Colby College has received a $25 million gift that it says it will use to fund overseas experiences for all of its students, regardless of their ability to pay.
The college is calling its new DavisConnects program a first for a liberal arts school. The goal is to use the money to transform the liberal arts themselves.
It doesn’t look like much at the moment — it’s an old frat house getting a face lift — but this fall, a Waterville building will open as the home of a new program called DavisConnects. It’s the result of a multimillion-dollar gift from investor, philanthropist and alumnus Andrew Davis and his family.
“When you talk about making the gift, it’s not as if I just snapped my fingers and said ‘Oh I have an idea.’ David and I have been talking about this for sometime,” he says, referring to Colby College President David Greene, who is showing him the half-finished building.
Both men are aware of the criticism liberal arts institutions such as Colby have faced in recent years, with little love shown for the humanities. Republican presidential candidate, U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio, perhaps summed it up best when he said at a debate last year, that the world needs “more welders and less philosophers.”
But Davis has a different view, and he’s willing to back it up with $25 million.
“I think the liberal arts education in many ways, is — if you’re arguing that it is passe, I think it’s quite the opposite. I think right now, there’s no better time for it. Employers, the world is changing. We need thinkers, and this country has always provided them, and the liberal arts education is one of the major reasons why,” he says.
Davis says the need for thinkers isn’t going away, and that’s where the new program comes in. The school describes it as a “transformation of the liberal arts” with a goal to ensure that students have an “unlimited set of post-graduate opportunities.”
A major cornerstone, for example, is making overseas experience accessible to all students, not just those whose families can afford it.
“I’m really excited to hear that, because being a first-gen, low-income student, that’s something that we as a community would really benefit from,” says first-year student Giselle Castro.
In true liberal arts fashion, Castro is focusing equally on biology and religion. Whether she will go abroad on a science research project or to study cultural beliefs, she hasn’t decided yet, but without the new funds, she says her studies would have ended in the classroom.
Her friend Kris de Luna is also at Colby on a scholarship. Until now, she was never sure whether she’d be able to go abroad.
“I think studying abroad is a huge part of getting that cultural experience, and being immersed in a culture, versus just being in a classroom and learning about it. It’s completely different,” she says.
“Our students are going to be global players whether they like it or not,” says Greene.
He says DavisConnect will go beyond simple studying abroad — students are also encouraged to apply for internships, research projects and also to learn how to work and live overseas.
“The more facility they have in moving from one country, one culture to another, the better off they’ll be in the world. The better they’ll be able to lead, the better understanding that they’ll have in the world, and I have to say, if we’re looking for things like peace and prosperity in the world, then we need our young people today to really understand what it means to be a global citizen,” Greene says.
DavisConnects is expected to launch this fall.