February, 2010

Musings from Miami

Thursday, February 25th, 2010

Rebecca ChoppI'm writing from Florida where Tuesday night we enjoyed an intimate and quite lively event in Miami. This week I will also have the opportunity to travel to Naples and Sarasota. I was in Palm Beach earlier this week. Our Florida alums and parents are a great group. I'm struck, again, by how frequently we hear the same themes recur in our Listening Tour events, no matter which part of the country we're in — A need for greater visibility for the College. Preserving our commitment to intellectual rigor and exploration. Achieving the right balance between classroom, core learning and preparation for life and careers. We talked about each of these in Miami, as we have elsewhere.

Guests at the Miami eventWe also talked about our admissions process, and in particular, our campus visits. Campus visits are crucial in the decision making process when prospective students are weighing each school very carefully. Our student guides serve as influential ambassadors on behalf of the college and we work hard to give them the appropriate training they need to provide the best possible experience for our visitors. We aim to give our prospective students clear insight into what life at Swarthmore will be like, how they might fit in and how they will be challenged. I know that Jim Bock '90, our dean of admissions, takes our campus visit program very seriously, and I will share with him the comments and suggestions I heard from our alumni and parents in Miami.

Rebecca Chopp and guests at the Miami eventAlso related to the admissions process, we talked about the importance of helping newly admitted students connect with others from their high school or area who already attend or, are planning to attend, Swarthmore. We want to begin building community even before students arrive at Swarthmore. It's a tremendous step from high school to college and we can facilitate those connections, whether they are geographic, or through shared affinities, such as sports or performing arts. We are also building community "online" — before students arrive — with an active electronic web of resources that are available to our matriculants. We will continue to strengthen these community-building resources and remain flexible about the ways in which our students most want and need to communicate with one another before orientation.

Conversing in Atlanta

Friday, February 12th, 2010

Rebecca ChoppThe historic storms that have been plaguing the Atlantic coast did not deter our intrepid alumni from venturing out on a soggy Tuesday evening to gather at the Carter Center in Atlanta for the latest stop on our Listening Tour. Surrounded by lovely artwork, alumni, parents, and friends of the College engaged in lively and intimate conversation bound together by a shared commitment and love for Swarthmore.

As always, we covered a wide range of topics during our conversation including helping students select majors, the intrinsic value of a liberal arts education, the influence of Quaker values on the College, and the need to maintain strong buildings and security on campus.

Audio: Download

We also talked about the role of the humanities and whether specific "core" courses should be required. As with so many of the questions that arise on the Listening Tour, my thoughts turned to the faculty and their wisdom which helps shape Swarthmore's rich intellectual life. As each of these questions are asked, I appreciate how carefully the faculty address these questions day in and day out, as it is they who establish the curriculum and guide the academic enterprise in every meaningful way. I am also reminded, again, how fortunate we are to have such amazing talent at our school.

Rebecca Chopp and a guest at the Atlanta eventI mentioned a few of our faculty in my opening remarks. Historian Pieter Judson, Class of '78, is a member of our faculty who has been honored recently. Pieter recently received an NEH Fellowship, has been appointed to the American Academy of Berlin for the spring semester, and to top it all off, in the same week it was announced that the government of Austria is honoring him for a book he wrote about the country. Charles Keleman of the Computer Science Department has just been named among the top educators in computer science in America. One of our visiting faculty members from Germany, Hans Ludemann is a jazz virtuoso who specializes in and blends the jazz cultures of Germany, America, and Africa, and he’s been putting his skills to work on campus in very creative and imaginative ways.

I could go on...and on! The bottom line is that the essence of the College can be found through our dedicated faculty who embody the values, discipline, and rigor we most want our students to embrace and cultivate — not only as students — but throughout their lives. And indeed, they do.