Highlights of the Fall

Jim Amidon — I sat in my Kane House office last Friday watching out my window as students at the Beta House next door packed up their cars for semester break. For a few minutes, I drifted back 20 years to remember my own experiences; back then, I couldn’t wait to pack up and head home for break.

Now, as I watch the students drive away from campus, I secretly wish they weren’t in such a hurry to leave. With classes over, this week would be the ideal time to have warm, free-flowing conversations with students about their dreams, their goals, and their experiences at Wabash.

Fortunately, I had a few of those talks with a couple of students before they dashed off. Listening to the students — getting to know them as something other than biology majors or football players — reminds all of us at Wabash why we do what we do.

With the 2006 fall semester officially in the books, I’ve been thinking about how quickly the last four months have sped by. And what a great fall season we had.

Here are a few of the highlights that stand out in my mind:

Welcoming a new president is always a lot of fun. As I’ve written before, the opportunity to teach President White and his wife, Chris, the ways of Wabash, has been a wonderful experience for all of us.

The way in which the Whites have embraced Wabash and Crawfordsville, though, has certainly been a highlight. Sometimes I wonder if our students realize how fortunate they are to have such direct access to their president. And what makes Pat special is that he always makes time for thoughtful, meaningful conversations with every student he encounters.

On top of that, I can’t think of an event — sports, lectures, concerts, plays — when the Whites weren’t in attendance, supporting the students and faculty of the College. It certainly didn’t take them long to become entrenched in our community.

I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention Dean Gary Phillips, CFO Larry Griffith, Librarian John Lamborn, and all the faculty and staff who joined the College this fall. All brought unique talents and gifts to Wabash, but more importantly they came to us with different perspectives and experiences, which have enriched this place immensely.

Other moments stand out, too.

Wabash dedicated a $5 million fraternity house, Psi Chapter of Phi Gamma Delta. Several hundred Phi Gam alumni came back to campus for the ribbon cutting and dedication dinner.

The football team won a thrilling Monon Bell game in front of a record crowd of 11,600 and a national, high definition television audience.

Many professors continued their excellent teaching, of course, but professors Peter Bankart, Stephen Webb, Stephen Morillo, and James Fisher also published books that reflect their personal academic interests.

Wabash hosted a wide range of visiting artists and scholars, and we were particularly honored to welcome Nobel Prize-winning economist Douglass North for thought-provoking talk on why worldwide economic reform is so hard to achieve.

And the semester came to a close with wonderful news for three members of the Wabash faculty. Physics Professor Jim Brown, Psychology Professor Bobby Horton, and German Professor Greg Redding all received tenure at Wabash, which is without a doubt the most significant milestone in their academic careers. Receiving tenure is an acknowledgement first and foremost that each professor is an excellent teacher. On top of that, all three are exceptional scholars and are involved in every aspect of the lives of their students.

During this holiday season, it’s important, too, to point out how fortunate all of us at Wabash are to live and work in such a solid, caring community. Having studied other colleges a fair amount over the years, I know how rare good town-gown relations are, and how truly blessed we are at Wabash.

Fyffe Named Honorary Student Senator

Howard W. Hewitt – Wabash College has always been student focused. Faculty and administrators keep the college student-centered. Another part of each students’ Wabash experience is interaction with the College’s professional staff.

Student leadership took note of that contribution Thursday honoring Terri Fyffe a customer service/accounts receivable worker in the business office.

Fyffe is in her 37th year at Wabash and has been responsible for student accounts for the past 33 years.

"It is through Terri’s hard work and commitment that our student government and student organizations have remained financially solvent over the years," wrote Brett Gann ’07, student body vice president, in making the announcement.

"In fact, she is partly responsible for the student government pulling though rough years without the College deciding that students weren’t fit to manage finances."

The Senate passed a resolution Nov. 29 honoring Fyffe’s service to students and naming her an Honorary Senator of the Student body.

Friends and co-workers gathered to surprise Fyffe Thursday morning. Six members of the Senate, including Gann and President Kevin Pazour, made the presentation.

Fyffe seemed quite surprised, but thrilled with the student recognition. She stood quietly while Gann read the recognition in the Business Office. "I’ve just always enjoyed working with the students," she said.


Teaching and Learning with the New Guys

Jim Amidon — Students at Wabash College awake this this week with the daunting prospect of a week’s worth of late nights and early mornings ahead of them. The fall semester classes ended last Friday and today marks the beginning of final exam week. By this time next week, the campus will resemble a ghost town.

Oh how the semester has flown by.

It really does seem like yesterday that new President Pat White rang in the Class of 2010, referring to the freshmen as his “brothers” beginning their time at Wabash College.

Now, roughly four months later, the Whites and the freshmen have settled in. For the freshmen, the Wabash roller coaster ride is becoming more of a routine. No longer do they walk about campus wide-eyed, confused, or dog-tired (though this week they do resemble walking zombies ready for mom’s home cooking and the comfort of their own beds).

The president, Dean Gary Phillips, and CFO Larry Griffith have settled in, too. Now that their administrative colleagues have gotten them up to speed on how Wabash does its business, there is talk of strategic planning in the spring. The final details of President White’s January inauguration are in process. Communication channels are clear and conversations about the future of Wabash are well underway.

We’ve come a long way since July 1.

And in all sorts of ways, it has been a joyful fall for so many people at Wabash. Having three new senior administrators on campus has given us an opportunity to teach them the Wabash culture and to revisit the many traditions and rituals that we take for granted.

There’s tremendous satisfaction in teaching interested people the very essence of what we do at the college. It helps the newcomers better understand us, while it reaffirms for those of us committed to Wabash’s future our purpose and roles as stewards of the college. It also helps us learn a bit about ourselves all over again.

It’s been fun to prepare the president for traditional events like Homecoming and Monon Bell. It’s one thing to describe Chapel Sing or the Homecoming “Queen” Contest, but something completely different to see those events through President White’s eyes. Doing so has reminded me of how quirky, unique, and truly wonderful Wabash is.

One moment, in particular, stands out.

As I stood on the sideline with my camera between the third and fourth quarters of the Monon Bell football game, I heard behind me a huge roar from the student section. When I looked to see what caused the commotion, I was shocked to see Pat and Chris White walking among the students, high-fiving the crowd, and leading cheers.

After a particularly robust rendition of the “Give me a W! Give me an A!” cheer, I listened as the students roared with enthusiasm — not for the cheer, but for their new president who was leading it. As he exited the student section, I saw President White visibly pump his fist in the air for the students. I figure it was both an emotional moment for Pat and an acknowledgement of his pride in yet another wonderful Wabash tradition.

The president has had a lot of those moments this fall, from experiencing for the first time the rhythmic beat of the Wamidan world music ensemble, to the heart-wrenching way Wabash wrapped its arms around Mike Bachner’s family at the moment of his untimely death.

Observing closely the president’s introduction to the culture, traditions, and relationships that make Wabash unique has served to revitalize those of us at the college who’ve “been there and done that.” Witnessing the pride Pat takes in this place — and the extent to which he has committed himself to it — has further rejuvenated our spirits.

Perhaps best of all, every member of the Wabash community has had the opportunity to teach the newcomers the ways of Wabash, from the students who “own” the college to the night watchmen who lock the doors and turn out the lights. I think that illustrates just how broadly we define community around here, which by itself is a pretty cool lesson to teach.