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Reflections on the Best Job Ever

Reflections on the Best Job Ever by Dan West, vice president for development and alumni relations

Dan West oversaw the recently completed Meaning of Swarthmore Campaign, the most successful campaign in the College's history. He came to Swarthmore from Union College in Schenectady, N.Y., where he was vice president for college relations, and had previously served as president of Carroll College in Wisconsin from 1988 to 1992 and Arkansas' Lyon College from 1972 to 1988. A graduate of Austin College in Sherman, Tex., West earned a B.D. in biblical studies from Union Theological Seminary in Richmond, Va., a D.Div. in systematic theology from Vanderbilt University, and an Ed.D. in higher education administration from Harvard University. Write to him at
've met many alums, young, old and in between. When I do, I'm fond of asking about their experience at the College. Frequently, they'll first say that while they were here, they spent too much time studying and not enough time off campus. But that's always quickly followed by the acknowledgement that the longer they were out of college, the more they realized how much they grew here and how the place changed them.

I also hear people say they took for granted how beautiful the campus was and how they miss it. But what I hear most often, and what always reminds me of the importance of my work, is some version of, "Never since I left have I had an experience in which I was so stimulated intellectually. The professors, late night sessions with friends, informal chats in the dining halls, it was just wonderful. I've tried to recreate it, but it's never the same."

It's an amazing experience to call on alums all over the world who consider their intellectual memory the highlight of their college experience. People really want to talk about how they were challenged, stimulated, and forever changed. It's quite remarkable. I've never known a place that better adopts and promotes the life of the mind and attracts people who want that for themselves.

Gil Kemp '72 and Barbara Guss Kemp (left) named the College's West House for Sidney and Dan West.
I'm also impressed by the incredible talent of the students when they first get here. Their stories are amazing. Some have traveled or know several languages, are concert musicians or poets, or accomplished athletes and researchers. It's very exciting to bring that collection of talent to our faculty, who I know are challenged by them. The students are capable of serious analytic exercise and the faculty find it exciting and stimulating to work with them.

Then, after people graduate, it's amazing to me how many alums, no matter their career path, are connected by a strong concern for social justice and are motivated to give back and be a part of the solution. There is a pattern to their lives that is impressively different from others. That streak of compassion and wanting to address social issues runs through the alumni body. It's so evident that something really important happened to them here to make them committed to helping people who are less fortunate. I see it now, with the members of Swat Sudan, now STAND, and the students who work in Chester and Philadelphia. It's a very prominent part of the culture here.

Swarthmore alums also impress me with how supportive, positive, even affectionate their feelings are for the College. They support our need-blind admissions policy and our commitment to diversity and to social justice. Most of all, they want current students to have the strong and enriching experience they did.

The College's new science center remains a campaign centerpiece. More accomplishments can be found here.
For me, it's always important to sustain this enterprise. Yet there are challenges. All that we offer - the Honors Program, frequent faculty sabbaticals, the 8:1 student-faculty ratio, the research projects on which faculty and students work together, the libraries and facilities, even the lectures and concerts that are free not just to students but to the general public - is not commonplace. It's a very rich and supportive way to educate students. But it takes a great deal to run a college this way, and a great deal more to keep it on track.

I have enjoyed working with alumni who in the past have not been very involved with the College who then became more engaged and generous. To watch their transformation and the way in which investing in the College enriches their lives is the aspect of fundraising that means the most to me. It's significant not just for the College, but for what it does for them. They believe so strongly in this place and in what it meant to them and their friends. When they fashion ways to be a significant source of support of the place, it opens up new dimensions for them. They're members of a group that really make a difference in ensuring that Swarthmore survives and remains a leader among the best colleges in the country.

When I visited the campus to interview for this job, I had a strong hunch this would be a great fit. I've long admired the Quakers, who founded this institution, and just knew I would be glad to be here. That's been confirmed many times. Swarthmore is the best job I've ever had. I shall continue to be actively interested in everything that happens here.