These two university presidents make their communities a priority.
Academic debates. Hanging at the student union. Cramming for the next exam.
College life is a rarefied experience that can keep students from venturing off campus. But for the presidents of Wesley College and Delaware State University, school life extends beyond the halls of ivy to the city of Dover.
For Wesley president William Johnston, that means taking an “active interest” in downtown Dover as vice chair of city revitalization group Downtown Dover Partnership. It also means taking over the Frear Federal building in downtown Dover to use for nursing and health sciences programs.
Wesley College is also part owner of the Schwartz Center for the Arts on Loockerman Street, where students can take theater classes. “That’s a heavy commitment for us,” says Johnston, who became university president in 2008. “We want to be a very strong and active member of the Dover community.”
A new student union on the Delaware State University campus hosts performances, meetings and weddings, giving community members a chance to come on campus when they wouldn’t otherwise, says president Harry Lee Williams. Performances have included a Chinese dance troupe and the “Messiah.” The building also contains a fitness center that is open to the public.
When Williams became president in January 2010, he made outreach one of the core values of the school’s new vision. That outreach extends worldwide. The university will host 48 Chinese exchange students this year, more than any other year. And unlike many students, they pay their own housing and tuition and take public transportation, helping to drive the local economy by becoming part of it, Williams says. “We’re creating opportunities to expose the world to Delaware,” he says.
As a public university, it’s also essential for the university to show that it is contributing to the local economy so Delawareans can see their tax dollars at work, Williams says.
Both Johnston and Williams are members of the Greater Dover Committee and the Central Delaware Committee.
Though Wesley is private, Johnston thinks it’s important that the community sees it as an economic engine for the town. “As people in town get to know us, they’ll attend college events,” Johnston says.