The OWU campus has come to life this semester with an energy and vitality not seen so visibly since before the pandemic arrived, now more than 30 months ago. Students are energized by the opportunity to experience more fully the benefits of a residential, liberal arts education. Faculty and staff are energized by being able to teach and mentor students without the pandemic restrictions of the past two fall semesters.

We have much to celebrate in this new academic year. Enrollment increased significantly over last year, with an entering class more than 100 students larger than a year ago, and first-to-second-year retention rose a full three percentage points. In addition to the energy on campus, nearly 40 students are studying away this semester, much more like pre-pandemic times.

The schedule for Homecoming/ Family Weekend includes reopening and rededicating historic Slocum Hall, housing the Admission Welcome Center and the OWU Connection offices. Prospective students will meet with admission staff in Slocum while also being exposed to the opportunities presented by the OWU Connection to Think Big (research), Do Good (service), Go Global (study abroad), and Get Real (internships).

The prominent placement of the Career Connection office adjacent to the iconic reading room on the second floor will remind students of our commitment to providing an education that prepares graduates for meaningful lives that include productive work and fulfilling careers. Every prospective student will enter the building to explore the opportunities available at OWU. Every enrolled student will visit the building to explore the opportunities offered through the OWU Connection.

Members of the Class of 2012 returned to campus for their 10th reunion in May. (Photo by John Hulkenberg)

I had the opportunity to reflect on the impact of OWU Connection experiences during Reunion Weekend when Melissa and I visited the reunion dinner of the Classes of 2011 and 2012. The Class of 2012 was my freshman class. We started OWU together. As I scanned the collection of those two classes under a tent in front of Slocum Hall, I recalled that many of the people gathered there were among the first students to receive OWU Connection funding.

I was able to connect the dots between their OWU Connection grants and their extraordinary accomplishments as young professionals:

  • A graduate who received student funding to study bats in Texas went on to earn a Fulbright Fellowship and later a Ph.D. and is now doing important research that had its genesis through the OWU Connection.
  • A graduate who took courses traveling to Bangladesh to study global poverty and to Ireland to study politics and economics is now chief of staff of a nonprofit organization working to create space for bipartisan dialogue.
  • A graduate who received student funding to study birds in South America has earned a Ph.D. in ornithology and just finished a year on the faculty at Holy Cross.
  • A graduate who was in the first class of the Economics Management Fellows Program is the founder of a firm in the music industry that provides label services to developing, emerging, and breaking labels and artists.

The list goes on and on.

Imagine the sense of joy and gratification I felt when I saw how these young professionals, barely a decade out of OWU, are fulfilling their dreams and making important contributions to knowledge, education, business, and the public good, all as a result of the education they received at Ohio Wesleyan. And some of us were freshmen together!

Then a few weeks ago, on the evening of the first day of the new semester, I gathered with this year’s senior class on the Hickson Patio of Bradford Milligan Hall for a champagne toast. The Class of 2023 is my senior class.

Their experience has been quite different from the classes of 2011 and 2012. More than half of their college experience was defined by a pandemic. They did not have the same opportunities for travel and off-campus study. Many of their internships and research experiences were virtual. And yet, when I looked out on these students, I was aware of the extraordinary creativity they have brought to their time at OWU, working with faculty and staff to create experiences equally transformational for them.

I am confident that when they return for their 10-year reunion, their stories will parallel the stories I heard this past spring.

It is rare today for a person to have the privilege of serving in a university presidency for 15 years. But that’s what it takes to be able to attend the 10-year reunion of the class with whom you were a freshman, and still have your senior year ahead of you. I feel so very fortunate. More than that, I am so very grateful to be at an institution where alumni and friends have funded the transformational OWU Connection experiences that catapult our graduates to leadership. I have seen the results firsthand.

That’s the OWU Connection.

And that’s why the reopening of Slocum Hall as home of the OWU Connection is so important. As we prepare for that reopening, perhaps you will kindle memories in your mind of time spent in Slocum Hall. Perhaps it was working with John Reed in the archives; or finding your quiet study space in the stacks; or enjoying a more social gathering to study with friends at a table in the reading room; or working a late night completing an edition of The Transcript or a program on WSLN.

I invite you to bring those memories with you and come see the glorious renovation of a building that has served Ohio Wesleyan since 1896. As you reflect on your memories of a library, you’ll want to stop in the reading room, and then perhaps wander the halls of the offices now housed in Slocum, imagining what your OWU Connection might look like if you were a student today.

Your memories of the past, interlaced with the imagination of today’s students.

That’s the OWU Connection!

Rock Jones
President, Ohio Wesleyan University
Twitter: @owu_rockjones