10 Promising Trends of 2014

Steve Charles—As the editor of a quarterly journal, I tend to view the year’s significant events as being connected to larger trends and to the history of the College.

2014 had more than its share of those promising connections. Here are 10 I noticed as I gathered stories for Wabash Magazine this year:

A Rhodes and Three FulbrightsJacob Burnett ’15 being selected our first Rhodes scholar since Jeremy Robinson ’04 coincided with Susan Albrecht’s first year in the newly created post of graduate fellowship advisor. Correlation does not prove causation, but for the past several years faculty and staff—from Professor Eric Olofson and his Graduate Fellowships Committee to Albrecht’s work this year—have become more intentional and focused on helping students obtain graduate fellowships. A Rhodes scholar and a record three Fulbrights—Adam Barnes ’14, Patrick Stroud ’14, and Sebastian Garren ’14—all in one year. That’s a promising trend.

Golden Age of Wabash Sports—I had the pleasure of photographing the soccer team’s stunning 1-0 win over nationally second-ranked Kenyon in October, and that win led to a record-breaking season for regional Division III Coach of the Year Chris Keller’s Little Giants. For me it could be a metaphor for the entire fall sports season. A conference championship and play-off appearances for football, regional championship for cross-country, strong individual athletes in all sports, and honors and national respect for the coaches. And all built off the momentum of last spring’s NCAC track and field titles.

Wabash SID Brent Harris says it was the best fall sports season in Wabash history. Even tossed around the term “the Golden Age of Wabash Sports.” And he should know.

“That Floor Was Like a Fraternity”—That’s how Jim McQuillin ’72 describes the second floor of Wolcott Hall during his Wabash days, when he was mentored by fellow Wolcott residents Bill Placher ’70 and David Blix: “We were a brotherhood, and as tight a group as you could imagine.”

Those words came to mind last May when President Greg Hess announced the construction of new independent housing, due to open Fall 2015. Pair that with a new fund established by Clay and Amy Robbins that will support student-centered events on campus, then factor in programs that find increasing numbers of students doing their “student jobs” in businesses and organizations in Crawfordsville. It seems the quality and breadth of student life at Wabash is improving all around.

A Great Year for Wabash Artists—Matthew Deleget ’94 earned one of the art world’s great honors when he was invited to exhibit at the 2014 Whitney Biennial in New York City. Nathaniel Mary Quinn ’00 exhibited “Past/Present” at the Pace Gallery in London and earned critical praise and much notice both in and outside of the art world. (Read the Huffington Post and Brooklyn Reader articles.) Not bad for an art department that used to be housed in the Yandes basement!

All this in a year of transition for the art department. Filmmaker and painter Damon Mohl brings his own awards to his rookie year as a professor at Wabash, Professor Elizabeth Morton returns from sabbatical with more curating opportunities for Wabash students, and Professor Doug Calisch will celebrate his final year at Wabash with a retrospective of over 30 years of work next fall.

And while we’re talking fine arts, Professor Mike Abbott directed what may be the most remarkable theatrical collaboration I’ve seen in 20 years—a staging of Guys and Dolls that brought together music and theater departments as well as the campus and Crawfordsville. Contrast that raucous musical with Professor Jessie Mills innovative and well-received (as in standing ovations every night) production of the dialogue-free play Stage Lights. Just two of many reminders of the gift Wabash theater is to the College and the local community.

Then there was songwriter Dan Couch ’89, whose second hit with Kip Moore, “Hey Pretty Girl” went platinum in 2014, even as the songwriting duo was pioneering new musical territory for Moore’s second album.

Any prospective students out there interested in a Fine Arts Scholarship? They should be.

An English Department in Transition—Agata Szczeszak-Brewer delivered a remarkable and challenging LaFollette Lecture, Eric Freeze published a book of essays titled Hemingway on a Bike, Jill Lamberton taught the College’s first course in audio rhetoric, and Marc Hudson published more of his acclaimed poetry (an interview with him will be published in the Silk Road Review later this month).

Professor Emeritus Bert Stern was named an honorary alumnus and published his  “long simmering promise”—the biography of Wabash alumnus and pioneering American in China Robert Winter. Tobey Herzog’s final class before retirement was a wonderful template for others to share the works that fired their own passion for scholarship and teaching.

But Professor Emeritus Tom Campbell died in July. His class on the personal essay was the forerunner to our courses on writing creative non-fiction. I was remembering how Tom had returned to campus after his retirement for one of Eric Freeze’s readings, ever the supportive colleague. I know he believed the non-fiction writing courses were in good hands. But it is the man we miss.

Professor Hudson retires this year; Warren Rosenberg soon after.  The “old guard” made certain through recent hirings that the department will always be a great one, in the tradition of Don Baker and Walt Fertig, who preceded them. I wish I could be an English major here today!

But Stern, Campbell, Herring, Hudson, Herzog, and Rosenberg—those were vintage years.

Standing Really T.A.L.L.— 430 on 4/30,the Wabash Day of Giving in April, raised more than $465,000 in 24 hours thanks to social media and the tremendous response of alumni, students, and faculty and staff. (Many of those donors were first time givers.) The Annual Fund ended the fiscal year with its second highest total in Wabash history, and fundraising journals took notice.

President Hess had listed “expanding the culture of philanthropy at Wabash” as one of his first four objectives leading Wabash forward. Associate Dean for College Advancement Joe Klen’s creative experiment paid off (and no matter what they’ll tell you now, plenty of people doubted it on 4/29). It will be interesting to see what’s next.

Like a Phoenix Rising—When I arrived at Wabash 20 years ago the College was rumored to be considering dropping the speech department. Look at that department (the Department of Rhetoric) now! It has hosted Brigance Colloquia and other national conferences. Professor Todd McDorman delivered the 2013 LaFollette Lecture. And led by chair Jennifer Abbott, faculty and students have led conversations in Crawfordsville and other communities to address and work to resolve previously intractable problems. Assistant Professor 
of Rhetoric Sara Drury, inspired by Wabash legend W. Norwood Brigance, is director of the Wabash Democracy and Public Discourse initiative, which last fall hosted the first Public Discourse Summit with keynote speaker David Kendall ’66.

Classics, a department that took a hit during the Great Recession, is experiencing a similar resurgence. The 2014 Suovetaurilia turned the once insular department picnic into a reenactment of an ancient feast and a tasty celebration of learning for nearly 250 guests at Goodrich Ballpark between double-headers. One goal, as Assistant Professor Bronwen Wickkiser puts it, is “to make the ancient world more accessible for students, and to experience what the senses teach us about life in the ancient world.” Chair Jeremy Hartnett ’96, a former student of Professor Emeritus John Fisher H’70, as well as of David Kubiak and Leslie and Joe Day, is working on research with faculty from other departments, showing the innately interdisciplinary reach of the Classics.  And after retirement, the Days have stayed on to help teach courses and bring their expertise to the  curriculum. It’s quite a legacy!

“Doing Science” as a Way to LearnDean of the College Scott Feller was a newly arrived chemistry professor when I first interviewed him in the mid-90s. His Goodrich Hall office was packed with computers (parallel processors he used to create the “Little Giant Supercomputer”) and students. That day there were two in a space the size of a large closet, both working with Scott on his National Science Foundation-funded molecular modeling research.

Scott believes that students learn best by “doing science” alongside their teachers, that their questioning of assumptions and conventional wisdom can benefit high-level scholarship and research. He believes that sort of teaching and learning is worth the extra time required to include them in the work.

That model became the seed for the first Celebration of Student Research, Scholarship, and Creative Work (which he put together with Charlie Blaich) and has become a template for teaching across the sciences and social sciences, particularly in psychology. It’s reached the humanities, as well. It’s the way I wish I’d been taught in college.

Scott is also a hobby farmer and was hired at Wabash by another farmer, then-Dean of the College Mauri Ditzler ’75. Mauri thought it was no coincidence that so many scientists came from farming backgrounds. As boys, they had to learn to solve problems creatively and with limited resources—perfect training for a young scientist.

Scott being named Dean was an affirmation of both his collaborative way of teaching and his way of solving problems. And added another farmer to the list of Wabash deans!

Four to Watch—President Hess calls them “liberal arts plus”—four initiatives in which students apply and enrich their liberal arts education. I’ve been watching two of them—Global Health and Democracy and Public Discourse—since their inception. I’ve seen the conviction, passion, and teaching ability behind them. I’ve seen the difference they can make in the world. Knowing the people involved with the other two—Innovation, Business, and Entrepreneurship and Digital Arts and Human Values—I’m confident these initiatives will be equally transformative.

They will also give the world focused and tangible way to see and experience what a liberal arts education can do. Keep an eye on these four and your opportunity to be involved. I’m really looking forward to telling these stories.

“Taking Them Farther”—This one’s more personal to me, but it stands for something bigger. In September I took my grandson, Myca, to watch the Cole Lectures given by class of 2012 classmate Pete Guiden and Patrick Garrett in September. Patrick is Myca’s dad.

Patrick grew up in Crawfordsville but had never set foot on campus prior to his application to Wabash. He earned a spot on the waiting list but had to attend Indiana State for a year to prove he was Wabash worthy. Once here he thrived, thanks to his talents, his own determined effort, and the caring and skillful teaching of professors like Amanda Ingram, David Polley, and Jane Hardy. Now he’s working on his PhD at the University of Miami in Ohio; he returned to Wabash for the Cole Lecture to present his research.

Patrick’s visit reminded me of something I heard from Professor Emeritus Raymond Williams H’68 years ago in Center 216. He spoke of recruiting students with less than stellar academic records and “taking them farther” than any other college could. This College, he said, is particularly good at that.

I took that in faith when I first heard it from Raymond, but I’ve witnessed it as fact many times since, and none more profoundly than last September. I know what it means to Patrick, I know what it means for Myca.

When Wabash “takes a student farther,” we take a family, even a community, farther, too.

That, more anything else we do, makes me look forward to our work in 2015.