The Diana Davis Spencer Foundation provided Wheaton with a $10 million pledge toward the college’s initiatives in social entrepreneurship. One of the outright largest pledges in the college’s history, this gift from the foundation of alumna Diana Davis Spencer ’60 will allow Wheaton to renovate the Old Science Center partially into a center for WiN Hub and the business program.
The WiN (Wheaton Innovates Now) program was set into motion three years ago and has allowed students to engage with programs and resources pertinent to social entrepreneurship. Social entrepreneurship is the process of solving an issue (usually social, cultural or environmental) by using the skills and strategies of entrepreneurs. Spencer, the president of the Diana Davis Spencer Foundation, made repeated gifts to Wheaton to fund the college’s initiatives in social entrepreneurship. Spencer has now upped her grant from an annual $0.5 million to a more permanent and sustained endowment.
The endowment, which will be partially covered by the Diana Davis Spencer Foundation and partially by funds raised by Wheaton, will allow the Old Science Center to be renovated. President Dennis Hanno said it is “pretty safe to say that more than half of the building costs will be covered by outright donors and philanthropic support.“
The changes to be made to the Old Science Center are not completely planned out but will likely involve converting the area into a space similar to the Mars Center for Science and Technology. The Filene Center will not be moved while much of the other space will become more accessible for students.
“The ground level of the Old Science Center is all renovated, so what will happen is that the second and third floors will be renovated similar to the first floor,” Hanno said. “I think there will be a lot of open spaces, a lot of places for students to congregate and study.”
Aesthetically, the Old Science Center seems in need of renovation, as Hanno said: “It kind of has that 1960s high school feel to it.”
However, the actual technicalities of renovating the building may be a challenge due to just how outdated the building is. “The logistics of the renovation will be daunting because much of the heating, ventilation, electrical and mechanical systems will need [to] be brought up to current code and the current components are at the end of their useful life,” said the Assistant Vice President of Business Services and Physical Plant John Sullivan. “We also need to meet ADA requirements and improve accessibility for those members of our community.”
While the move has caused some to speculate that the commitments to business are a step away from traditional liberal arts, Hanno said the building would be more of a center for innovation rather than just business. Hanno added that aspects of the business major and social entrepreneurship programs were in line with Wheaton’s mission: “We have a very non-traditional business major; a [business] student has to have a concentration in the liberal arts that is linked to business.”
Part of the gift that Wheaton has received may also go into hiring renowned professors specializing in social entrepreneurship. While that hiring process will take at least a semester, there have already been many qualified professors interested in the position.
“Even just because of the announcement I have [received] emails from people all across the country,” Hanno said.
The renovations of the Old Science Center and growth of the WiN Hub will likely be a process years in the making. Hanno insists that the changes, while substantive, will not negatively alter the college’s commitments to the liberal arts, stating: “It’s not a shift, its more of an evolution.”