Isa Amaro Varas ’23 awarded distinguished Watson Fellowship
tudents, faculty and the broader campus community celebrated the grand unveiling of the Otto and Fran Walter Commons for Global Study and Engagement with a ribbon-cutting ceremony Jan. 30.
The newly renovated space, which occupies the first floor of Blaustein Humanities Center, is a modern hub that puts Conn’s unique strengths in international education on display, and builds on the College’s tradition of a deep commitment to social justice.
Wali Hairan ’19, who is studying computer science, neuroscience and Chinese, said the new space will have a profound cultural impact on students.
“The Walter Commons will cultivate and nurture more passion and sympathy in students by exposing them to the beautiful mosaic that is the sum of the different cultures and languages around the world,” Hairan said.
With the opening of the Walter Commons, students can now access the Center for the Critical Study of Race and Ethnicity (CCSRE), the Global Learning Lab, the Office of Study Away, the Toor Cummings Center for International Studies and the Liberal Arts (CISLA) and the Office of Global Initiatives—all in a consolidated space with common areas designed to foster dialogue about contemporary global issues.
“I feel like bringing these areas of study under one roof is like a mixed ice cream of all the best flavors,” Hairan added.
Reflecting the priorities of Connections, the College’s innovative curriculum that reinvents the liberal arts, the Walter Commons marks a new era of collaboration between the many campus resources that are dedicated to global study. Through supporting off-campus learning programs, harnessing technology and facilitating community collaboration, the Walter Commons also makes an important contribution to the College’s goal of full participation by the entire student body, and promotes opportunities for global-local engagement.
“Each of the offices that now inhabit this new space are distinct in terms of intellectual focus and student programs, yet all are central to global education,” said Amy Dooling, associate dean of global initiatives, director of the Walter Commons and professor of Chinese.
“The development of international perspectives continues to anchor the work we do with students. We’re very excited for the dialogues and collaboration that the Walter Commons will promote among these different entities, as well as with our partners in the local community and around the world,” Dooling said.
The Walter Commons merges established international programs and centers with new initiatives, such as a global-local advising program that connects students with advisers from several campus offices and organizations, including the Holleran Center for Community Action and Public Policy, Community Partnerships, CISLA and Study Away. The program supports and complements Connections by enhancing experiential learning through study away opportunities, internships, applied research and community engagement, and creates opportunities for students to pursue academic work in real-world contexts and with new partnerships with colleges and universities around the world.
The $1,675,000 renovation was made possible through a $750,000 grant from the Otto and Fran Walter Foundation; $200,000 from the William Randolph Hearst Foundation; $175,000 from the George I. Alden Trust; and $50,000 from the Raymond Debbane Family Foundation. A generous gift from Susan Eckert Lynch ’62 was also essential to the project’s development.
At the ribbon-cutting ceremony, President Katherine Bergeron spoke about the $700,000 grant from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, received in December 2013, which encouraged the dialogue among students, faculty, and staff that inspired the Commons. She also noted how the idea of reactivating the ground level of Blaustein conformed with Conn’s sustainability efforts.
“This space is another imaginative example of adaptive reuse on this campus — consistent with our approach to sustainability,” Bergeron said. "It is a beautiful representation of both our values as an institution and the ongoing excellence of global education at Connecticut College.”
The vision for the Walter Commons was a decade in the making, and evolved over the years. The seed for the project was planted in 2007 with a faculty-led initiative that broadened the emphasis on world languages and international studies.
“This vibrant hub for global learning allows our faculty and staff to infuse courses and off-campus programs with diverse world perspectives, and affords our students new opportunities to address the most relevant issues of our time,” Bergeron said. “The Walter Commons is the embodiment of our vision for a more deeply connected and engaged education that promotes the intellectual, social, professional and civic development of every student.”
Students have already taken advantage of the Walter Commons, which unofficially opened at the start of the spring semester. Julia Panter ’18, a Slavic studies major and linguistics minor, has been utilizing the technology that is wired throughout the Walter Commons.
“My Russian seminar is using the new video system to Skype with students at the New Bulgarian University in Sophia, Bulgaria, which enhances our course and our understanding of Slavic cultures, as well as gives students a chance to practice Bulgarian,” Panter said.
Panter is also excited by the design of the Walter Commons. “I like how modern it is. It’s a great place to study.”
Martha Peak ’75, who serves as vice president and grants director at the Walter Foundation, said the space is a perfect reflection of what Otto and Fran Walter stood for and created their foundation to promote.
“The Walter Commons truly brings into focus Otto Walter’s lifelong belief that the way to build global peace tomorrow is to create opportunities for international cross-pollination today,” Peak said. “The foundation is proud that this commons is located at the heart of the Connecticut College campus, in a place that has long emphasized international study and cross-cultural engagement.”