December 16, 2015

Dear Members of the Trinity College Community,

While the weather outside is unusually warm for mid-December, we are just a week away from the end of the fall term. At Trinity, it has been a semester of new initiatives and positive outcomes that set the stage for our future.  For me personally, I end the fall term with an even greater conviction that Trinity’s people – faculty, staff, students, alumni, and friends – are a smart, engaged, and creative community of individuals who are highly committed to the College and its mission.  As we approach the winter break, I reflect with pride and appreciation on all that we have accomplished together this fall.  Here are a few highlights.

Academics Are Central
Every day, students and faculty are doing remarkable work, and we see the fruits of their labors at this time of year – with research presentations, project talks, and arts performances — work that is made possible because of our favorable student-to-faculty ratio.  A highlight of the year, led by our excellent faculty, is the 2015-2016 celebration marking the 25th anniversary of neuroscience at Trinity, featuring panels, performances, films, and lectures by noteworthy people in neuroscience-related fields.  This multidisciplinary major attracts many of our strongest science students and provides an excellent field of inquiry for those interested in medicine, research, and other professional fields.  I was honored to be asked to present the inaugural lecture of the yearlong series, focusing on my research on autism.  Please join us for one of the anniversary events.

Trinity’s new music rehearsal and performance center will be a signature addition to our vibrant music life.  On schedule to open in January, the center will provide rehearsal, recording, and performance space to student musicians, singers, and composers, as well as to appreciative audiences.  The new center is located adjacent to Austin Arts Center.

Trinity’s academic reputation broadened to other parts of the country and the world this fall thanks to our first two offerings within the online platform edX. Close to 20,000 people around the world enrolled in courses offered by Professor of Computer Science Ralph Morelli (“Mobile Computing with App Inventor – CS Principles, Part I”) and Vernon K. Krieble Professor of Chemistry, Emeritus, Henry DePhillips (“Science in Art: The Chemistry of Art Materials and Conversation”).  Spring-semester courses will be offered by Associate Professor of Biology Kathleen Archer and Brownell Professor of Philosophy Dan Lloyd.  We are pleased to join edX’s other top-tier colleges in presenting courses taught by Trinity faculty to audiences beyond our campus.

Trinity’s academic environment hinges on both our faculty and our students.  Angel Pérez, vice president for enrollment and student success, is establishing a new model to recruit top-quality students who are the most likely to succeed at Trinity.  Since Angel’s arrival in June, the Admissions Office is expanding its recruiting to new parts of the country and strengthening relationships with high school counselors.  The Admissions staff is also taking a more in-depth look at applicant characteristics that are proven to predict success in college.  To learn more about our Admissions initiatives, watch this interview with Angel.

A Stronger Campus Community
We are building a more inclusive community on campus in several new ways:

  • The Bantam Network is off to a very strong start.  This mentoring network is designed to provide incoming students with the support and tools they need to succeed from their first days on campus. The network – composed of Nests that are supported by faculty, student life deans, student advisers, and recent graduates called Nest Leaders – guides first-year students to a broad range of resources at Trinity and in Hartford.  The positive feedback has been fantastic, and we will expand this model next year.
  • TrinColl2Action is the name students gave to their recommendations following their work on the Campaign for Community.  Five working groups of students spent the fall identifying ways that our social community could be made stronger, more tolerant, and more inclusive. In November, they presented their ideas to an enthusiastic crowd of more than 200 people at Vernon Social who gave their feedback on the recommendations in real time via smartphones and tablets.  Ranging from ways to build school pride, to preventing sexual assault, to ensuring the inclusion of all, the recommendations are now being reviewed for implementation.  Watching the presentations gave me enormous pride in Trinity students and in their thoughtful and creative recommendations.
  • The Student Government Association (SGA) is reinvigorating its programs, leadership, and representation of students.  This renewed vibrancy from one of the central student groups on campus dovetails with the other initiatives by students to deepen their connections with each other.
  • Like other campuses across the country, ours has been a focal point for student activism and discussion on race and inclusion.  At Trinity, we had begun this conversation last spring with my call for a Campaign for Community “to define the community we wish to be.”  Last month, our students assembled to show their support for students at other institutions, such as the University of Missouri.  They also gathered to share their stories of racial discrimination on campus, and they asked for recommendations to address these problems – recommendations that students are now assembling.  I fully support these conversations and believe that ongoing dialogue is the best way to move our College forward to fulfill our stated mission “to foster critical thinking (and) free the mind of parochialism and prejudice . . . . ”   A liberal arts college such as Trinity is precisely the kind of place where conversations such as these should take place.  We must build a community where all of our members can thrive.

Smart Budgeting
One of our most important goals this year is reaching financial equilibrium.  This means achieving a balanced operating budget without taking a special draw from the endowment.  We have pulled together to collectively tighten our belts to ensure a balanced budget for the current fiscal year ending June 30, 2016.  And we invited our campus community to comment on possibilities for revenue enhancements and budgetary savings for next fiscal year and beyond.  I thank the students, faculty, and staff who submitted ideas, which we are analyzing now.  I will report back to you on the findings in the new year.

Our Alumni: Be Bold. Be Proud. Be Bantams.
As I travel the country talking to Trinity’s alumni and bringing them news of all the positive energy at their alma mater, I am reminded of the phrase coined by one of our student groups at our Trincoll2Action forum: Be Bold. Be Proud. Be Bantams.  Trinity’s alumni are among the most enthusiastic I have seen anywhere.  Many have told me how excited they are to see what’s going on at their College and how ready they are to engage.  How best to participate?  Join others in your area at Trinity events such as tonight’s holiday celebration in Washington, D.C. or January’s reception in Minneapolis that includes a talk by Angel Pérez.  These are just a few of the opportunities across the country for Trinity alumni and parents to learn and to socialize.  How else can you participate?  Share your career experience by hosting a student intern, sponsoring a daylong externship, coming to campus to speak at a Bantam Success program, or hiring a Trinity grad.  How else?  Speak well of Trinity.  Share the news in this letter with friends and colleagues and encourage their academically gifted children and grandchildren to visit campus.  And I encourage you to support Trinity by making a financial commitment.  Your contribution makes great things possible.  Now is the time.

Our initiatives also include renewed leadership for the College, including searches for the dean of the faculty as well as the search for a new vice president for finance.  Next week we will welcome Philip Shapiro, who will work closely with Paul Mutone until Paul completes his term on January 31.  Philip will then serve as interim CFO until we make a permanent appointment later this spring.  And we have initiated the search for vice president of communications and marketing, who will take over following Jenny Holland’s retirement at the end of February.

These are demanding times at home and around the world.  At times it seems as if discourse grows ever louder without people seeking or finding common ground.  Here at Trinity, we are building a stronger, more inclusive, more hopeful community that aims to counteract some of the divisiveness at play around us.  We continue to push ourselves to learn about each other, to move beyond parochialism and prejudice, and to broaden our horizons ’neath the elms.

With my very best wishes for a wonderful holiday season,

Joanne Berger-Sweeney
President and Trinity College Professor
of Neuroscience