Wilson College president has enjoyed a challenging first year

July 11, 2012|By JENNIFER FITCH |
  • On Oct. 1, 2011, Barbara Mistick was inaugurated as the 19th president in the 142-year history of Wilson College.
On Oct. 1, 2011, Barbara Mistick was inaugurated as the 19th president in the 142-year history of Wilson College.

CHAMBERSBURG, Pa. — Two months ago, Wilson College’s Class of 2012 gave the school’s president a vase inscribed with Ralph Ellison’s quote “Education is all a matter of building bridges.”

Emotion flickers in Barbara Mistick’s eyes when she recalls that moment shared with the graduates. She counts them among the many people who have embraced her as Wilson College’s new president.

“Everybody has been very welcoming,” Mistick said.

On Oct. 1, 2011, Mistick was inaugurated as the 19th president in the 142-year history of Wilson College, a small liberal arts college serving mostly female students.

One of her first tasks was to replace a bridge students use to access the college’s stables, and she found the permitting process to be vexing. The Ellison quote highlighted that project’s completion.

Mistick fondly remembers the moment with graduates as well as watching a winning season for the softball team.

Before taking the helm at Wilson College, Mistick was president of the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh system. That experience is now being put to use as the college overhauls its own library.

In the winter of 2011, cracked steam pipes in the heating system heavily damaged the library’s walls and floors. The college has hired Murray Associates architectural firm to design renovations for the John Stewart Memorial Library. Those renovations will include demolition of a building addition from 1960.

The renovated library can be configured as a “learning commons,” housing technology and academic support services in addition to resource materials used by students and faculty, Mistick said.

The facility should have flexibility for the future, including varied spaces and moveable stacks, Mistick said. Today’s libraries are spots where traditional and nontraditional students convene, she said.

Mistick said she has had a busy year, but the things that drew her to Wilson College — the small community, emphasis on liberal arts and a sense of affection — continue to impact her.

Mistick recently visited Ewha Womans University and Seoul Women’s University in South Korea. Wilson College has partnerships with both schools and is taking steps to accommodate more students in those programs.

“Each place (I went), they shared with me the success stories of students who were here in Chambersburg,” Mistick said, saying the American students might soon have new opportunities for short-term studies abroad and dual degrees.

Wilson College is looking at a joint program with the Borough of Chambersburg to protect the Conococheague Creek. It also is working with state officials to remove a dam.

Students perform community service, the school hosts a film series about world travels, and an Institute for Retired Persons teaches senior citizens about current events, Mistick said.

“If the community is stronger, we’re stronger. ... We can’t really operate in a vacuum,” she said.

A team of various stakeholders is working on a plan to increase enrollment to 1,000 students. Mistick said that threshold would be good for the college, but she said changes will need to occur first.

The college’s 2011-12 enrollment in the college for women and the adult degree program is 746 and includes 21 students from 10 foreign countries, according to information from the school.

A tuition freeze for the coming academic year was welcomed by students, but Mistick said she is concerned that similar moves might not be feasible in the future. She said lobbying helped to prevent anticipated cuts to Pennsylvania Higher Education Assistance Agency grants.

“We’re committed to making sure education is as affordable and accessible to as many students as possible,” Mistick said.

Surveys reveal programs, professors and the campus are most important to Wilson students, Mistick said.

She said she thinks of the school as “a small community that really changes students’ lives.”

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