Tom and Lisa Blumenthal P'15 Create $1M Seed Fund to Support Teaching-Learning Innovation

July 20, 2016

Last spring Tom and Lisa Blumenthal, parents of Dex '15, had a wide-ranging conversation with Michael Roth (whose new book is Beyond the University: Why Liberal Education Matters) about the value of liberal education and the response of college leaders to new technology, new ideas about teaching, and emergent social and economic needs. Tom and Lisa observed that more could be done to foster the connections between academically rooted critical and creative thinking skills and the broader world beyond the university. When President Roth referred to a new initiative at Wesleyan responding to just those issues, the Blumenthals were intrigued. "Michael's analysis resonated with us," Lisa said, "and we jumped at the idea of the next step." She continued, observing that keeping "beyond the university" in the forefront of planning will instill confidence in students who wonder about their classes—however well loved—"What will I do with this?" They decided to make a $1 million family gift as a seed fund for the developing initiative, the Center for Pedagogical Innovation and Lifelong Learning (CPI).

Among the premises of the new program that attract the Blumenthal family are commitment to interdisciplinary experiences, real-world applications, new formats for teaching, and lifelong learning skills. The CPI will take advantage of promising approaches by Wesleyan faculty already under way, as well as serve as an innovation incubator for educational ideas. The Center also will support innovations in advising: students working with faculty and career-resource programs to "curate" their finest academic projects, achievements and their related co-curricular activities. The ultimate goal is to create a digital portfolio that connects their body of work to the demands of potential employers or professional schools.

Why a seed fund? Tom pointed to the appeal of a program in its early stages. "We like helping to accelerate creative development," he said. "Wesleyan is bringing change thinking to an area that is ripe for it." As experienced fundraisers themselves, they understand the impact that early lead gifts can have on a program's ability to explore options and develop momentum, and wanted to support accelerated development of the CPI.

Lisa remarked, "[The members of] the Wesleyan community are noted as change-makers and innovators. That is at the very heart of what the institution is about." The Blumenthal family hopes that their early gift will inspire others to step forward and support the CPI initiative.

Tom said in conclusion, "I would stress to potential donors that the CPI will further enable students by creating new pathways [in learning]" and giving them the assurance that "the skills they accumulate in their liberal arts education do translate into the real world."