Our New Vernacular

Around the world during the last year, words like challenging, difficult, uncertain, exhausting, and isolated became commonplace as individuals and organizations struggled to remain vital and, in some cases, merely survive.

Antonyms of the word commonplace are original, creative, innovative, and imaginative. Those terms describe precisely Denison’s response throughout the coronavirus pandemic. An original approach, a creative vision, innovative plans, and imaginative execution produced a remarkably successful in-person academic year in 2020-2021. And during the same period, Denison also saw a record-breaking admission year, with nearly 10,000 students applying for some 650 spots in the Class of 2025.

How Did We Do It?

The obvious response is, “We did it together!” But that answer does not highlight this overriding fact: All our best health and medical expertise, campus and community collaboration, and technological advances could never have been implemented without readily available financial resources.

Those resources came directly from your support of the 2020‑2021 Annual Fund.

It was the ability to develop highly effective plans — along with the ability to pay for those plans — that allowed Denison to remain ambitious and resilient and emerge from the pandemic strong and ready to move forward.

Your Profound Generosity

The Right Gift at the Right Time

Gifts to the Denison Annual Fund are always important — and they’re always timely. That said, the unprecedented challenges of the last year led to both significant increases in the operating budget and solutions that required immediate implementation.

Thanks to your gifts, the Annual Fund’s record-setting attainment in 2020-2021 came at the exact moment when the college needed it most.

Below is a brief profile of the success of the Annual Fund in Fiscal Year 2021. It is a remarkable testament to the loyalty of the greater Denison family, which includes donors of all generations and from around the world.

Total Dollars
In Fiscal Year 2021, gifts to the Denison Annual Fund totaled an all-time record of

Total Donors
In Fiscal Year 2021, donors supporting the Denison Annual Fund totaled another record of

Total Volunteers
The total number of individuals volunteering their time and efforts on behalf of Denison was

Denison students and their families are exceedingly grateful for your thoughtful and kind support. And our faculty, staff, and administrators are equally appreciative of your compassion and generosity.

The Impact of Your Gifts

In the Classroom

Class being held in a tent

Enlisting guidance solicited from a team of top virologists and epidemiologists retained from the Ohio State College of Medicine and College of Public Health, Denison re-envisioned its in-person classrooms, laboratories, and studios. Health and safety modifications to learning and teaching spaces included everything from physical spacing and barriers to HVAC and information technology upgrades.

Oh, and there were tents — lots of tents — scattered across campus. They were equipped with lights, heaters, and computer connectivity to increase campus classroom space during all but the coldest months.

Nearly all of Denison’s students returned to Granville in the fall for in-person learning, but remote online access was available to those whose health or homeland prevented them from being on campus or traveling to the U.S.

All in all, though it wasn’t always easy, much was accomplished, and the students were able to take advantage of a robust academic experience throughout both the fall and spring semesters.

On the Stage

Denison Chamber Singers singing with face masks

The arts at Denison were already on the rise when the pandemic hit. With the opening of the Michael D. Eisner Center, now home to the departments of Music, Theatre, and Dance, as well as the recent renovation of the Bryant Arts Center (formerly Cleveland Hall) to house Studio Art and Art History & Visual Culture, record numbers of students were flocking to the Fine Arts Quad on lower campus to major, minor, or just participate in the arts.

The faculty and staff of the arts programs were early adopters of innovative workarounds to allow students to pursue their craft and hone their skills in low-risk environments. There were numerous outdoor offerings, including music and dance performances and theatre productions. Studio art classes even pursued plein air painting.

Virtual ensembles were presented through digital technology, and live concerts were streamed in real-time when audiences were not permitted to gather in Ohio. And as is the tradition at Denison, when students completed their creative works, they were presented publicly in a wide range of recitals and exhibitions.

In the Residence Hall

Students socialize seated around a fireplace

As expected, residential life on campus was rather unusual last year. There were the necessary restrictions regarding large group interactions, and contact monitoring was practiced conscientiously. The goal was to keep coronavirus cases to a minimum so that very few students would need to be quarantined. Small groups or pods were formed so that multiple students could gather socially without risking large infection rates. There were specified limits on traveling beyond campus, too.

After a successful fall semester that saw fewer than two dozen students contract COVID, restrictions were eased during the spring semester, and the academic year closed with more social events. Also in the spring, some large outdoor gatherings were held, including the Induction of the Class of 2024, the Celebration of Student Excellence, and Commencement for the Class of 2021.

Students were grateful for their time on campus, and their attentive diligence in keeping their living and social spaces safe and healthy paid off enormously.

On the Field

Football practice

First, in March of 2020, there was the inevitable announcement from the NCAC that all spring sports competition had been called off. Then, the schedules for all fall sports were canceled. Next, there were glimmers of hope for some limited winter competition as 2021 unfolded. And by spring, teams were able to compete in a limited number of contests and a vie for conference and national championships. The Big Red were hugely successful in the spring, winning a record number of league titles and earning bids to numerous postseason tournaments.

That’s what the public saw. What went largely unseen was the grit, drive, tenacity, and determination demonstrated by the players and coaches of all 26 varsity sports through the pandemic. During the spring and summer of 2020, athletes trained on their own at home with workouts prescribed by the coaches, and in the fall and winter, teams found creative and safe ways to practice together.

In the spring, some fall sports teams were able to compete against other colleges. By all accounts, amid the formidable challenges, Denison’s commitment to its athletes and its ability to provide so many opportunities for their physical and mental development was extraordinary.

In Student Organizations

Students sitting on the Academic Quad

As students returned to campus for the fall 2020 semester, there were plenty of limits on the size and types of assemblies that could take place. This changed the way that involvement in various student organizations — a mainstay of residential life at Denison — was conducted.

Participation remained high, and hybrid approaches to meetings and projects were employed to maximize engagement. Outdoor gatherings and Zooms were the norm as clubs and associations sought to keep their membership active and dynamic. From the student newspaper to a cappella singing groups to service organizations, students found a way to carry on with their fellow members and remain true to their purpose.

The Denison Campus Governance Association took a lead role in shaping student life initiatives, and in April, elections were held on schedule to transfer leadership to the next generation of officeholders. As social restrictions continued to ease through the spring semester, many organizations found a renewed spirit and energy, and they began planning for their return in the fall of 2021.

In the Future

The red Frame Lab

When the pandemic hit, Denison was in the process of turbocharging its entire suite of award-winning career-launch programs. Four different centers help students to gain insights, skills, experiences, and connections to successfully transition from classroom to career.

When the Austin E. Knowlton Center for Career Exploration, the Red Frame Lab (pictured above), the Denison Launch Lab, and the Lisska Center for Scholarly Engagement were faced with constraints on in-person training sessions and off-campus networking opportunities, staff members began creating novel workarounds to focus on post-college success.

Prime examples include the implementation of Launch Lab’s virtual Summer Accelerator workshops, which covered numerous career-focused competencies; the Red Frame Lab’s design-thinking efforts to ideate solutions for COVID-related campus challenges; and a virtual [RE]Mix Summit that convened some of Denison’s most prolific entrepreneurial thinkers to share their first-hand knowledge and career-path advice. Not coincidentally, the 2020-2021 academic year saw an unprecedented number of Denison students and recent alumni designing, launching, and directing new enterprises.

 I am so appreciative of the generous donations that have provided me the opportunity to attend Denison. During this crazy time we’ve all been living through, having the ability to be on campus interacting with my peers and unbelievable professors, all while being in a diversified, safe, and inclusive environment means the world to me. 

Andy, Class of 2024

Strategic Initiatives

Your gifts have allowed Denison to pursue major strategic priorities that strengthen the college’s position as a leader among top liberal arts colleges and universities. At the same time, these initiatives serve to attract the best and brightest minds to Denison. Highly regarded faculty members are committed to teaching and learning, and Denison is increasingly becoming the first-choice college of more and more top secondary school students from around the globe.

Curricular Innovation

While remaining true to its liberal arts tradition, Denison continues to add majors and concentrations in finance, commerce, health, and communications that prepare graduates to lead in a rapidly changing world. Denison is a leader in curricular innovation, and gifts to the Annual Fund help cover the costs of these inspired additions.

Faculty Mentorship

It goes without saying that faculty mentors help students immensely while they’re in college. But those relationships have proven to be equally valuable after Commencement, demonstrably increasing graduates’ chances of professional and personal success throughout their lifetime. Mentorship programs at Denison are directly supported by the Annual Fund.

Career Launch

Denison has built a best-in-class career-launch program that features four different career-focused centers. Together, they provide a wide range of opportunities for career exploration, leadership development, skills building, design thinking, professional networking, internships, fellowships, and more. These programs depend on gifts to the Annual Fund.

Student Wellness

Denison has always made student physical and mental health a priority, but in today’s complex world, with its increasing pressures and rapidly changing expectations, the college has made its holistic and powerful approach to student wellness even more of a priority. Wellness programs and staff are supported by gifts to the Annual Fund, and Denison students are benefitting from that support in significant ways every day.

Affordability & Accessibility

Generous scholarships are, in part, funded by gifts from loyal and compassionate Denison alumni, family, and friends to the Annual Fund. At a time when other elite colleges and universities have begun evaluating a family’s ability to pay when making admission decisions, Denison remains need-blind. The highest-performing applicants earn an offer of admission to Denison, regardless of family income, and the university is committed to making a Denison education accessible to all admitted students.

Looking Forward

Thanks to your gifts to the Annual Fund, Denison is well-positioned to flourish in the future. This campus is a magnificent and memorable place. And the curricular and co-curricular programs are imaginative and among the best in the country.

Still, President Weinberg reminds us that, at its core, Denison is about people and the relationships formed and sustained among those people. The Denison community is actually more like a family. It’s a unique group of individuals with a common bond that fosters a culture of caring, compassion, and understanding.

Your generosity allows the college to uphold its aspirational vision and values. And your contributions support Denison’s worthy mission to inspire and educate students to become autonomous thinkers, discerning moral agents, and active citizens of a democratic society.

Thank You for Supporting the Denison Annual Fund!