Spencer Center Extends Commitment

October 10, 2008

Before the inspiring multicultural opening of the Spencer Center for Civic and Global Engagement in October 2007, The Cupola gathered the center’s new directors and the faculty and staff who would be working closely with the center for a conversation about their vision for a new space full of possibilities. In the ensuing year, so many of those possibilities have found space, resources, and willing and able bodies at the Spencer Center.

There is an event on the center’s calendar almost every day this semester, and the momentum promises to continue. In a clear testament to just how busy activity surrounding the center has become, we did not even attempt to get those same people together in a single room to reflect this September. Instead, we asked them to consider the impact of the center’s existence and its future individually. Their thoughts reveal wide-eyed awe at what has been accomplished in one year and determination to keep pushing the creativity into new areas.

But first, a note: One of the biggest changes in the second year of the Spencer Center is new Director of Civic Engagement Steve Grande, profiled on page 7. The college reluctantly said good-bye to first-year director Julie Shepherd when she left to pursue a doctoral degree. While here, Shepherd effectively took the position from an idea to an indispensable member of the staff and built countless community connections. Grande is on track not to let the office miss a beat.


Roderic Owen, professor of philosophy and Spencer Center faculty fellow:The time and effort that went into planning the multifaceted opening event gave witness to the global diversity on campus and the college’s genuine desire to have everyone engaged.

Andrea Cornett-Scott, associate vice president for inclusive excellence and staff fellow:The relationship between the Center and students in the Ida B. Wells Living Learning Community for new African-American students was ritually initiated when organizers invited the group to participate in the opening ceremony. They were so proud to carry their banner and represent the college at an event like that just a few weeks after entering Mary Baldwin. The ceremony also featured multicultural praise singers and dancers in traditional dress for a visually beautiful and meaningful celebration.

Heather Ward, director of international programs:Hundreds of students, faculty, staff, and community members joined in bringing the ceremony to life. It was an auspicious day, because many of those people continue to be involved with the center.


Ward:The most powerful transformations are those you see in individual students. Last year, the international students were especially brave and outgoing. I watched them change from timid, anxious, and doubtful into confident, mature women ready to take on the world. Just facing the everyday challenges of life in another culture and succeeding changed their self-image; they learned how to solve their problems. I also got to know several students who returned from study abroad, and they shared a lot with me about the challenges of communicating the importance and depth of their experiences overseas with friends and peers here on campus.

Other examples of student initiative fostered by the center abound. It has been exciting to observe the potential of one or a few students to inspire peers to become more civic- or global-minded. For example, when we put out a call for help with Hunger and Homelessness Awareness Week in November, vibrant students Stephanie Klusmann ’11 and Clara Canon ’11 stepped forward with great ideas and commitment to the issues. Our call last fall for students to attend a nearby lecture by Archbishop Desmond Tutu was enthusiastically met by nearly 75 students and faculty members. After seeing Gloria Steinem speak, Jasmine Witmer ’11 created a new campus feminist organization. These are just a few highlights.

Bruce Dorries, assistant professor of communication and Spencer Center faculty in- residence:I like the characterization of the center as a hippie airport lounge that I heard bestowed on it recently by an alumna. The center serves as a departure point for many desirable and important destinations for service or study abroad . . . or both.

Owen:The efforts of students such as seniors Robyn Stegman and Rhea Vance-Cheng, who are spearheading a commitment to aid young atrisk girls in the U.S. and abroad, are powerful illustrations of what the Spencer Center can encourage. They may have found a way to accomplish something similar on their own, but President Fox’s allocation of the Spencer Center’s resources to send students to the Clinton Global Initiative University conference made a huge difference in their impact. Students have also stepped up to organize Spring Break trips through the center, such as a trip to New Orleans for Katrina relief planned by Erica Torres ’09 and another to Hope Hill center for at-risk girls.

Claudia Bernardi, Argentine artist and Mary Baldwin artist-in-residence:The center offers an incredible opportunity, and one that is still rare in the world of higher education, I believe. It is both adjacent to academic and extracurricular programs and independent in creating its own presence. In my perception, all fields should merge in civic and global engagement, in this place that is centrally located at Mary Baldwin, the Spencer Center. In addition to making connections between learning and service and travel more deliberate instead of by chance, the center endorses the practice of giving time, people, space, and priority to projects that make those connections.

Cornett-Scott:It is great knowing there is a sanctioned partner on campus available for our students in the area of community service and global exploration. Because there is a Spencer Center, students I work closely with in the Pearls mentoring program were profoundly aware that an endorsed college program would be excited about their civic engagement with young women in the community. They were thrilled to know that when they needed a place to display dolls for the Black Baby Doll drive or a place to host the Pearls rites of passage reception, the Spencer Center opened her doors. I adjusted the curriculum for the Ida B. Wells (IBW) program to include Philosophy 140: Community Service to further strengthen the group’s relationship with the Spencer Center. Already, IBW students have attended the welcome reception for Spencer Citizens, shared tea with Dr. Fox and visiting global musicians, and they will support the Spencer Center lecture series.


Srinivas Krishnan, Indian native and global musician, Mary Baldwin artist-in-residence:I am learning, always learning and learning more. I have fun paying attention to many things at Mary Baldwin, from the enthusiasm that students, faculty, and staff have for world affairs and study abroad to entrepreneurial ideas and perspectives on diverse issues. The Spencer Center is one of the ways the college shows the rest of the world just the tip of the iceberg about Mary Baldwin University.

Bernardi:I felt very welcomed from the beginning [as the college’s Doenges Visiting Artist/Scholar in 2006–07], but you never know when visiting a new place if the connection is going to be based on one project or evolve into a relationship with longevity. I’m glad that the Spencer Center and several wonderful people here have made my relationship with Mary Baldwin one for the long term. It reassures me that I will have a continuing connection with students here and watch them grow.


Ward:I honestly didn’t expect us to be going so strong already. We have multiplied the programs we offer, and traffic through the center is brisk. I’d say dozens of students have come to us in the first two weeks of this academic year to learn about study abroad and volunteer opportunities. It’s also exciting to hear members of the freshman class (and others) talk easily about civic and global engagement — the words roll off their tongues — they know exactly what the Spencer Center is and why it is here.

Dorries:One big goal involves the development of a minor in civic engagement. Many colleges and universities have such programs. The center will serve as a focal point for civic engagement studies, for what is now being referred to as a Semester of Service, which will be a gateway experience for students interested in pursuing the minor.

Owen:The accomplishments of the previous year were numerous, and we will keep the focus on civic and global engagement. We are not working with ideas that are new, but the context is novel for the 21st century — the idea that the answer doesn’t have to be economic growth or environmental stability, entrepreneurismorthe greater good, it can be both. My vision is that we will start the process of moving beyond a flurry of programs and speakers and awards toward a deeper conception of what civic and global engagement means. There is no magic wand that will help that happen, it will take time.