BENNINGTON — Southern Vermont College must build upon its already strong presence in the community.
That was the message sent to President David Lees Evans by a five-person panel held at the college's Everett Theatre on Thursday.
Panelists, who were faculty and community members, spoke highly of the college's experiential learning initiatives, a culture of volunteering and their openness to first-generation college students.
They stressed the importance of continuing to foster those in addition to promoting diversity.
"The relationship between an educational institution and the surrounding communities is important, because the days of those ivy walls separating town and gown, I hope, are long gone," said Bruce Lee-Clark, an adjunct professor of forensic science who participated in the panel.
The topic "Power of Choice: Making a Difference, SVC in the Community" was selected by Evans to highlight his inaugural vision for the college. Evans, who the trustees selected as the college's ninth president to replace Karen Gross, will be formally inaugurated Friday. The ceremony will begin at 3:30 p.m. at the Bennington Center for the Arts.
In addition to Lee-Clark, other panel participants were: Will Hansen, adjunct professor of psychology and a counselor with a practice in Bennington; Stacey Hills, associate professor of business; Thomas Redden, professor of social science; and Lynda Sinkiewich, assistant professor of humanities. Corey Sylvester, a senior studying radiologic sciences, served as moderator.
Lee-Clark, who also teaches at the Southwest Vermont Career Development Center, applauded the college for supporting first-generation college students. And a lot of learning takes place through experiential learning, he said.
"It's my view that students who engage in volunteer activities become better law enforcement officers, managers, nurses accountants... if they engage with real people doing real things," he said.
Hansen said that some children and families receiving mental health or other services make a connection with an SVC student, whether they are volunteering or completing an internship.
He spoke of the importance of students helping increase the community's level of empathy.
Sinkiewich, a first-generation college student herself, spoke of the college's mission recognizing the "potential of the individual." She spoke of her grandmother who, when she moved into a retirement community abutting Williams College, began attending free lectures and classes.
"She couldn't get enough," Sinkiewich said. SVC is a place where seniors can audit a class, a high school student can take a college course, or a nontraditional student can go back to school, she said.
Wills said people still ask her why she came to the college. But she pointed to the college's small size, which gives students personal attention from professors. She worked at a large research institution of 26,000 before coming to SVC, which has about 500 students.
"People come here because you can make an impact," she said.
"The greatest gift we have is being part of our students' lives," he said. "When I look at my students, I don't look at them as one class. My relationship with them is with the rest of their lives."
Contact Edward Damon at 413-770-6979