Dispatches from Taylor Hall

President Kim Cassidy's blog for the BMC community.

September 1, 2015
by Kimberly Cassidy
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Welcoming the Class of 2019

 New roommates Heather Griffin of Connecticut, Ivana-Ajee Dolic, Pennsylvania, and Kara Williamson, New York City.

New roommates Heather Griffin of Connecticut, Ivana-Ajee Dolic, Pennsylvania, and Kara Williamson, New York City.

On Wednesday morning, I arrived on campus. It was a gorgeous day. As I walked from my car to Taylor, the Dorm Leadership team of Denbigh welcomed me with a rousing greeting (in precise unison) of, “Good Morning K-Cass!”  For me, it was the perfect start to move-in day for the Class of 2019.

One of my favorite days of the academic year is this day when we welcome the newest members of our community. The sense of excitement and the openness to new possibilities is palpable. As the families and friends of our entering students negotiate saying good-bye, I am deeply touched by their pride, excitement and support.

This year I was particularly struck by the wonderful positive energy of our returning students on our dorm leadership teams. They were so excited to be back and to welcome and support our newest students. I am not sure I have ever experienced that level of buzz on campus. I am eager to witness all that our students and our community will accomplish this year.

The Class of 2019 is remarkable in many ways. They are the largest class ever to enroll at the College (387 students), selected from the highest number of applications in the College’s history. In fact, this year so many students accepted our initial offers of admission that, for the first time in a number of years, we were unable to accept any students from our waiting list. Of course, this is a talented and curious group of students, with an amazing array of interests, activities and accomplishments. Given their potential to contribute to any college that they attend, it is gratifying to know that they selected Bryn Mawr.

The Class of 2019 comes to us from 36 states and 36 foreign countries, adding to the rich diversity (nationally and globally) that is at the core of the excellence of our classroom and residential experience.

We also welcomed eight transfer students chosen from a similarly selective pool, three students from the Community College Connection program, and two Katharine McBride Scholars.

This past weekend I had the pleasure to spend time with some Bryn Mawr alumnae. It was fun to share the excitement of this year’s move-in day with them and to hear their fond and sometimes humorous memories of their first visits to Bryn Mawr. I learned that two of them had met on move-in day, the first day of Customs (new student orientation) Week. They actually shared a cab from the airport on that first day, formed a strong friendship while at the College and are still close friends almost 20 years later. It made me ponder what lifelong friendships have already been launched as our newest students become part of the vibrant and powerful network of Bryn Mawr.

It is energizing to see the College anew through the eyes of our entering students. I can’t wait to see how Bryn Mawr will transform them, and just as importantly, how they will transform the College.

June 3, 2015
by Kimberly Cassidy
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Reunion 2015: Hard to Describe, but Amazing to Behold

Walking in the reunion parade with the Class of 1945.

Walking in the reunion parade with the Class of 1945.

This past weekend was reunion weekend.  It was a pleasure to welcome back almost 1,000 alumnae/i, family, and friends for a wonderful gathering at which those attending renewed old friendships, created new ones across the generations, and celebrated the role that Bryn Mawr has had in their lives and accomplishments.

As I responded to thoughtful questions and heard many stories of the current pursuits of our alumnae/i, the qualities of Bryn Mawr graduates were in abundance — unflagging intellectual curiosity, striving for excellence, and active engagement in the world.

While the entire weekend was spectacular, the most memorable moments for me were spending time with members of the Class of 1945. At lunch on Saturday, members of this class gathered, several of whom had attended my State of the College address earlier in the day. They shared with me their own incredible experiences of attending Bryn Mawr — of scarce resources during World War II, of juggling marriages and scholarly work, of confronting religious discrimination.  In each story, their commitment to learning and their passion for their education were the dominant themes.  Beyond nostalgia, they were equally interested in the College of today and were full of questions and excitement about the future.

On Sunday, I joined three members of this class for the parade of classes.  We rode in a golf cart from Wyndham to Taylor and these three women enjoyed the cheers and greetings from the families and friends along the parade route.  The most amazing moment, however, was when the three of them joined arms with me and we walked from Taylor to Thomas Great Hall through a corridor of younger alumnae/i.  Every class was cheering so loudly and enthusiastically that it felt like there were many more than 1,000 people there.   As I looked at the faces in this crowd of Bryn Mawrtyrs, spanning the decades from the Class of 1950 to the Class of 2010, I saw that many of them had tears in their eyes even while joyfully cheering.  It was an unbelievable moment.

If you weren’t there in person, it would be tempting to attribute those tears and that emotional rush to the inspiration of seeing women in their 90s who are so full of life.  That certainly may have been part of it, but I think the tears and the joy had to do with something else —-and that is the bond that all of these alumnae/i felt with these three incredible women and with one another.  All of those gathered knew that they shared something special —- that they were heirs and stewards of a legacy of accomplished, vibrant, and interesting women stretching from our founding to today. To me in that moment, sisterhood and the sense of intergenerational connection were certainly palpable.  It felt physically real — in a way that I have never experienced.

People often ask me what is different about Bryn Mawr or what is special about being a part of a women’s college.  There are many answers to that question, but on Sunday I learned another one.  I know that other colleges and universities include alumni parades as part of reunion, and I am sure that those who participate enjoy them and feel that they part of something great.  Yet, I have to believe that those parades were nothing like ours on Sunday.  In a way that I hadn’t ever before, I saw and felt the power of sisterhood, of the strength of connections across generations of amazing women who share a distinctive experience rooted in a love of learning and the desire to make the world a better place.  I suspect those tears were about recognizing the tangible connection of values, aspirations, and experience across generations and the joy that comes from knowing that you belong to something that is much bigger, stronger, and more important than any individual and that will stretch through your lifetime.   I don’t believe that those ties can happen in nearly the same way in a co-educational environment.  It is the gift of a Bryn Mawr education that is hard to describe, but amazing to behold.

April 23, 2015
by Kimberly Cassidy
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On Campus to Accept Hepburn Medal, Justice Sonia Sotomayor Makes Special Connection With Bryn Mawr Students

Last Friday evening, I had the honor of awarding the Katharine Hepburn Medal to U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor on behalf of the College and the Katharine Houghton Hepburn Center.  Awarded to only five women to date, the Hepburn Medal recognizes women who change their worlds – those whose lives, work and contributions embody the intelligence, drive and trailblazing spirit of the four-time Oscar winner Katharine Hepburn, Class of 1928, and her mother, Katharine Houghton Hepburn, Class of 1900, an activist for reproductive rights and women’s suffrage. The Katharine Houghton Hepburn Center is the only organization authorized by the Hepburn estate to commemorate the lives and achievements of the Hepburn women.

The College chose to honor Justice Sotomayor for her contributions as a writer, advocate and judge. During her twenty-three year tenure in the federal judiciary, her many opinions from the bench have exhibited wisdom, an unflinching commitment to justice, and a fundamental dedication to real equality in our diverse society.

Justice Sotomayor’s path to the Supreme Court is inspiring and we knew that she would serve as a powerful example of the impact that the combination of scholarship, determination, hard work and resilience can have on one’s life. Her resolve and purposefulness resonate powerfully with the stories of both Hepburn women and with the core values of Bryn Mawr as a women’s college. For Bryn Mawr, Justice Sotomayor exemplifies the thoughtful independence and commitment to positive change to which this community is deeply committed.

During the medal ceremony itself, the Honorable Margaret Morrow, a federal judge serving on the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California, and a proud Bryn Mawr alumna (class of ’71) and Trustee introduced the Justice’s professional accomplishments.   We also completely surprised Justice Sotomayor by inviting her longtime friend Kenneth Moy to the ceremony. Mr. Moy spoke of his relationship with Justice Sotomayor and her mother, Celina, and the ways in which the Sotomayor mother-daughter pair resonated with the Hepburn women and their valuing of education.

By the time Justice Sotomayor took the stage, she was practically speechless. I was particularly pleased when she commented that if Judge Morrow was any indication of the quality of a Bryn Mawr graduate, she should have gone to Bryn Mawr! In her remarks the Justice reflected in beautiful ways about the power of her professional relationships and personal friendships with women throughout her life and how important it was for women to support and to promote each other. It was a strong argument for the importance of women’s colleges and the power of sisterhood.

While the medal ceremony was wonderful, I have to say that my favorite moment of the day was the special student-only session with the Justice. It is hard to capture the sense of warmth, candor and lack of pretense that made her connection to the students so special. Justice Sotomayor shared parts of her personal story and encouraged our students to make the most of their liberal arts education.   She was honest about some of her most difficult or disappointing moments, but also shared how she learns from these challenges despite their painfulness. She then made her way through the audience taking questions and sharing wisdom and perspective from her own experience.

Iliana Dominguez-Franco ’16 and Stephanie Avila ’16, co-leaders of the student Latin@ group, Mujeres, introduced Justice Sotomayor. They were both moving and articulate in describing how Justice Sotomayor’s example affirms the value of Latina identities and experiences as rich assets and sources of wisdom. They spoke about Justice Sotomayor’s accomplishments as proof that success can come for anyone that has both the will to succeed as well as a network of people to support them on their journey. They also shared that for them, Bryn Mawr has been part of that support and strength, a place that has allowed them to challenge the structures that would place ceilings on their dreams. As Justice Sotomayor embraced Stephanie and Iliana when she took the stage, it was obvious that the Justice was deeply gratified to see how her life has inspired these young women as well as the full house of Bryn Mawr students gathered before her. From what I witnessed, we honored the Justice most powerfully by allowing her to see the impact that she is having on a new generation of smart and strong women.

April 16, 2015
by Kimberly Cassidy
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Alumna Intel Anthropologist Highlights Connections Between Sciences and Humanities

Last week the College hosted a visit from Genevieve Bell, AB ’90 and MA ’92. Genevieve studied anthropology at Bryn Mawr and went on to get her PhD in cultural anthropology at Stanford. Shortly after receiving her PhD, she left a tenure track job at Stanford to join Intel. Currently at Intel she is the director of Corporate Sensing and Insights in the Corporate Strategy Group. She is credited with changing how Intel envisions future products so that they are centered on people’s needs (what they perceive as helpful) rather than on the capabilities of the technology itself.  Genevieve is an Intel Fellow (the only woman out of 70+ Fellows). Fellows are selected in recognition of their technical leadership and outstanding contributions to the company and to the industry. Genevieve is also a major public voice on the relationship of technology and society, appearing in publications from Forbes to the Wall Street Journal.

Like all of our alumnae/i, Genevieve is living proof of the value of a liberal arts education. With the advent of the College’s Leadership, Innovation, and the Liberal Arts Center (LILAC), we have made a more intentional effort to tap into our incredibly talented network of accomplished alumnae/i to help students connect their liberal arts education to their professional and personal pathways during and after their time at Bryn Mawr.

Genevieve was particularly generous with her time. During her visit, she gave a public lecture, had small group meetings with alumnae, with anthropology majors, and with faculty. She had lunch with students interested in technology careers. Finally, she met individually with various staff and administrators in LILAC, in libraries and information technology , in academic technology, and in strategic planning to think with us about the future of various industries and technology and how we prepare our students for success in those contexts. Genevieve’s visit provided so many points for learning across the community. It was an amazing visit.

The impact of a liberal arts education and approach were evident in everything that Genevieve talked about while she was here. The power of that approach for creativity, insight, forward thinking, “big ideas,” critical questions and leadership was completely compelling.

Articulating a connection between the sciences and the humanities that has substance is something I’ve given a lot of thought to since becoming president.  What Genevieve’s talk made more evident to me is that some of our most fundamental and important ideas in the sciences took shape in the cultural imagination and, in turn, that the arts and humanities have an essential role to play in informing, understanding, and questioning technology’s inventions and ambitions. Absent knowledge and consideration of history, philosophy, and culture, the work of the sciences and technology risks being simply operational or instrumental—or worse. Equally important, science and technology continue to provoke and push some of the fundamental questions in the humanities and arts—questions about what it means to be human, about autonomy and governance, about beauty and meaning.

Genevieve’s talk reminded me of how liberal arts colleges provide a rich forum for these important disciplinary intersections, both in the knowledge generation of our faculty and in the education for our students. While we enjoy this advantage of our environment, Genevieve’s talk points to the challenges of creating these intersections elsewhere. Yet, as Genevieve’s own work at Intel underscores, business and industry looking at making these critical connections would be wise to consider liberal arts graduates.

 

March 12, 2015
by Kimberly Cassidy
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Building an Inclusive Community: A Shared Responsibility

On Wednesday, March 18th, the entire College will participate in a “Community Day of Learning: Race and Ethnicity at BMC and Beyond,” organized by the President’s Office in close collaboration with a terrific planning group of faculty, students, and staff and supported by Lisa Zernicke in Conferences and Events and Bernie Chung in Dining Services. The idea for having such a day came during discussions in the fall of 2014 from students who felt that the entire campus needed to engage in conversations around diversity and inclusion as a way to educate one another and to begin to better come together as a community.

Mandatory diversity programming is often not productive or effective. By canceling classes for the day (thus freeing faculty and students) and asking offices and departments to minimize their work to allow staff to participate, we are able to encourage and facilitate a high level of participation from everyone. The other exciting thing about an all-campus approach is that it allows for the rich conversations that occur when you have intergenerational interactions that include the varied perspectives of the diverse identities and experiences of the faculty, staff, and students who comprise our community.

It is a daunting task to think about creating a day’s worth of programming for approximately 180 faculty, 1,600 undergraduate and graduate students, and 500 staff. We could have decided to take two years to plan this event and that might have been a lot more comfortable, certainly would have been less stressful and might have produced a near-perfect set of experiences. Instead, we prioritized the need to get started and the importance of taking action. We embraced the benefits of creating a campus-wide learning experience sooner rather than later.

What has amazed me is the way the programming has come together in such a short period of time, reflecting both the deep expertise that we have across our students, faculty, and staff, as well as the willingness of community members to give their time and attention to planning and implementing the day. We also have been able to tap into the knowledge of our dedicated alumnae, several of whom will contribute their perspectives to sessions. We will offer two full-campus events to start and to close the day, nearly 40 different programming sessions, and an interactive theater performance.

In planning the programming, we tried to be sensitive to the fact that community members are at different levels of comfort and knowledge about issues of race and ethnicity. We tried to provide a wide variety of options of content and modes of learning. The planning group was also careful to include sessions that invite an international perspective on race and ethnicity both on and beyond the U.S. context, and we know that this perspective will be an enriching part of the conversation. We are optimistic that this variety of options will allow people to stretch themselves to learn and grow in their understanding within a space that is comfortable enough to afford that learning.

As I reflect on it, I have three overarching hopes for the day. The first is that this day underscores for all of us the ways in which the campus values the rich diversity present among us at the same time that we accept the responsibility shared by all of us to create an environment that is inclusive and welcoming to all community members. The second hope is that we learn something from the programming and from each other. I think we all understand that one day will not solve racism and other forms of exclusion and bias that we will consider through this experience, but learning and understanding is an important step in the process that I hope will be realized through this day. And that brings me to my final goal, which is for us to realize that this is one step among many that we will take together. I am optimistic that this day will generate new ideas and will be an excellent launching point for our continued work together to make our campus community even stronger.

I am grateful to Ruth Lindeborg for her leadership (and faith) in making this happen and to the many, many students, faculty, staff, and alumnae who are stepping up to support this effort. I appreciate that so many members of our campus are willing to participate. And I’m looking forward to what the day will bring.

February 6, 2015
by Kimberly Cassidy
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Building a Supportive Pipeline for STEM Majors

In his column in the February 2, 2015 New York Times, “A Future Segregated by Science?,” Charles Blow documents the persistent underrepresentation of women and minorities in STEM fields. As Mr. Blow implies, eradicating gender and racial disparities will require addressing the specific barriers faced at each stage of education and employment.

I sent a letter to the editor of the Times suggesting that data from Bryn Mawr makes it clear that we have created a very different track record and that the College has a lot to contribute in solving this critical problem both directly and through sharing best practices. I cited some of the reasons that women and underrepresented minorities leave STEM in college, including insufficient engagement; lack of role models, mentoring, and peer support; and insufficient mathematics preparation to thrive in STEM. I called attention to the fact that women’s colleges, and Bryn Mawr in particular, continue to provide an environment that addresses these challenges.

Bryn Mawr has an impressive record of producing STEM majors: on average 25% of all undergraduates, 16% of all African American students, and 26% of all Latina students graduated with a STEM major between 2011-2014. These percentages for STEM graduates far exceed the national numbers cited by Blow. Our invitations to the White House and our recent FIPSE grant from the U.S. Department of Education suggest that we are viewed as a national leader in this area.

I also noted some of the new ways that Bryn Mawr is building a supportive pipeline for STEM majors and sharing this knowledge. Since 2011 Bryn Mawr has led partnerships with other colleges to help students thrive in STEM. More problem- and discovery-based activities in gateway courses have been successful in raising the percentage of Bryn Mawr students earning merit grades from 85% to 93.5%. With our new FIPSE grant we are creating online learning modules that will provide individualized and “just in time” instruction for STEM students with marginal mathematics preparation.

While we are certainly doing well, we are continually striving to identify ways in which we can improve. Part of that improvement involves understanding more fully why we are so successful. Part of our story can be explained by “success begets success”: because we graduate so many STEM majors, prospective students interested in science may be more likely to choose to attend. More than this, I am sure that specific institutional characteristics and values actively contribute to our success: the strength of our faculty, who are active scholars and excellent teachers (and many are women); our faculty’s deep commitment to mentoring students in research; our innovative approaches to science pedagogy at all levels of the curriculum; the fact that all of our research and experiential opportunities are for women; the examples of countless alumnae/i who have achieved in many different kinds of STEM careers; the sheer volume of women pursuing STEM majors; the strongly held institutional value that women can and will excel at science that pervades everything that we do; the existence of distinguished graduate programs in certain STEM fields (Chemistry, Physics and Math) and the presence of strong graduate student role models; the ability of our students to pursue STEM in combination with other disciplines in the social sciences and the humanities . . . and perhaps more important, the way that we see these connections as valuable and important.

December 12, 2014
by Kimberly Cassidy
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A Good Day

2014_12_11_0736_bmc

Yesterday was one of those days when being the President of Bryn Mawr College is incredibly fun and deeply fulfilling.

I began by teaching my final class of the semester for my educational psychology course.  This group of students has been wonderful to teach.  They are so bright, curious and engaged and they just dive into any topic.  We had a lively discussion of nonverbal learning differences and wrapped up by practicing interpreting the statistics of a research article on the topic.  While I am not sure that they loved the statistical part of the class as much, it was gratifying to note how much more facile they had become in thinking about statistics and I appreciate their eagerness to stretch themselves further in this area.  It is so rewarding to work with students who are motivated to understand.

I later had the privilege to have lunch with three impressive and inspiring women, all past presidents of colleges/universities, who have deep connections to Bryn Mawr:  Pat McPherson PhD ’69 (sixth president of Bryn Mawr), Hannah Gray ‘50 (former president University of Chicago and Chair Emeritus of Bryn Mawr’s Board of Trutees); and Mary Maples Dunn MA ’56, PhD ’59 (former dean of Bryn Mawr and former president of Smith College).  To say that our conversation was fascinating and fun sells it short.  I left the lunch so grateful to have these trailblazing Bryn Mawr alumnae as colleagues and mentors.

In the late afternoon, I put on a very elaborate Albus Dumbledore (headmaster of Hogwarts in the Harry Potter series) costume and set off to an end-of-term feast in Thomas Great Hall, where I joined other members of the staff and administration also outfitted in elaborate costumes for their roles.  Thomas Great Hall looks a lot like the banquet hall in J.K. Rowling’s books, and our amazing staff in Dining Services went all out to make it an even closer likeness—from the candelabras, to the head table, to the long benches and banners of the four houses.   It was so much fun to watch the students’ faces when they entered the hall, to see them interact with the Hogwarts characters and to hear how much they were enjoying it.  After a delicious banquet, the students were led off by Hagrid (played admirably by Geology professor Pedro Marenco) to the Yule Ball in the Erdman dining room.  In spite of the itchy beard, I certainly enjoyed greeting the students, toasting the end of the term and reminding them to take care around the entrance to the Forbidden Forest.2014_12_11_0837_bmc(1)

When I returned to my office in the late evening (minus the beard), I had the privilege to share in the duties of calling students who had been admitted to the Class of 2019 through Early Decision I.  It was such a pleasure to share in this happy moment and to hear the excitement and enthusiasm of these young women for Bryn Mawr.  I also took a few moments to reflect on how much I value being at an institution where we have the opportunity to make such individual connections to our students.

As I left the campus around 9:00, it was snowing —- just enough to coat the buildings, trees and lawns with a pretty dusting.  The campus looked gorgeous (and actually a lot like what I imagine Hogwarts to be).  Maybe I had spent a little too much time in character, but Bryn Mawr seemed a little magical to me.

December 5, 2014
by Kimberly Cassidy
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From the White House College Opportunity Day of Action

This week I visited the White House for the third time this year, this time for the College Opportunity Day of Action. Bryn Mawr was invited because of our commitment to increase the likelihood that students will persist in the sciences and mathematics by developing a blended course that addresses gaps in the mathematics preparation necessary for success in the sciences.  Recently we were awarded a First in the World grant of $1.65 million for this project through the U.S. Department of Education’s First in the World Program.

Presenters at the gathering emphasized the value of a college degree both to the individual and to society.  The number of jobs requiring a college degree is growing faster than the rise in the number of college graduates.  By issuing this call to action, the Obama administration is challenging leaders in education to address the obstacles and challenges that low-income and disadvantaged students face in accessing and completing a college degree.

I was inspired by the many ways in which participants are working to ensure that all high school students can get to and through college.  Initiatives include giving free tuition to students to attend two years of community college; partnering with foundations that assist in finding and supporting outstanding students who might be missed by traditional admissions processes; supporting students via online advising; enhancing retention through simple text messaging support; and using technology and learner analytics to enable better teaching and learning in gateway STEM courses.  New for this convening was an emphasis on K-12 partnerships, as there is a deep recognition that we need to start early in order to provide equal opportunity for a college degree.

We were addressed by an impressive array of government officials:  Cecilia Muñoz, Julián Castro, Arne Duncan, Michelle Obama, Joe Biden, and President Obama.  I had the particular honor to be able to meet (and be photographed with) the First Lady.  It was so gratifying to hear her recognize Bryn Mawr for all of the great work that we have been doing.  I was honored to receive these thanks on behalf of our campus community and to think about the many ways that different individuals and groups on our campus have both led and participated in that work.  I am still smiling.

As I sat there feeling both proud and excited, I did worry about something that President Obama had mentioned earlier.  I kept pondering the recent events in Ferguson and New York City and how these events have reminded us that our country’s institutions do not serve everyone equally.  While colleges and universities are not synonymous with the judicial system or the police force, I couldn’t help but think that students from low-income and under-represented groups who are considering college must question whether higher education institutions will serve them well.

At Bryn Mawr we are deeply committed to a diverse student body as a form of excellence and as a critical part of our educational experience.  We are proactively addressing issues of access and completion for all students.  In many ways, we are a model of the Obama administration’s call for action. Yet, if we only focus our efforts on access and completion, I fear that we will fail.  We must continue to think about the ways that our campus values and supports all of our students. We also must be sure that a Bryn Mawr education gives students the tools to be effective leaders for equitable workplaces and more just communities. While Bryn Mawr is a “work in progress,” we are aware of these challenges and we are focused on education and action to address them.

As for those gathered yesterday in Washington, I hope that in addition to being leaders in providing access to a diverse pool of students and to supporting those talented students academically, we will also be leaders in creating campus communities experienced as inclusive and  supportive of all. My belief is that absent such a focus, institutions of higher education will never be equally open to all nor will they change the basic inequities that persist in our society and its institutions, despite the progress we have made.

 

November 12, 2014
by Kimberly Cassidy
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Giving Thanks

Recently I received a lovely note from a student’s parents, thanking me, and the College as a whole, for the wonderful experience that we are providing for their daughter. The message was particularly meaningful in that it shared some of the specific ways that the College creates an optimal environment for their daughter’s learning and growth. Even though the points they addressed in the email were things that I should do as part of my job, and that I hope we as a community strive to do for all students, it still felt really good to be thanked. It made me think about how such positive feelings are created by someone who takes the time to express gratitude, especially for something done every day, as a matter of course.

Since receiving that letter, I have been trying to find more opportunities to thank others. I am not always able to sit down and write a note, but I have that as my ideal goal. Whenever I do so I am reminded that, when I was a child, my parents emphasized the importance of writing thank-you notes, whether it was for a holiday gift from an aunt or for an inspiring teacher at the end of the school year. Perhaps I should have paid better attention and made that kind of thanking a more regular habit! Receiving the letter from a student’s parents made me realize that it’s not too late, and I am aiming to do better.

I realized, too, that it doesn’t have to be a big production: whether writing a note or just pausing in a project to say, “Thanks for your help,” expressing gratitude makes a difference. Frankly, I’ve been amazed at how much of a difference it makes. As I’ve been doing some reading on this, I’ve found that psychological research, as well as my own experience, suggests that the positive feelings associated with gratitude don’t just accrue for the thanked; the act of expressing gratitude also has positive impacts on the well being of the person doing the thanking.

It seems to me that creating a campus culture where appreciation and gratitude are expressed more often could be a very good thing. In my various meetings with faculty, students and staff I hear that at times they feel under-appreciated — sometimes while at Bryn Mawr and other times in their lives beyond the College. Thinking about how I could do a better job expressing gratitude got me thinking about what we all might do a little differently. I expect that all members of our community likely are not thanked enough for what we do every day. So what if as a campus we tried a little harder to remember to say thank you or we took the time every once in awhile to write a thoughtful thank-you note?

The expression of gratitude would not have to be to someone on campus — it could be to anyone anywhere, but it would start here. While the expression of appreciation might be a small gesture, I am curious to see whether a set of small acts could together make our campus climate a little more grateful and all of us a little bit happier. Given that many of us will celebrate Thanksgiving in a few days, I can’t think of a better time to try to find ways of showing others that we appreciate them. If you try this out, I’d love to hear from you about it.

August 28, 2014
by Kimberly Cassidy
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Dorm Leadership

DLT2This Sunday I had the pleasure of having the Dorm Leadership Team (DLT) over for dessert as a short break during their very full schedule of preparatory training.  The Dorm Leadership team consists of the dorm presidents, the hall advisors, the community diversity assistants, the peer mentors, and the Customs people.  (Customs is the name that we give to freshmen orientation and Customs people are two sophomores per hall who take primary responsibility for supporting first year students through orientation and the first year).  There are more than 130 students involved in the DLT (and they ate a lot of dessert!).  After 5 days of training, freshmen have now arrived and the work of the DLT has begun.

In talking with the students and learning about their training and responsibilities throughout the year, I am struck by two things that reflect core Bryn Mawr community values.  The first is that unlike some schools that use a simple system of Resident Advisors, Bryn Mawr has chosen to use a team approach.  My sense is that this is because we look at the residential life of a student holistically and so we incorporate into the residential life experience support for student learning and course planning (peer mentors), attention to community diversity (CDAs), and parts of student self-advocacy and governance (dorm presidents).

DLT1The second thing that impresses me is the level of responsibility that the DLT takes on, reflecting Bryn Mawr’s important commitment to student self-governance, and our belief that if you have high expectations for your students, they can and will meet, and even exceed, those expectations.  In some areas, the DLT takes the lead role (with guidance from the Dean’s Office) for orienting and supporting their peers and taking ownership for dormitory life.  In other areas the Dean’s Office staff leads student life initiatives, but the DLT plays important roles in planning and implementation.

As I walk around campus, I see these students at their work.  The enthusiasm of the team and the quality of their engagement with our new and returning students is impressive.  The programming that we provide is better because we have listened to, and been guided by, the DLT’s perspective on what students need.  In addition, the training and year-long support for student leaders in the DLT – combined with their experiences and reflection about those experiences – are core developmental and educational experiences that will help these students now and as they transition to their personal and professional lives beyond Bryn Mawr.  These students learn to be leaders, community builders, reflective listeners, and effective problem-solvers.  Finally, there is a strong sense of community, camaraderie and pride in Bryn Mawr that is palpable in this approach.  It makes all of us excited to have students back on campus and eager for the year to begin.