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An Ever-Evolving Institution

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by President John E. Jones III ’77, P’11

Last year at this time, I was chief judge of a U.S. District Court, running a federal court during a pandemic. Today, I sit in Old West, having been selected as Dickinson’s 30th president. I sometimes look out my office window at this beautiful campus and wonder what our founders would think about my journey to the presidency. The last year has been a wild ride, but I am so grateful and honored to be part of this institution’s history.

Much has been written about these challenging times for higher education—particularly for liberal-arts institutions. Yet I see this as a time of both great opportunity and for Dickinson to continue to lead as we shape the future of liberal-arts education for the next 100 years.

As I’ve met with hundreds of students and their families in recent weeks, I’ve talked about Dickinson’s innovative approach to education. We’re proud of our 239-year history, but we’re decidedly not a college stuck in the past. We remain committed to our liberal-arts core, and we are willing to build on that as an ever-evolving place that educates global leaders.

Our newest major, data analytics, is a prime example of our innovation. Understanding and interpreting data is an important skill in virtually every career path today. We are one of the only liberal-arts colleges in the country to have a data-analytics major, and our approach is distinctly Dickinson. It’s much more than simply skill-building; it takes an interdisciplinary approach, even requiring a course in the philosophy and ethics of data.

Both data analytics and another initiative, FARM Lab, grew out of the Revolutionary Challenge, an innovation effort that included our entire Dickinson community— students, parents, staff, faculty and alumni. The Food, Agriculture & Resource Management (FARM) Lab involves building a state-of-the-art, sustainable facility for the College Farm’s wide array of interdisciplinary and innovative programming, which will enhance the farm’s status as a living laboratory for students and faculty. Right now, we can only make full use of the farm in temperate months. The facility will expand opportunities for interdisciplinary, place-based research, classroom projects and community-building events.

We’ve also brought the farm to campus this spring, with the opening of Farm Works. This exciting new venture not only offers grab-and-go dining in the form of freshly made soups and salads, but it’s an incredible learning experience for the students involved and a way to make the farm more accessible to the campus and Carlisle communities.

We do all of this from a position of financial strength. Standard & Poor’s recently reaffirmed our A+ bond rating, and gave us a stable outlook, notable at a time when most of higher education is in turmoil.

During my career, I have been a lawyer, served in a governor’s administration, was appointed by the president of the United States to a federal judgeship, became chief judge of my court—and now I’m a college president. I’ve often joked that I’m either the perfect example of the power of a liberal-arts education or a man who can’t keep a job! Of course, I believe it’s the former, and at a time when our graduates can expect to hold 12 different jobs in their lifetime, I think this speaks strongly to the power of the liberal arts. This is why we will continue to innovate, while remaining committed to an education that emphasizes the traditional arts and sciences.

Alumni and parents are a vital part of a vibrant Dickinson. I want to hear from you. I encourage you to reach out to me at presofc@dickinson.edu to share your thoughts, your ideas and your dreams for Dickinson. There are great things ahead for our community.

Read more from the spring 2022 issue of Dickinson Magazine

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Published May 19, 2022