In March 2015, ranked Wabash 50th out of 1,223 colleges and universities offering the best “return on investment” (ROI) in higher education. The survey measured the average compensation of graduates in their 20th year after Commencement and found that Wabash alumni can expect to earn at least $597,000 more than a high school graduate during those 20 years.

Wabash also ranked third out of all national liberal arts colleges, which was great news.

But “return” by’s definition was limited to dollars and cents.

We wondered how alumni would define their return on investment, so we asked Wabash men from a range of professions and across generations:

How would you describe your “return on investment” from your Wabash education?

Here are some of their responses and stories:

EF-5 in Greensburg

My ROI from Wabash goes back to the College’s mission statement: “Wabash College educates men to think critically, act responsibly, lead effectively, and live humanely.” I know it’s a cliché to say that, but I have had to do all of those things in emergency management.
—AJ Lyman ’05, Emergency Management Specialist, Denver, CO

greensburg tornadoIn 2007 after an EF-5 tornado destroyed Greensburg, KS, my team of 30 responders was staying in tents. In the middle of the night we got word that there was another tornado headed our way, so we had to evacuate the tent city and take shelter in the basement of the severely damaged high school.

I was the first one out of my rack and made sure I knew where all of my 30 people were within moments. Then I made sure everyone was safe and sound in the shelter before I even had a chance to stop and think about my own safety.

That’s when I realized the work I was doing was not about me. I had a responsibility to these people I cared about, and their loved ones, to ensure that they were safe even in a very dangerous situation.

I also had a responsibility to the residents of Greensburg to help them recover from this disaster.

It had become second nature to me—not in a Superman or bravado sort of way. I just knew I was the guy in charge; I knew what needed to be done.

I had been with my team for some time and they respected my ability to keep a level head, so in an emergency there were no questions—just action.

No one got hurt. We were able to respond to the new damage right away. I marked that experience down as a win.

It was only much later that I realized that Wabash was where I developed the tools to be able to handle the stress and make the right decisions in situations like that.—AJ Lyman ’05

David Woessner ’01

Wabash allowed you to lead.

—David Woessner ’01, General Manager, Local Motors, Detroit, MI
In high school I didn’t have to study, but when I came to Wabash, from day one, I was working. I still have that work ethic.

Part of it was the MXI [Malcolm X Institute of Black Studies], and Horace Turner, Coach Rob Johnson, and participating in sports. And while wasn’t one particular class that did this, this was true for most of them: You couldn’t just sit there and let knowledge fall over you like a waterfall. You had to interact, contribute.

Wabash allowed you to lead.

My education gave me the ability to go confidently into multiple fields, multiple scenarios. I succeeded in corporate America, in small business, in starting my own company, and in service and consulting with the Mayor’s Office for the City of Detroit, and now Local Motors, where we’re changing the auto industry.—David Woessner ’‚1

“Will You Save Civilization?” 

I would choose a different indicator—“social return on investment”—to describe the profound yet inestimable extra-financial value I have received from my Wabash education.
—Mark Dietzen ’05, International Affairs Analyst, Washington, DC, former Executive Director of Americans for Artsakh

Mark Dietzen with students and fellow teachers in Nagorno Karabakh.

After my work with the Armenian people as a member of the Peace Corps, I decided to get involved in development in the Nagorno Karabakh Republic. Despite a six-year struggle to secure its independence from Azerbaijan during the eclipse of the Soviet Union, it has yet to be recognized internationally.

The Karabakhi Armenians have withstood great challenges and survived against incredible odds. Yet, because of its disputed political status, this small, mountainous country has been largely excluded from receiving support from international development organizations.

Having lived and worked in neighboring Armenia, I knew there was a need for development in the Nagorno Karabakh Republic. I also understood getting involved there would mean inserting myself into one of Eurasia’s most divisive international conflicts.

While I was making my decision, I remembered Wabash President Andrew Ford’s challenge to my class during our Ringing In in 2001: “How will you save civilization?”

Here was a civilization under threat and it seemed that not enough was being done to protect it. And here was an opportunity to put “living humanely” and “acting responsibly” into action. Wabash teaches us—when we are convinced of the merit of a worthy cause—to have the courage to fight for it, even if that means taking the road less traveled. I chose not to be neutral and silent. I took a stand, and I stand by it.

My Wabash education was a source of inspiration to take the first step on that journey.—Mark Dietzen ’05

Comfortable Making the Transitions 

houston mills 1
Houston Mills ’85

My Wabash education has led to a life-enriching, adventure-filled, thought-leadership driven, high-yield return.
—Houston Mills ’85Airline Director of Safety, former director of flight training, UPS, Louisville, KY

I came to Wabash from Indianapolis, where I had grown up with a blanket of love around me. Even though our economic circumstances were difficult, I didn’t know want. We didn’t judge people by their race, religion, or economic status.

I was the only African American in Lambda Chi— I was exposed to so many different cultures and settings at Wabash.

As a literature major reading so many books, I learned how it felt to be in other cultures, other times. I gained empathy and understanding.

When I graduated I wanted to attend law school, so I joined the Marines’ Judge Advocate General program. While I was in Officer Candidate School, I went to an air show and saw, for the first time, a Harrier Jump Jet taking off. When an airplane rises straight up, then accelerates to 500 miles per hour, that gets your attention! I was intrigued.

So I entered flight school.

I was never intimidated. I knew I could assimilate. I knew I could learn.

Looking back on it all, my thought-provoking philosophy classes at Wabash helped me to understand the importance of discovering my passion and living life to the fullest. So when I saw that first fighter at the air show, something just clicked, and I felt comfortable making the transition from law to aviation.

When you’re 18 you don’t come to college thinking about living a life of significance. You’re going to become a doctor or a lawyer. You want to be successful —a significant life isn’t what you’re thinking about. But Wabash prepared me to live a successful and a significant life.—Houston Mills ’85

Ryan Vaughn
Ryan Vaughn ’00

There is strength in friendships and respect for shared experiences at Wabash. You wear this degree like a badge of honor. Whether it’s personally or professionally, we enrich each other’s lives.
—Ryan Vaughn ’00, President, Indiana Sports Corp., former Chief of Staff for Indianapolis Mayor Greg Ballard, Indianapolis, IN

“Own Your Mistakes”

Our education provides us with every tool necessary to overcome adversity.
—David Bowen ’99, CEO and Managing Director, MarketMaker4

David Bowen
David Bowen ’99

Once in a company I co-founded, a team member of mine made a terrible mistake. He distributed sensitive information from one of our clients to an inappropriate audience.

The client was our most strategic global account (representing a healthy percentage of our total revenue) and our stakeholder had actually approved the communication that carried the sensitive information.

Rather than making excuses and trying to share or pass blame—rather than scheduling a conference call or webinar—I took my colleague who had erred to a face-to-face meeting with the client the next morning at 6 a.m. (the soonest they could see us).

I brought two things with me to the meeting: (1) a handwritten apology (which I read to my client); (2) a detailed analysis of how we could prevent such a regrettable situation from occurring again—for any of our clients.

I also offered to let our client out of their contract but gave them my commitment that we would never let them down again. The letter did not contain a single preposition and got straight to the heart of the matter—something Professor Tobey Herzog would have demanded.

Our willingness to accept full responsibility and “own” our mistake kept the client.

Tell the truth. Own your mistakes and improve. Be a Wabash man.—David Bowen ’99

P.S. The colleague who made the error is still with us.

Rick Gunderman ’83
Rick Gunderman ’83

One feature of a Wabash liberal arts education is the ability to distinguish between small-minded rules and big-hearted principles.
—Richard Gunderman ’83, Chancellor’s Professor of Radiology, Pediatrics, Medical Education, Philosophy, Liberal Arts, Philanthropy, and Medical Humanities and Health Studies, Indiana University.

Return on the Individual

My Wabash education taught me to challenge assumptions.
—John Ohmer ’84, Rector, Falls Church Episcopal, Falls Church, VA

John Ohmer ’84
John Ohmer ’84

One assumption of a study looking at the “ROI” of one’s college education is that the “I” can only stand for “investment.”

What if we were to measure Wabash College’s “return” with other “I” words? Namely, the return on the individual, his intellect, and his internal growth?

At Wabash, I gathered in a classroom with six other students for a course on William Blake. There weren’t 300 or even 30 other students—there were seven of us, total. We weren’t all sitting facing the same way in an auditorium with the professor lecturing back to us. Rather, we met at the professor’s home, in his living room, some of us on the couch, some of us in armchairs, and we were facing each other in a circle. And it’s a full professor we were gathered with—not a TA, not a grad student, but the PhD full-time, teaching-students-is-my-profession professor.

And he wasn’t teaching a class—he was teaching seven individuals, and I was one of them. How do you measure that professor’s ROI—his  return on the individual—each time each of his students, for the rest of their lives, takes a thought more seriously or turns
a phrase more eloquently?

At Wabash, when I first proposed to write my senior paper on Camus’ The Plague, one of my professors told me I should read it in its original French. When I told him “I don’t know any French,” his response was “Well, teach it to yourself, it shouldn’t take you that long.” That professor’s belief in my intellectual ability was nowhere near reality. But the very fact he believed that about me made me believe that about me, at least a little bit, and his statement became a turning point in my life. How do you measure that professor’s ROI—his return on intellect—when he motivated me to keep challenging myself intellectually every day?

At Wabash, two other professors—Eric Dean H’61 and William Placher ’70—turned this sophomore (and quite sophomoric) agnostic/borderline atheist into a senior interested in ordained ministry. I have been an Episcopal priest now for 20-plus years. How do you measure Dean’s and Placher’s return on the internal growth they’ve helped cause, not just my own, but in my parishioners? How do you measure the ripple effect of hope and encouragement on thousands of families and communities?

How do we gauge the ROI of Wabash—the return on this individual, and his intellect, and his internal growth?

Only with another “I” word: Immeasurable.—John Ohmer ’84

Aman Brar
Aman Brar ’99

The liberal arts experience at Wabash set the framework for my understanding of the world.
—Aman Brar ’99, President, Apparatus, Indianapolis, IN

Confidence to Create 

The joy of working with highly intelligent and capable professionals.
—Allen Murphy ’76, US Coast Guard Licensed Captain, Owner of, Chesapeake Bay, former Director of Orthopedic, Neurology & Neurosurgery ProductsNextGen Healthcare Information Systems, Misys Healthcare Systems

My Wabash experience created a high level of confidence and comfort as I worked with physicians and group administrators in physician office computer sales. I truly enjoyed my work and the camaraderie with my clients, mostly due to the time and effort spent with Wabash professors and students who taught me the joy of working with highly intelligent and capable professionals.

Allen Murphy ’76

When I retired and spent three years as a yacht broker, the industry was very new to me and the details to be learned were a bit overwhelming. My Wabash education provided problem-solving skills necessary for me to succeed and enjoy my new career.

When I was departing on my first long-term, small sailboat cruise, living aboard full-time and planning to sail over 1,300 nautical miles singlehandedly, I contemplated writing about my experiences. My Wabash education gave me the confidence to create and build a Web site to share my sailing adventures with friends and family.

A constant in all three of these careers—I could talk with clients or colleagues, find their interests or beliefs very different from my own, yet carry on a meaningful conversation on many topics well outside my areas of experience and expertise.

But the best part of the Wabash education is the bond of community amongst the classmates, faculty, and staff. More surprising is the immediate bond that occurs when meeting a fellow alum, even when he is from a class separated from my own by many years.—Allen Murphy ’76 (“Captain Murph”)

I consider Wabash the cornerstone of my lifelong learning journey.—Sam Milligan ’68, Nephrologist, La Porte, IN

“A free and ordered space”

The liberal arts are all about the interstices, the grey areas. That’s where life is lived.
—David Shane ’70, former CEO, LDI Ltd, former advisor for Indiana Governor Mitch Daniels, Indianapolis, IN

When I was a student at Duke University Law School, I answered a question incorrectly in Professor George Christie’s class. He spun and fired his chalk at me, it exploded, and he said, “Shane, when are you going to learn that my job is not to teach you the letter of the law? My job is to help you understand the interstices between the letters of the law. That’s where life is lived.’”

The liberal arts are all about the interstices, all about the grey areas.

David Shane ’70
David Shane ’70

They are all about getting along when getting along is harder rather than easier; all about thinking vertically in terms of improvement, as opposed to horizontally as in your rights versus my rights; all about common cause and a general understanding of the commonweal as opposed to “me.”

This builds a tendency to be thoughtful about the other, which is the premise of good ethical engagements.

To borrow from Bart Giamatti’s book of the same name, liberal arts education creates “a free and ordered space.” Students have the power of freedom, so they understand the consequences of it, they understand the obligations of it, they understand that if it is responsibly exercised in the context of others you can deal with issues much more easily than if you’re on your own. You can build things, build ethical results and increase ethical capacity in yourself and others.”—David Shane ’70

Pay attention 

While at Wabash I learned who I was, where I fit in the world, and how I wanted to live my life.
—Tom Martella ’71, Management Consultant, Washington, DC, former Director of International Programs, Booz Allen Hamilton, Sao Paolo, Brazil

Tom Martella
Tom Martella ’71

In my first job overseas, a year out of Wabash, I brashly made a comment to the business manager at the Greek school where I worked in Thessaloniki.

“You Americans are all alike,” he replied. “You come in here, don’t understand us, make all these observations and suggestions. And then you leave.  And we are here.”

His rebuke made me reflect on what my Wabash education had been—delving into areas with little knowledge initially, but paying attention to the context and allowing true understanding to emerge.

With my comment to the Greek business manager, I had totally missed the context.

From that point on in Greece and many other places, while I continued to observe, I was much more discreet, respecting the local knowledge residing in those who were there for the duration. And as time passed, by being there with them, day by day, I was able to read
the context to know when and how to participate in their lives and work.—Tom Martella ’71

Understanding Metaphors

One of the things I think we do uniquely well—because of the way we structure our teaching and our classrooms—is to develop in students a sympathetic imagination.
—Mauri Ditzler ’75, President, Albion College, former Dean of the College at Wabash

Mauri Ditzler
Mauri Ditzler ’75

Teaching students how to integrate knowledge is one way the liberal arts creates problem solvers.

Last fall I heard a speaker offer a great example of how integrating disciplines invents knowledge. He was a world-renowned researcher in Alzheimer’s and working at an Ivy League institution. He had been an English literature major as an undergraduate.

After the talk, a student said: “You know, you’ve really got some remarkable ideas. Where does the insight come from?”

The English major-turned-scientist said, “I understand metaphors better than anyone else in my field, and because I understand metaphors, I can solve problems. That’s what makes me a more successful researcher.”

That’s one of the ways that liberal arts graduates think in a way that’s fundamentally different from others, and it is based on integrating knowledge from one area to the other.—Mauri Ditzler ’75, from “A Bright Future for the Liberal Arts,” 2015 Big Bash colloquium session. 

A Handshake Over Dinner

The greatest ROI that I have received from my time at Wabash has been the ability to develop relationships in work and personal life.
—Ryan Thornberry ’05, Director of Operations, Planning, and Purchasing, Yeti Cycles, Golden, CO

Photo by Joey Schusler, courtesy Yeti Cycles
Photo by Joey Schusler, courtesy Yeti Cycles

In the product development side of my job at Yeti Cycles, I work closely with Asian manufacturers. These partnerships are key to the success of our company, as they affect everything from speed of delivery to the quality of the end product.

There are cultural, time and language differences, and we must make sure that we have a strong partnership with our suppliers.

During our last trip we were working on a new project and we asked for some additional resources in order to keep our project on schedule. It was a little out of the norm, but since we have such a strong partnership, the deal was made with a handshake over dinner.

That is unheard of with most Asian manufacturers.   —Ryan Thornberry ’05

David Boulware
David Boulware ’96

The greatest return may be my ability to write. 

The ability to communicate is something that’s not often emphasized in a pure science education; scientists and doctors tend to be poor communicators.

Yet the ability to write well and speak well is essential to what I do. You have to be able to communicate your research to both a scientific and a general audience, and for that, my liberal arts background is invaluable.—David Boulware ’96, Associate Professor, Infectious Disease Physician, University of Minnesota, Minneapolis, MN

I consider Wabash the cornerstone of my lifelong learning journey.  

   —Sam Milligan ’68, Nephrologist, La Porte, IN

My classical liberal arts training lent itself to a career in journalism. Journalism should be recognized for what it is: the liberal arts in practice.

—Tim Padgett ’84, Americas correspondent, WLRN-Miami Herald News, former Latin America Bureau Chief, TIME, Miami, FL

Tim Padgett ’84
Tim Padgett ’84