The State of the College

Flocking to class: Professor of Biology Russ Benedict missed having students physically present to watch his lab demonstrations during remote learning. So he invited the department’s collection of stuffed bird specimens to sit in for them during his Zoom ornithology teaching sessions.

Flocking to class: Professor of Biology Russ Benedict missed having students physically present to watch his lab demonstrations during remote learning. So he invited the department’s collection of stuffed bird specimens to sit in for them during his Zoom ornithology teaching sessions.

An Inherent Hope and a Heart for Others

The past few years will be the years we remember forever.

They are the years the Central College academic experience looked different from any others in the college’s history.

They are the years we physically distanced and wore masks.

They are the years the pandemic became a part of our DNA. And we changed, adapted and evolved as quickly as the COVID-19 virus did.

Across the country, the pandemic altered more class time for more students than almost any other event in U.S. history. The Class of 2020 and the Class of 2021 are among only four classes in Central’s history to ever receive a portion of their Central education off-campus. The other two are the Classes of 2022 and 2023.

And yet, with this unforgettable shadow while we watch COVID-19 case counts rise and fall, we share an inherent hope for the future and a heart for others that will endure.

This hope can be seen in the daily actions of the Central community as this annual look back reveals.

We move forward.


Built To Last

P.H. Kuyper GymnasiumFor several months in 2020, the campus was extremely quiet — except for the sounds of construction equipment whirring in a transformation of first Peace Mall and then P.H. Kuyper Gymnasium.

The physical changes are astonishing. I invite everyone to campus to see them. Both of these projects were made possible thanks to generous support from the Central family and will matter for generations to come.

We move forward.


Academic Resilience

Our focus is on providing the best educational experience for our students so they may open doors to the careers of their dreams and live lives of meaning and contribution.

Faculty members went to extraordinary lengths to ensure our students’ educations continued through remote learning in the spring of 2020 and through frequent disruptions during the 2020-21 academic year. We adjusted learning needs to keep students in class in person as much as possible while also offering remote learning for those students who needed to be in isolation and quarantine.

In an effort to promote physical distancing, many faculty and staff chose to teach or work outside when weather permitted, including Eric Jones ’87, class dean, shown here teaching students how to juggle.

In an effort to promote physical distancing, many faculty and staff chose to teach or work outside when weather permitted, including Eric Jones ’87, class dean, shown here teaching students how to juggle.

Programmatically we made advances as well. The faculty collaborated to transform academic structures and practices to support our students. (See this issue’s Parting Shot.) The faculty focused on the core curriculum, adjusted major offerings to reflect student interest, added data science as a new minor and is developing courses and opportunities for students focused on the academic theme for 2021-22, which is responsible citizenship. In addition, two new faculty fellow positions have been created: one for interdisciplinary programs and faculty-led international programs and another for diversity and inclusion in the classroom and curriculum.

Our academic resilience and efforts do not go unnoticed. The college’s strength and conditioning program, part of the kinesiology major, has been approved by the National Strength and Conditioning Association’s Education Recognition Program.

And several members of our community earned national accolades. Two students received the prestigious Goldwater Scholarship (Katelyn Wang ’21 and Cameron Coles ’22) and another (Elizabeth Sheldon ’21) earned the prestigious Udall Scholarship. Terry Kleven, the Jacob and Gela Schnucker Sessler Professor of Philosophy and Religious Studies, received his second award from the Fulbright U.S. Scholar Program. He is currently researching Arabic political philosophy at the University of Jordan in Amman, Jordan.

We move forward.


Red and white tulips on Central's campus.

We Are Forever Dutch®

We also focused on the traditions of college life.

In the 2020-21 academic year, more than 200 students participated in our undergraduate research symposium in the spring. Ensemble concerts, final theatre productions, and student recitals were an additional form of creative inquiry and performances continued through a combination of in-person and virtual means. Twenty-two students from 11 different majors spent the summer on campus conducting research. More than 40 students participated in the Second Annual Career Kickstarter in January, which included in-person and virtual micro-internships.

Athletics completed its most challenging year ever successfully. Seasons were disrupted, delayed and altered. Some teams and student-athletes had their performances adversely affected by mid-season virus-related interruptions. The focus remained on the overall safety and well-being of our student-athletes, seeking to provide opportunities for competition while mitigating risks. The revised schedules resulted in the busiest spring season in Central’s athletics history, often with few cheering fans in the stadium or courtside. At some point during March and April, 17 Dutch athletics teams held intercollegiate competition.

And we mustn’t forget the tulips — an intrinsic sign of hope and a labor of love for our community. Scott Van Weelden is a grounds/ utility team supervisor who has worked at Central for 25 years. This past year, like many before, he personally planted an estimated 14,000 tulip bulbs on Central’s campus.

We move forward.


Fundraising Efforts Break New Records

The past two years have been significant fundraising years for the college, helping us raise millions of dollars for campus projects and student scholarships, ensuring that Central’s legacy continues.

I’ve been at Central since 2010. In these 11 years, I frequently have been humbled by the passion our alumni and friends have for Central — and even more so this year when we witnessed the sixth-best year of all time for giving to Central with $7.67 million in gifts. This generosity creates a foundation of support that allows us to invest in our students and our programs.

We move forward.


A student receives her COVID-19 vaccination on campus.

Having a Heart for Others

We are living in an unprecedented time that calls on us to act with great resiliency, strength and empathy. All of these things are exactly what a Central education prepares its graduates for. And these values of a lifetime have never been more evident than this year on campus.

We see it as faculty, staff and students raise awareness about diversity, equity and inclusion. We see it with grace and patience as students needed accommodations for quarantine and ever-evolving athletics schedules.

The real story and success of this past year is how the Central family stepped up to do the right things.

We refunded student room and board fees in 2020 after we sent students home. We established an emergency fund, Central Cares, to support students experiencing financial needs because of the pandemic. We wore masks, in and out of the classroom. We hosted three vaccination clinics for the campus and the Pella community and volunteered at a number of others. We conducted 2,706 COVID-19 tests during the second semester.

Jake Wegner ’21We followed (and continue to follow increasingly and sometimes conflicting) guidance from local, state, federal and NCAA guidelines to keep our campus safe. And through it all, we’ve encouraged our community to have a heart for others. That was the easy part. Because the community does. One personal example of our community’s heart that has so resonated with me took place near the end of the 2021 spring semester on the baseball team’s Senior Day. Jake Wegner ’21, right, is a talented and humble student-athlete who saw his playing career halted by two bouts of cancer. He also went six months without being able to walk. When he couldn’t play, he became a student coach for Central to stay involved. On Senior Day, the baseball team had Wegner lead off Central’s final regular-season game, the only at-bat of his college career. Wegner received a standing ovation — not only from his teammates and fans but also from the opposing Simpson College players lined in front of their dugout.

We move forward.


Thank You

Central is fortunate. We enjoy a highly engaged board of trustees, incredible academic leadership and professors, generous and supportive alumni and friends, and an amazing staff who always goes the extra mile.

And all with a heart for others.

It’s because of that heart I am confident we have what we need to face the twists and turns on the journey ahead.

We are all eager to know what that is, right? The uncertainty of the pandemic has required us to concentrate on when to lean forward to the future. While we might not know when this constant change and frequent back-and-forth and in-and-out of masks and quarantines will end, we do know some things.

We live in a world of innovation and invention. We teach these things at Central. We find solace in our minds, our studies, our song, our community and our traditions. The stories shared in this magazine demonstrate the inherent hope that innovation can bring to the world in a future we can be proud of.

One thing I know for sure, the most powerful organizations are rooted in truth. Central’s truth can be found in its innovative empathy. Great things happen when you have a heart for others.

And that happens every day at Central!

We move forward.


2020-21 Annual Report & Honor Roll of Giving

See the 2020-21 Annual Report in the print issue of Civitas, and view the 2020-21 Honor Roll of Giving online.


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