Hendrix Magazine

Our Odyssey toward National Leadership

In politics, campaigns help elect leaders. In higher education, campaigns help institutions become leaders. Through A Commitment to National Leadership, the largest campaign in the history of the College, alumni, friends, faculty, staff, the United Methodist Church, and philanthropic foundations invested $101.3 million in a bold vision for Hendrix established by the Board of Trustees in 2003: To become a national leader in engaged liberal arts and sciences education.

The first step in this journey was both remarkable and reflective. Faculty members were challenged to create an innovative academic program that distinguished Hendrix among the country’s leading liberal arts colleges. To do this, they examined essential elements that have consistently defined the Hendrix experience for generations of students – namely the opportunity for students to work closely with faculty who are dedicated to teaching undergraduate students in the classroom and mentoring students in research, internships, international study, and other hands-on learning activities.

The Hendrix faculty answered this challenge. They identified something that makes Hendrix unique in the landscape of liberal arts education – an atmosphere that encourages active learning or engaged liberal arts. And they gave it a name. Your Hendrix Odyssey: Engaging in Active Learning was announced in 2004 and formally launched in 2005.

Through Odyssey, faculty broadened the horizon of what has historically made Hendrix an incredible institution. Encouraging undergraduate research and other hands-on activities has long been a hallmark of the Hendrix experience and is increasingly more common on the campuses of national liberal arts colleges. What made Odyssey distinct was that it was universal, not elective. Through Your Hendrix Odyssey, students were now required to complete – not simply encouraged to pursue – a minimum of three engaged learning experiences. They could choose these experiences from six broad categories, including Artistic Creativity, Global Awareness, Professional and Leadership Development, Service to the World, Special Projects, and Undergraduate Research.

Not only was Your Hendrix Odyssey to be universal for all students, it was to be embedded – not ancillary – to the academic program. Students graduating from Hendrix would not only receive a transcript noting their performance in academic courses but also an Odyssey transcript detailing their engaged learning experiences. The Odyssey transcript would show not just what or how well they had learned but what they could do.

To encourage students to undertake the most ambitious engaged learning experiences, Hendrix needed substantial resources to endow the program and create a means for students to apply – on a competitive grants basis – for project support.

So with the introduction of Your Hendrix Odyssey: Engaging in Active Learning, the College announced the campaign to fund Odyssey and other critical needs that would make Hendrix a national leader in engaged liberal arts and sciences education.

It wasn’t enough for Hendrix to simply excite students with the unique opportunities inherent in Odyssey and the enterprise of engaged liberal arts. The reality of a fiercely competitive marketplace, even more acute in the wake of post-9/11 economic uncertainty, meant that Hendrix would have to commit substantial resources to access and affordability just as it had committed to making sweeping curricular change.

Just as the inception of Your Hendrix Odyssey required a dual focus – affirming tradition and imagining the future – Hendrix had to look honestly at its position in the marketplace of leading liberal arts colleges. Research showed that the current generation of college-bound students was more sensitive to the level of institutional financial assistance (both merit- and need-based awards) offered than they were to the price of tuition they saw printed in the viewbooks they received from college admissions offices. Surveys of students who had considered but did not ultimately select Hendrix showed that – based on the printed cost of tuition – students did not perceive Hendrix to be as competitive with its peers.

To address this curious perception, Hendrix adjusted its tuition structure, concurrently raising the printed cost but increasing the level of institutional financial assistance. The latter required an added emphasis in the campaign on raising annual and endowed gifts to support student aid. Following the precedent established by Your Hendrix Odyssey, the College devised the Odyssey Distinction Awards, a new program to award institutional financial assistance based on the students’ gifts, talents, and passions.

Along with an entrepreneurial re-imagining of the academic program and price positioning, the Board of Trustees addressed the critical need for new facilities on campus. A decade earlier, Hendrix had completed a major campaign that revitalized the teaching and undergraduate research infrastructure for the sciences. The result was a quantum leap forward in the College’s capacity to deliver on its historic strength of preparing future leaders in health, medicine and science. A similar leap forward was now needed for Hendrix to fulfill its promise as a national leader. So in preparation for A Commitment to National Leadership, the Board of Trustees identified the need for two new facilities, one to include recreational health and wellness and intercollegiate athletic programs and another to offer enhanced student life opportunities and weave the most advanced academic and social technology into the fabric of campus life. Through A Commitment to National Leadership, the College would seek philanthropic support to complete a new Wellness and Athletics Center and new Student Life and Technology Center.

The precincts are closed. The votes are counted. Hendrix College is a national leader in engaged liberal arts and sciences education. Through A Commitment to National Leadership, Hendrix significantly increased the level of financial assistance and scholarships offered to students, providing access and affordability for all qualified students. Our faculty collaborated to create innovative programs that blend intellectual inquiry and hands-on learning, programs that have quickly become national models and are now being emulated at other institutions. State-of-the-art facilities that enrich academic and student life every day now stand on campus as a monument to a courageous course chartered by the College at the beginning of this campaign.