The Board of Trustees is an elusive group for most students. Like a sort of secret society, most know nothing of its functions, only that it draws in the most driven alumni.
Unlike a secret society, however, the team of 27 is deeply connected with the Albion campus. The Board meets three times a year to set goals for the upcoming school year. They determine directions and policies for the institution, and strive to give students and faculty academic and personal support.
Four new members are bringing new passions and insight to the table.
After only their first gathering this past Homecoming Friday, Mae Ola Dunklin, Michael Williams, Johanna Schulte and Doug Goering said they were settling in nicely.
The process for becoming a Board member was straightforward. After filling out an application, meetings with President Ditzler and the Office of Recruitment and Advancement were held. All that was left was a congratulatory phone call.
What is especially amazing about the four new members is the past experiences they bring. Among her many community leadership roles, Dunklin was a former teacher and principal of the local Harrington Elementary and director of the college’s Shurmur Center for Teacher Development. She is also a part of the Sister City Committee, which sends students to and from France, and Albion Philanthropic Women. The group’s 100 members meet four times a year to listen to individuals present a cause they need funds for. After voting, each woman signs a check for $100 ($10,000 collectively) to their winner, only asking for updates at subsequent meetings.
It seems fitting then that Dunklin sees the connection between community and college as vital.
“I’m very supportive of seeing both of the entities being supportive of each other,” she said. “I think Albion College can build the city of Albion and the city of Albion can give experiences to Albion College.”
Dunklin cites that in years past the two didn’t appear to have a strong partnership. However, the college’s new leader is willing to listen to concerns and Dunklin believes they are now in harmony, moving forward together.
To Dunklin, this connection is distinctive of the liberal arts.
“It’s about taking students and taking their learning and taking that outside of the college and connecting with a town.” With distinctive populations, it is an opportunity few other institutions have.
Williams, meanwhile, is happy to be able to contribute to the liberal arts institution that changed him as a person. A two-term mayor of the city, the former NAACP Man of the Year was an Albion grad and one of the college’s best basketball players, according to Albion Athletics, later helping coach the local high school’s hoops team to a state final in 1991. He later became president of the Association of Accredited Child and Family Agencies, which aids abused and neglected children, and Orchards Children’s Service, which outreaches to orphans.
“I see the focus as making the students and ourselves better for this thing called America, and this is for Albion,” Williams said.
Instead of looking through the lens of his time at college, he wants to begin looking through the lens of 2015. Forward thinking like this, he believes, can embolden Albion to become a leading institution.
“I think Albion has done a very good job anchoring a legacy,” Williams said. “But I think it’s been very good to see a leader that has a focus on the future, but is willing to accept what’s happening in the present [with President Ditzler],” he said.
Schulte has been a recent addition to this legacy. As part of a program that gives recent graduates a two-year term on the Board, the Class of 2015 member is the youngest of Trustees.
Schulte, who has a double major in women’s and gender studies and public policy and a concentration in Honors and Ford, has served on a panel before as the 2014-2015 Student Senate president. Wanting to work for direct change, she now is a contract administrator for the city of Grand Rapids, overseeing federal grants for groups like non-profits.
Although Albion is at a high point and gaining momentum, in order to fully flourish, Schulte believes the school must learn to sell and communicate what it has effectively. It is a situation that all liberal arts schools face.
For Schulte, the selling point for the school should emphasize not only the experience of Albion, but the outcome after graduation. Likewise, it is important to her to get the college to display how its education and community of current and former students are competitive with any institution’s.
Like Dunklin and Williams, Schulte also sees the harmony between city and campus as an excellent asset. In the past, there was a conception that the town and college had their separate issues, the former Phi Alpha Delta said. This disconnect left the college struggling to figure out how to promote itself given the city’s circumstances.
Now, a shift in the relationship’s perception is occurring. “The town is an opportunity for exposure and real-life issues,” Schulte said. “Let’s expand work on the issues of city planning, development, economic issues [and] business enterprise. What does it mean to be a real citizen in your community?”
The key to communicating all of this, she said, is to make sure all audiences are reached. Culture, ethnicity, disability, interests, age and everything in between.
Among the four new members, there is also a first for the Board. Goering is the single professor emeritus to serve on the panel. However, the meetings were not new to him. As a previous associate dean, Goering had attended them before.
“This place was just magical for me for 22 years and I just have enormous respect for what it represents,” he said. “And just this opportunity to reengage with the college is very satisfying and a big honor for me.”
Although Goering has retired from his department seat in art and art history, his legacy lives on. He has won multiple awards throughout his time here and now has a scholarship in his honor.
As a professor emeritus, Goering believes he serves as a medium between faculty and the Board. Because the group only meets three times a year, contact between the two is not always the best. The Trustees tend to be looked at in a generic fashion because of it.
But with himself in the mix, connection can be reestablished. “Being a faculty member gives me a certain entrée that’s beneficial,” the artist said. “They know who I am. We can talk really frankly.”
With four new members and plenty of new insights, it is no wonder Goering left his first meeting as a trustee feeling encouraged by its “incredibly positive” tone.
Photo by Clare Kolenda