A Brief Introduction to the Wheaton College Alumni Association Board of Directors
WHEATON ALUMNI HAVE A WAY OF STAYING TOGETHER across decades, continents, and stages of life. The Wheaton College Alumni Association (WCAA) serves as a hub for creating, maintaining, and deepening relationships with the College and with fellow alumni.
Whether through Homecoming or regional events, it’s nothing new for Wheaton alumni to reunite. In fact, the first recorded reunion of alumni took place in 1862 at the Northwestern train station in downtown Chicago when Abraham Lincoln was president and the U.S. Civil War was in progress. For a number of years, the only formal alumni event was an annual banquet held during Commencement weekend. But in 1921, alumni began to meet in groups around the country, beginning the Wheaton Clubs (now “Regional Events”) program. Two years later, Ed Coray ’23 planned the College’s first Homecoming. By 1928, Homecoming attendance had swelled to nearly 100 alumni.
In 1944, the Wheaton College Alumni Association (WCAA) formally received a charter from the State of Illinois, united around the vision of improving faculty salaries and keeping a watchful eye on the College’s Board of Trustees, which consisted largely of non-alumni at the time. Today, a majority of the College’s 20 trustees are Wheaton alumni.
The Alumni Association’s first president was Dr. P. Kenneth Gieser ’30, father of the current Chairman of the Board of Trustees Dr. David Gieser ’71. Ted Benson ’38 served as the first Alumni Executive Secretary (director) and Cindra Stackhouse Taetzsch ’82 has served as the executive director of the WCAA since 2006.
WHAT THEY DO
The Alumni Association Board of Directors serves a vital role as ambassadors for Wheaton and representatives of alumni sentiment to College leadership.
“Wheaton is a unique place: it grows from a variety of perspectives all rooted in the truth of Jesus Christ,” Alumni Board director Morgan Jacob ’17 says. “So for us as the Alumni Board, this means keeping in touch with Wheaton, meeting, giving counsel, etc., but it also means we get the opportunity to hear from and collaborate with other alumni. We want to hear from you!”
The WCAA Constitution and Bylaws state that three Alumni Board directors will attend Board of Trustees meetings, providing a voice, though not a vote. The Alumni Board also allocates student scholarships, faculty grants, and honors such as the Distinguished Service to Society and Alma Mater awards.
“We’re a sounding board for key issues that trustees, administrators, students, and faculty face—providing them with alumni perspectives that span different generations and geographies,” says Esther Lee Cruz ’06, another current Alumni Board director.
Alumni Board directors also participate in Homecoming, Alumni Weekend, and fundraising efforts on behalf of the College. It’s a labor of love, done entirely on a volunteer basis. One of the newest Alumni Board directors, Bruce Gin ’83, says, “I decided to join because I was intrigued by the opportunity to serve others at a school that has meant so much to me and my family.”
Each year, the Alumni Board gives out more than $30,000 to several rising seniors through Senior Merit Scholarships. An Alumni Board subcommittee meets throughout the year to determine who will receive these financial awards, focusing on students who demonstrate excellence in spiritual maturity, purposeful life goals, leadership, GPA, and campus contributions.
The Alumni Board also awards more than $70,000 in faculty grants each year. The grants go to faculty completing degrees or continuing research in their field to become more effective teachers in the classroom. Dr. Christina Bieber Lake, Clyde S. Kilby professor of English, benefited from an Alumni Association faculty grant in 2016 that allowed her to present a paper at an international conference in Berlin on the work of the American novelist Cormac McCarthy.
“My work doesn’t naturally lead me to Europe, and I was able to visit two amazing cities that I had never seen before, which in and of itself was an incredibly enriching and energizing experience,” says Dr. Bieber Lake. “It communicates to us that alumni care about our intellectual and personal development as well as our service to students.”
Another committee of the Alumni Board selects full-time teaching faculty to support for short-term missions projects, teaching or serving in developing countries with the goal of improving their ability to communicate with students about the demands of a wide range of cultures. Associate Dean and Associate Professor of Psychology Dr. Terri Watson M.A. ’86 received a missions grant for her trip to South Africa, where she learned about racial reconciliation by serving local churches. She offered education on attachment theory, trauma, grief and loss at the churches, and cites this trip as one the most impactful experiences of her career.
STUDENT ALUMNI BOARD
In 2015, a group of students formed the Student Alumni Board (SAB). Their goal was to bridge the gap between students and alumni. Each member of SAB has an informal mentor/mentee relationship with the Alumni Board of Directors, allowing for direct engagement between alumni and current students.
HOW CAN ALUMNI ENGAGE?
The Alumni Board is always looking for opportunities to connect with the broader Wheaton family. There are multiple ways to stay engaged including nominating board members, providing feedback (firstname.lastname@example.org), or reaching out for prayer and support.
“No matter where you are in life or how you feel about Wheaton, we’re glad you’re an alumnus who’s part of the family. We’d love to know how we can support you, your family, or your organization with prayer,” says Esther Lee Cruz ’06.
“More than anything, I desire for alumni to know that Wheaton College remains committed to Christ and the work of his kingdom,” says Alumni Board Director Dan Doebler ’94, M.A. ’00. “The leadership of our alma mater are humbly, prayerfully, and deeply invested not only in the development of students, but they also highly value the legacy, input, and investment of the thousands of alumni.”