Our View: Making Dickinson Home

Kirk Swenson

Kirk I. Swenson

by Kirk Swenson, vice president for college advancement

In 1948, my grandfather left his job in a Reading, Pa., rug mill to start a small-engine repair shop in Kutztown called Kunkel’s Saw & Mower. With an iron will and a work ethic that would make a coal miner blush, he carved out a life for his family. My mother and her brothers were the first in their family to attend college, and three of them earned graduate degrees. This is his legacy, and I carry it with pride, dedicating my career to ensuring that others have similar life-altering opportunities.

As a boy, I spent many happy days in Kutztown playing in my grandfather’s shop, climbing over mowers and marveling at the maze of machines. Since then, I have enjoyed a career that spanned major research universities and small colleges. When I first drove around the outskirts of Carlisle this spring, I knew I was home: The landscape called out to me with a familiarity and connection that I did not realize had been missing in my life. Along with my wife, Whitney, and our son, Owen, I now make my home in Carlisle, just three counties over from the family farm where my grandfather was born.

As the beneficiary of a liberal-arts education, I believe in the power of the Dickinson approach to prepare young people for lives of consequence. Benjamin Rush and John Dickinson believed it too. Read through Dickinson’s founding documents and you can feel the hopefulness, the confidence that Dickinsonians would shape the future of this new nation. Education can spark a passion for serving others; it can lift families and whole communities from poverty. And a Dickinson education is even more relevant today, as our students must be prepared to tackle the complex issues they will encounter throughout their lives.

As Dickinson’s vice president for college advancement, I lead a team responsible for building the relationships and securing the resources needed to move this great institution forward. I am eager to meet many of you in the months ahead as I travel across the country to hear your Dickinson stories, to learn about your life’s journey since you walked down the steps of Old West and to better understand your hopes and dreams for Dickinson. There is no question that Dickinson is one of the leading liberal-arts colleges in the nation. Likewise, there is no question that we will need financial resources if we want to not merely maintain our position, but also move forward. While there are many worthy competing demands, I want to address one issue of particular importance to me—financial aid.

We must ensure that affordability is not a barrier to outstanding students who would make Dickinson their first choice. The educational landscape has changed dramatically in the last 25 years. Household income has stagnated for most Americans while household costs continue to increase. Against this backdrop, financial aid is more critical than ever.

Making Dickinson accessible to highly qualified students who might not otherwise be able to attend benefits the entire community. Our faculty know this, as they are deeply committed to developing the young people entrusted to their care. These students come from all over the U.S. and around the world, and they include groups that historically have been underrepresented at Dickinson. Such students contribute to the intellectual climate in our classrooms, the competitiveness of our athletics teams and the quality of the residential experience.

My brief time on campus already has filled me with great appreciation for the Dickinson community and great hope for the college’s future. Every student, faculty member, staff member and trustee I meet impresses me with their unwavering commitment to Dickinson. Indeed, it was the unanimity and the power of their enthusiasm that made Dickinson stand out and convinced me to join the college. They all seem to know that we have something special here, and they want to do what they can to make it even better.

I invite you to join us. We need every Dickinsonian to do your part. Volunteer your time and expertise to help students and fellow alumni. Work within your sphere of  influence to build pride and appreciation for a Dickinson education. Contribute to the Dickinson Fund each year and to special initiatives that resonate with you. Be a partner, be a philanthropist, be a Dickinsonian.

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Published July 12, 2016