and direction of the college. I am proud to be a Denisonian. I have continued to do a lot of writing about Denison and issues in higher education. Those articles can be found at denison.edu/campus/president/speeches. I welcome your insights and observations about Denison and/or higher education. Please send reflections and comments to me directly at president@denison.edu.

Sincerely,

Adam S. Weinberg

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