The American anthropologist Ruth Benedict wrote that “we grow in time to trust the future for our answers,” and nowhere is the truth of those words more apparent than in the dynamic field of higher education. As an institution that demands quality, relevancy and value for its students, Waubonsee Community College faces strategically forward, courts innovation, keeps its finger firmly on the pulse of the community, and embraces change. In my 28 years of employment in at least six different roles at Waubonsee, I, too, focused my vision on the future and welcomed the progress that is the lifeblood of the college.
But when I recently retired from the college and cleaned out my office, I indulged in a wistful look backward at the past. I contemplated my own memories of the college and reflected how each generation of students experiences a different Waubonsee.
The college’s original students in the 1960s knew Waubonsee first as a makeshift campus in a converted supermarket in Aurora and later as a countryside campus that housed its president in the old Huntoon stable. Adult education students in the 1970s knew the college as an infrastructure-challenged (the roof leaked, the plumbing malfunctioned regularly, and the lights sometimes flickered) rented school on Farnsworth Avenue in Aurora. Downtown Aurora students in the 1980s remembered their campus as the old Carson Pirie Scott department store. Students in the 1990s met a college that was just beginning to realize the power of computers and technology to revolutionize teaching, learning, and research. In those early, heady days of the Internet, we bandied about terms such as the “information superhighway,” used a dial-up modem in the library to search the Internet with a text-based program called Gopher, puzzled over how email could possibly be useful (!), and marveled at a strange new application called the World Wide Web. In the 2000s, some students knew Waubonsee only through their computers as they pursued online degrees on their own time at home, while students at the Sugar Grove Campus became familiar with construction trailers as new buildings sprouted to supplant outdated facilities. Today’s students recognize a Waubonsee that spans four physical campuses and an online virtual campus, smoothly integrates technology into the classroom and campus life, and provides myriad paths to success for transfer, career, adult education, and lifelong learning students.
As I softly closed the door to my office for the last time, I thought a bit regretfully about how the college that I knew so well would change, would find its answers in the future, would present a different vision to the next occupant of my office. But I consoled myself with one immutable fact: whether I am an employee, a student (will I finally have the time to take a Zumba class?), or a community member, Waubonsee will always be my college. And with its deep, unchanging commitment to the students and community it serves, whatever decade you experience Waubonsee, it will always be your college too.
Jill Wold retired this spring after most recently serving as Assistant Vice President of Instruction at Waubonsee Community College.