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How the campaign for Connecticut College will transform every aspect of the student experience.
efy Boundaries, the campaign launched into its public phase in the fall of 2021, will set Conn apart among liberal arts colleges by enhancing every aspect of the student experience: academics, financial aid and scholarships, career education, sustainability, the arts, equity, inclusion, global education, and athletics. The campaign, which has been active in a private phase since 2017, has already attracted more than $200 million in donor gifts and commitments. Reaching the $300 million goal—the most ambitious in Conn’s history—will require support from across the Conn community.
“Together,” said President Katherine Bergeron, “we can defy expectations and invest in our people, programs and the reach of our reputation as never before. This campaign will be a pivotal step forward for one of the finest liberal arts colleges in our country.”
Read on to learn more about the Defy Boundaries priorities—teaching and learning, student life, career preparation, athletics, and financial strength—and how campaign support from alumni and the greater College community will propel Conn to new heights.
Teaching and Learning
Resist the Predictable
Conn reinvented the liberal arts curriculum through Connections, its groundbreaking approach to education that links each student’s individual passions with interdisciplinary coursework, integrated career preparation and global learning experiences. As the first campaign since Connections was established, Defy Boundaries provides a historic opportunity for donors to support a curricular model that has distinguished Conn in higher education and become a potent force for student growth and success.
Opportunities to invest in academic programs through Defy Boundaries stretch across campus, including enhanced classroom and research facilities for computational science, psychology, neuroscience and data analytics; global study; student-faculty research; endowed professorships; environmental and life sciences; and new investments in the arts.
The campaign goals for the arts have included renovating Palmer Auditorium and Castle Court to turn this complex into a new and revitalized center for performance and creative research. Funding for the initiative has been provided during the campaign through a $10 million grant from the Sherman Fairchild Foundation and a $10 million gift from Nancy Marshall Athey ’72 and Preston Athey, longtime supporters of the College and its arts programs. But work remains, and as part of Palmer Auditorium’s grand reopening celebration planned for April 29, 2022, contributors have a unique opportunity to support this Art Deco architectural gem and the future of the arts at Conn by naming an auditorium seat, either for themselves or for a loved one.
Listen with Purpose
At Conn, vibrant student life goes hand in hand with vibrant academics. Through Defy Boundaries, supporters are investing in campus programs and spaces to expand the opportunities for community discourse and learning from and alongside others. As any graduate of Conn knows, learning in the classroom or lab is profoundly deepened by the out-of-class discussions and debates that make residential living-learning especially meaningful. Plans that the campaign aims to bring to fruition include improved residential spaces, new places on campus for group discussions and forums, and activating sustainability across the curriculum.
For example, through Defy Boundaries, the College seeks to renovate the College Center at Crozier-Williams and create a modern campus center where learning, leadership, mentoring and social experiences meet.
The benefits of such changes are evident in numerous initiatives that alumni and friends have made possible with their gifts. These include the landmark Agnes Gund ’60 Dialogue Project and the Conversations on Race series, which have proven crucial to Conn’s ability to foster discussions of equity and justice.
Likewise, Defy Boundaries seeks to build out new programs dedicated to the study and practice of sustainability, which is important to today’s students and thus critical both to the relevance of Conn’s curriculum and to student recruitment. Through related gifts, supporters will help Conn explore new avenues for incorporating sustainability into the curriculum while protecting and enhancing the College’s environmental assets, from the Connecticut College Arboretum to the Thames to the Long
As a hallmark of a Conn education, interdisciplinary academics and career preparation launch graduates ready to seek enterprising solutions to the world’s most pressing issues. An iconic example is the Hale Center for Career Development, in Fanning Hall, which opened in 2019 thanks to the generosity of Rob ’88 and Karen Hale P’20. The hub of the College’s nationally recognized four-year career program, the center has markedly improved Conn’s ability to connect the liberal arts to career opportunity.
Through additional support for such initiatives, contributors will help the College seamlessly combine intellectual and social growth with professional development. With this in mind, Defy Boundaries aims to raise endowed and outright funds that support new career-experience and preparation programs and bolster internships, externships, study abroad and more—and not only at the end of college but across all four years of the Conn undergraduate experience. The campaign also aims to secure new funding for additional partnerships among faculty and industry professionals that bring career engagement to students across the disciplines.
Conn students have proven themselves adept at turning such experiences into impact in their own lives and beyond. In May 2021, for example, Chad Jones, associate professor of botany and environmental studies, teamed up with Rocky Ackroyd ’83, owner of solar company GreenSun, and eight students to install a solar array on the Service Building. It was the realization of a yearlong plan developed by the students, and its impact will extend for decades.
Conn made history in December when the men’s soccer team won the College’s first national championship in a team sport. Leading up to this achievement, a steady stream of Camels has captured individual NCAA Division III national titles since 2004. Through Defy Boundaries, donors can invest in coaching, programs, equipment and facilities to ensure that Conn remains a leader not only within the extraordinarily competitive New England Small College Athletic Conference (NESCAC) but also nationally across the school’s 28 intercollegiate sports programs.
The impact of such gifts can be significant. More than a third of Conn’s student population participates in varsity athletics. And Defy Boundaries will boost more than varsity sports; the College’s 17 club sports—including baseball, equestrian team, figure skating, rugby, and Ultimate Frisbee—are part of the campaign’s funding and programmatic priorities as well.
The campaign will also drive the revitalization of the Thames waterfront, expanding recreational opportunities and strengthening Conn’s sailing and rowing programs, all while protecting the area’s ecosystem and preserving its role as a key site for study and research. In taking these steps, the campaign will leverage Conn’s distinct position along a highly active river, which few liberal arts colleges anywhere can offer.
As with athletics, across every aspect of campus life the Defy Boundaries campaign is asserting Conn’s excellence, competitiveness and national leadership as a liberal arts institution.
Conn’s commitment to full participation makes its focus on financial aid investments through the Defy Boundaries campaign a matter of principle as much as a matter of opportunity. The goal? Significantly increase the College’s endowment, from which scholarships and financial aid are drawn, as well as annual giving, which every year plays a significant and timely role in funding academic and residential learning experiences and student access. In other words, the campaign aims to ensure that the best students of every background can join the Conn community and take part in all it offers (see a Q&A about campaigns on page 16). It’s the kind of goal that a college devoted to full participation must achieve.
Isis Torres-Nuñez ’20 knows the impact financial aid can make. A stellar high school academic record qualified her for Conn, but she was only able to attend thanks to scholarships. She also received research funding that allowed her to work alongside Biology Professor Anne Bernhard for two summers, studying how droughts affect microbes and shape ecosystems. Isis recalls, “Working in that lab was a life-changing experience for me. Learning about techniques like polymerase chain reaction in a textbook is one thing, but to actually carry out those experiments, by yourself, is another.”
Today, Isis works at the Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard, as part of their COVID-19 testing program for clinics, medical centers and hospitals. Looking back on how her exciting new career began, Isis stresses her gratitude for the chance that Conn’s financial support gave her. “Without scholarships and research funding from Connecticut College,” she says, “I would not be thriving like I am today.”
With Conn’s most ambitious campaign ever now in its public phase, we asked Kimberly Verstandig, Vice President for College Advancement and Interim Vice President for Communications, about campaigns in higher education—how they work, what certain campaign terminology means and what she tells those considering making a gift.
CC: What is a campaign?
Kimberly Verstandig: A campaign is a partnership between alumni, parents, friends and the institution to strengthen the college by investing in strategic goals. The Defy Boundaries campaign, for example, prioritizes teaching and learning, student life, career prep, athletics, and financial strength—needs that go beyond the capacities of the regular operating budget or other revenue sources.
CC: Why do we have campaigns?
KV:Campaigns are a means for the community to invest in ambitious goals that help a college more fully live up to its mission. For Conn, the core of the Defy Boundaries campaign is the student experience. By concentrating fundraising around it, the campaign creates direct pathways through which donors can most impactfully invest in that core mission. Campaigns also help unite campus communities around a common goal, which is certainly essential to this campaign at Conn.
CC: What is an endowment?
KV: In a sense, an endowment is a college’s enduring guarantee that it will meet its goals in education, research and service. The funds supporters give to it are invested to generate interest over time, not unlike a permanent savings account. That principal is meant to be protected in perpetuity, as a lasting resource for the college, and the interest those funds generate is used to invest in people and programs as time unfolds and new college goals and needs emerge.
CC: What is the annual fund?
KV: It is the money that supporters contribute during the year that provides immediate resources to advance the work of the college. We call our annual fund the Connecticut College Fund. Every year, gifts to it support everything from scholarships and financial aid to facilities maintenance, technology upgrades and research. The faculty and staff could not do their work in the classroom, the lab, the arts, athletics, residence halls or literally any aspect of campus life without these gifts.
CC: What does “participation” mean, and why does it matter?
KV: It refers to the percentage of alumni who contribute gifts of any amount to their alma mater in a given year. It is a key component of a successful campaign because it shows an alumni community’s shared commitment to current and future students. Because of that reality, it is also used as an important component in ranking colleges, such as by U.S. News & World Report. In Conn’s case, a strong annual participation figure delivers a vote of confidence in the exceptional liberal arts education that is at the core of our mission.
CC: If something at the College is not a campaign priority, does that mean the campaign won’t raise money for it?
KV:No. At the College, there are always opportunities for donors to support areas that they are passionate about, regardless of whether those are named campaign priorities. Defy Boundaries has fundraising emphases that are critically important, but they are by no means the limit of how donors can make Conn better.
CC: How is the money donated to a campaign used?
KV: Gifts are used in many ways that depend on the type of gift and what donors specify about its use. Annual fund gifts are typically used for priority and timely needs. Donors who make endowment gifts can do so in various ways, such as outright contributions, bequests or other planned gifts. Donors to endowments often specify that the applicable earned interest from those resources must support a priority of special importance to them—it could be financial aid, faculty initiatives, the arts, campus beauty or buildings, athletics, study abroad, and so on.
CC: Does my gift to the Connecticut College Fund or in honor of my Reunion count for the campaign?
KV: Yes. All gifts made to the College during the campaign go toward the Defy Boundaries total.
CC: Why is financial aid and scholarship funding such a major priority of this campaign?
KV: Because it is the only way we can continue to attract and admit the world’s finest students, regardless of their financial background or ability to pay. This is among the many reasons that Rob and Karen Hale’s Scholarship Challenge is so important—it doubles every financial aid gift above $250,000, turning their $10 million gift to financial aid into twice that amount.
CC: Do donors get something from the College in return for giving?
KV: Like any nonprofit, the College is prohibited by law from providing donors significant material gifts in return for donations. What I always try to share with anyone thinking about a gift is that it is one of the best ways to make our world better. Conn strives to educate students who are going to change the world—how they grow, the skills they develop, how they become leaders who help to build better communities and businesses and a better society. Everyone who supports Conn makes that possible.