By Webb Chappell
A colleague recently observed that “alumnae relations sits at the intersection of nostalgia and innovation.” As we chart our way forward out of pandemic times and into “the new normal,” I think a lot about the ever-present challenge to balance what we hold dear about our alma mater with a living, breathing institution that continues to evolve and thrive in a rapidly changing world.
The Sage wall in the reopened Science Complex provides a physical representation of this concept. There is tremendous history, and for some, significant nostalgia, in that wall. And it looms large over a complex that speaks to innovation. On both sides of the massive stone structure, faculty and students breathe innovation and promise into the new space.
I have never been so excited about science at Wellesley. I will admit here, distribution requirements were the only reason this poli sci major set foot in the Science Center as a student. Occasionally, I’d venture over to root out my physics major friend. (Not only did Karen’s physics and philosophy double major indicate her tremendous intelligence, she was smart enough to study somewhere other than next door to me in Shafer, where I would surely introduce distraction before her problem sets were complete.)
On an Ann Velenchik-led tour with colleagues in early spring, I found myself fascinated by how faculty and student input informed the design of the Science Complex. Around every corner is a different type of working space—whiteboards, flexible seating, private nooks. This was a place I could see myself. And then I did: We stopped to chat with a student as we made our way through the new North Wing. She was a political science major who had found “her space” already on the third floor of the new building. Innovation is creating spaces for all students.
We also must innovate to create spaces for all alumnae in our community as we navigate our way forward.
There are elements of nostalgia that help us thread our community together through generations. This spring, we’ll bring back Stepsinging, which was on a COVID public health hiatus. You can visit alum.wellesley.edu/stepsinging to dive into Stepsinging nostalgia as we introduce the tradition to the majority of the student body.
Also in the vein of traditions, reunion returns this year! Including my favorite part, the reunion parade. In 2020 and 2021, the WCAA compiled virtual parades, which you can view at wellesley.edu/onlytobethere, but there’s nothing quite like watching generations of Wellesley’s alumnae process down College Road in their parade whites.
There’s so much I’m excited to return to, and I know you are, too. Traditions hold an important place in our work. And yet there is risk in snapping back into exactly the way things used to be. There are very few places we’re doing that in any of our lives; relationships, habits, priorities, and, for many people, the whole world of work have changed dramatically. Our approach to alumnae relations is no exception. Alumnae around the world can now engage with Wellesley’s outstanding faculty through the virtual faculty speaker series. Prospective students benefited from identity-based perspectives in the admission process through the new AlumConnect virtual format. As we move through this year and beyond, mentoring connections will once again happen over coffee, and we can extend meaningful connections among alumnae and students across geographies with more comfort than ever before.
Innovation allows us to make meaningful and sustaining connections with an alumnae population that is ever evolving, and an institution that is, too. As with the Science Complex design process, our path forward is informed by multiple perspectives and experiences. Together, we strive to keep nostalgia and innovation in balance as we work to engage alumnae with the College and one another.