Together, we accomplished something special this year. In the midst of a global pandemic, we came together as Denisonians to open campus and have a surprisingly good year. While many colleges were mostly or fully online this year, we welcomed students back to campus in the fall. While the first semester was restrictive, we kept COVID-19 cases low. The second semester was one we will remember with pride. Most classes met in person. Athletes competed. Students in the arts performed. Student organizations were active and social life took place. As I reflect on the year, I would offer a few observations.
Denison relationships matter. Denison is defined by the people who come here, the relationships we form with each other and the ways those relationships shape our lives. This year, we leaned into those relational values. Our faculty and staff worked long hours to open the campus and deliver a Denison education to our students. Our students returned to campus committed to each other and willing to sacrifice. And the college put our people first. We kept everybody employed, and we made more financial assistance available to students who needed it.
Liberal arts skills also matter. At graduation, I said the following to seniors: “If anybody should be able to pull this off, it should be a liberal arts college. This is what we do. We educate and inspire students to deal with ambiguity and change, to be lifelong learners, to weave disparate ideas into new ways of seeing the world, to connect people across academic disciplines to address challenges and social problems, and to innovate.”
Small innovations go a long way. Denison will remain a highly relational college that values face-to-face learning. But this year, we used technology to include more alumni and speakers in classrooms, to experiment with different ways to do class projects and to reimagine ways we can connect with students globally. We used technology to enhance health services and to connect students to virtual internships.
We love our outdoor spaces. We have a large campus that is beautiful. This year, we used it—more than usual. We purchased Adirondack chairs and placed them around campus. We welcomed a plethora of food trucks to campus and placed firepits around the grounds, and we held large parties in a variety of outdoor spaces.
We found new friends and partners. Our team of epidemiologists and research scientists at the Wexner Medical Research Center at OSU are one example of a range of new partnerships we created. To get through the year, we had to work with others, and I suspect many of these new friends and partners will remain important to the college.
Here are a few pride points for our alumni, parents, and friends:
Academics: Our faculty launched new academic programs in global health and politics & public affairs. The faculty also approved new programs in journalism, Earth science, and environmental science.
Athletics: Of our spring sports, seven (yes, seven) teams made the NCAA Tournament this spring, including both of our golf, lacrosse, and tennis teams, as well as baseball. Women’s lacrosse made the Final Four of the national tournament.
Admission: We had the best admission year in Denison history, with 9,513 applications. Since we launched our strategic plan in 2015, applications are up 98 percent and early-decision applications have tripled.
Careers: The Denison Launch Lab opened in downtown Columbus, joining The Knowlton Center for Career Exploration, The Red Frame Lab, and The Lisska Center in helping students explore and prepare for careers.
Construction: And we are breaking ground on a new Wellness Center. It will replace Whisler and will serve as a home to all kinds of interesting mindfulness programming that we are using to prepare students with the emotional agility and resiliency to thrive in life.
I am always proud and grateful to be a Denisonian. This year, I was especially proud and grateful to be part of our great college.