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Alumni Mentors and Teachers

On Saturday, January 17, student fraternity leaders and resident assistants gathered for a morning of learning together in the Wabash Housing and Education Leaders Partnership (HELP) program. For the last eight semesters, this program has helped those students most responsible for leadership in residence halls and fraternity houses to learn some of what they needed to know to effectively fill their positions, get to know their valuable partners on the staff and faculty, and share their questions and anxieties about the work that they do to guide other students.

This program was devised by Dean Michael Raters in August 2005 when he was Associate Dean of Students and directed this year by Associate Dean Rick Warner. Alumni have always been a part of this program, providing information, advice, and expertise. For this eighth iteration of the HELP program, Mike and Rick switched the schedule from midweek to Saturday to enable even more participation from alumni. Thirteen alumni volunteers participated, in addition to ten alumni staff and faculty.

David Herzog ’77 gave a keynote address that informed student leaders of the legal and practical issues that affect their roles regarding alcohol consumption. Breakout sessions covered essential and important matters such as Wellness and First Aid, Fire Prevention and Security, Public Relations, Housing Corporation matters, and Substance Abuse Signs and Treatment — this last session led by Dr. Scott Douglas ’84 and Dr. John Roberts ’83, our College Physicians.

Other sessions divided the students by their roles and enabled staff and alumni to help them to perform their important role as leaders of independent life on campus.

Unlike many institutions, Wabash College does not choose to have professional staff in residence halls and, less common these days, staff as “house parents” in fraternities. This choice enables young men to assume important leadership roles that have real substance and to act as powerful mentors and teachers of the men who live with them in fraternities and residence halls. This student-to-student mentoring is at the heart of the working out of the Gentleman’s Rule. In many of the discussions I have had with students over the last few months, I ask how the Gentleman’s Rule works. The response can be summed up as positive peer pressure, or put in another way, each student acting as a teacher and mentor, each student leading others to understand the right way of being a gentleman and a responsible citizen at Wabash and the larger world.

In this task of mentoring and teaching, the powerful alumni engagement with Wabash is one of our greatest assets. The men who took time on that Saturday morning to share their wisdom and their expertise acted as mentors and teachers of Wabash students. They were there to encourage, to guide and instruct, and to draw out the maturity and leadership of our young men.

At every college alumni leadership is obviously essential in fundraising; and in many, like Wabash, alumni play an important role in admissions. But the HELP Program stands as one fine example of the way Wabash alumni are committed to the education of students through action at the ground level in presentations, conversation, mentoring, and guidance.

Further, our admissions efforts involve alumni not just in connection and outreach, but in teaching potential Wabash men of the value of the Wabash experience and modeling what it means to be a Wabash man.

Last Monday on our winter Top Ten Scholarship Day, 64 students came to campus. As usual at these events, Dean Steve Klein and I offered our welcoming messages and then an alumnus gave the keynote address. This week Scott Smalstig ’88 described what the study of the liberal arts at Wabash has meant to his success and flexibility in career, family life, and service. Then two panels of five alumni each shared with parents and students perspectives on their Wabash education. These men and the additional 10 alumni who joined the parents for lunch were not merely doing the important work of putting Wabash’s best foot forward to these potential students. They were teaching them about their possibilities — helping them to see who they are and who they might become — and in doing this they were calling forth the student’s best imagination of who they are and who they can become at Wabash. They were beginning the Wabash education.

Alumni leadership is central to who we are as Wabash. Yet even more, alumni are central to what we do as Wabash, the essential teaching and learning at the heart of the College. This week the Board of Trustees and the National Association of Wabash Men Board of Directors will gather for meetings. On Friday night, these men will have dinner with scores of students. In the conversations at table, no matter what the topic, the essential discourse of the liberal arts will be enacted again. It is in those conversations — as in the discussion in classes, laboratories, faculty offices, residence halls, and fraternities — that the Wabash education lives and moves in our hearts and minds.