From Wente's Desk logo

In my role as President, no two days of the week are the same. Each day is like a puzzle, made up of unique pieces that include meetings; campus events; travel to meet with fellow leaders, alumni or parents; committee convenings … the list goes on!  

It would be easy to let the momentum of these obligations carry me through each semester with little pause. But over my many years as a leader, I have learned that creating intentional time for connection with the university’s most important asset — its people – is absolutely critical to leading well. No university leader can be successful (in my opinion) without regular, direct and open opportunities to hear from faculty, staff, and students. 

Purposefully finding meaningful connection points creates important feedback loops for me. For example, I established a distinct set of pieces that are part of every scheduling puzzle: Wednesdays with Wente, a monthly lunch I host with faculty and staff guests from all across our campuses; Gold and Black Chats, unscripted pop-up conversations on location around campus with students that I co-host with Dr. Shea Kidd Brown; and this year, Walk with Wente, a series of longer conversations with faculty about their teaching and scholarship. These pieces of my monthly puzzle give me the chance to connect with our community in a personal way and to hear about everyone’s experiences at Wake Forest. 

I have learned so much from these conversations. Here is just a sampling of what you have taught me: 

About the Centrality of the Teacher-Scholar Model: Wake Forest’s commitment to excellent teaching, and the belief that scholarship truly enhances it, was something that immediately attracted me to Wake Forest. So many people from across all parts of the University talked about how critical the teacher-scholar model is to Wake Forest’s identity during our Strategic Framework process. At Wednesdays with Wente lunches, this hallmark of our identity is brought to life over and over again in the stories of our faculty and their commitment to it, and the many ways our dedicated staff further enhance our learning environment. As one faculty member shared at our lunch earlier this month, when speaking about the teacher-scholar model, “One informs the other, one inspires the other.” Other faculty have reinforced this on our long walks around Hearn Plaza; that they chose to come to Wake Forest because of this core facet of who we are, and the teacher-scholar model is part of why they stay. 

About Demonstrating Care for Our Community: During both my lunches with staff and faculty and my time with students at Gold and Black Chats, I have also learned firsthand about how Wake Forest nurtures and cares for our people. Students share stories of faculty and staff helping them get the resources they need, not just for their classes but for their mental and physical wellbeing. Faculty and staff, likewise, share how they come to know our students well, including their dreams and ambitions for the future. As one staff member — whose son was also a student at Wake Forest — shared with me this fall, “As I walked this campus, I understood that this was a place my son would be truly known.” Hearing echoes of this care across my first year here led to many conversations with our senior leadership team, and especially Vice President Shea Kidd Brown. Campus Life’s We Are Wake initiative is just one example of how this core lesson about who we are comes to life in the work we do. 

These two important lessons are woven together in the life of our community. As a staff member shared with me during lunch in February: “Wake Forest is ‘high touch’ and creates a profound sense of community that cannot be found elsewhere.” Another attendee added: “Care, compassion and educating the whole person — and having a sense of responsibility for others and the world. That’s what makes Wake Forest so special.” 

As I often tell students, our whole campus is a classroom. Learning is happening everywhere. That’s true for me, too. I’m so grateful for these lessons and others you have taught me by engaging with me this year, and every year. If we haven’t had a chance to meet yet, please join me for a future lunch or chat so I can hear your unique Wake Forest story, too. 

I also hope you will take one lesson from me. Make the time to connect with one another, even when scheduling seems hard. I think you will find, as I do, that you’ll never regret time spent in the company of our caring community — and you will always learn something! 

Categories: From Wente's Desk