Let’s Hear it for the Boards

Jim Amidon — There are dozens of ways in which Wabash College is unique among the nation’s colleges and universities. At the top of the list, though, is the dedication and loyalty of Wabash’s alumni — and particularly of its alumni leadership.

Last Thursday, members of the Board of Trustees and the Board of Directors of the National Association of Wabash Men began returning to campus for their mid-winter meetings.

Both boards serve different and meaningful functions. Both are made up of some of Wabash’s most distinguished alumni — including heads of large corporations, small business, doctors, lawyers, and educators.

Some attended classes on Friday morning. Others received updates from President Pat White and Dean of Admissions and Financial Aid Steve Klein. The business of the weekend had to do with the economic crisis and its impact on Wabash, and how alumni can step up to insure Wabash will
continue to provide an incredible liberal arts education for the students enrolled here.

What I found most fascinating was Friday night’s dinner. The Trustees, Alumni Board members, and their guests dined with students — about 120 of them. The alumni leaders spread themselves out — a couple at every table — to talk with the students and without agenda.

I don’t know if other colleges and universities do this or not. After all, there is some risk in allowing such free, unscripted dialogue among students and Trustees.

But Wabash’s alumni leaders know that the College exists solely for its students. If the leaders are to work with President White and his administration to navigate through difficult times, it’s important they
have a keen understanding of the Wabash experience from the students’ perspective.

I was fortunate to be at Friday’s dinner. At my table were three impressive alumni from three different eras.

Mark Shreve, Class of 2004, works with international study programs in Italy, recruiting students and college partners for those programs, as well as marketing them. He’s also a mentor and friend to dozens of current students.

Mike Rapier, Class of 1987, is president of Liberty Paper in Arizona. His company is holding fast in this tough economy but he’s had to slow production in order to keep his workforce in tact. He and his son,
Matthew, flew in for the Alumni Board meeting, then flew to Tampa Bay for the Super Bowl. A long-time Arizona Cardinals season ticket holder, Mike was excited to be chosen in the ticket lottery.

And, interestingly, Mike’s company manufactures the paper the NFL uses for those real-time pictures generated on the sidelines and used by coaches and players.

Kevin Clifford, Class of 1977, was also at our table. Kevin is president of American Funds Distributors in Los Angeles. He’s one of several Wabash Trustees and Alumni Board members whose companies are feeling the full brunt of the economic downturn. He’s in the thick of it at a very high level.

So there we were at dinner with a couple of Wabash’s international students, Victor Meng and Juan Cricco. Victor is a senior economics major from China and Juan is a junior math major from Paraguay. Both are very sharp students.

Kevin and Victor chatted about emerging financial markets in Asia; Victor has studied them and Kevin’s company has offices in Japan and, maybe someday soon, in China.

Juan, Mark, Mike, and Kevin chatted about the recent election, mistakes the McCain campaign may have made along the way, and President Obama’s economic stimulus package.

They also talked about Wabash. When such loyal and generously supportive alumni sit down and ask students what they like most and least about Wabash, something special happens. Plans and agendas begin to form; strategic directions are charted.

Victor said his biggest concern is that the College’s emerging partnership with Fudan University in China might suffer because of the financial crunch. Juan’s biggest concern is more of a practical day-to-day issue: the Sparks Center dining room can’t accommodate the large number of diners, especially at lunch time.

Those were just a couple of the topics covered at one table. Trustees and NAWM Board members had similar conversations at 25 other tables. Students spoke, the alumni leaders listened, and everyone learned something important — Wabash works for its students and alumni are dedicated to meeting their needs, now and in the future.

That dinner was remarkable. Even more impressive was the large number of alumni leaders who returned to campus — on a miserably cold and snowy weekend. Many traveled from New York, California, Arizona, and even overseas to attend the meetings, share their insight and advice, and
partner with the administration in moving the College forward in uncertain times.

Is this alumni passion and loyalty unique in all of higher education? I can’t say for sure.

But I can say it sure is rare to have so many bright, innovative, and creative alumni who are so generous with their time, their talent, and their treasure. Wabash is fortunate, indeed.