By Emily Blackner
After a lengthy search, this spring semester Washington College will be welcoming a new vice president for college advancement, Mrs. Gretchen Dwyer.
Dwyer comes to WC from a position as senior director of campaign and leadership giving for Bennington College, and she previously served as director of development and alumni relations for the College and Graduate School of Arts and Sciences at Boston University. In addition to these institutions, she worked at an independent elementary and middle school called Tower School in Marblehead, Mass.
For her undergraduate studies, Dwyer went to St. Lawrence University, where she majored in writing and African studies. “I studied abroad in Kenya,” she said. “I’d always been very interested in sub-Saharan Africa, and it changed my perspective on everything, really. It was totally transformational.”
After completing her bachelor’s degree, Dwyer attended Boston University to get her master’s in literature, language and cultural studies. “I did my master’s thesis on adult learners and adult literacy,” she said.
Dwyer’s experiences have given her a unique set of skills that impressed the search committee. “She had an interesting combination of experiences having worked for a larger university, so she knows how college advancement works there,” said Director of Human Resources Alan Chesney. “She also worked at a small liberal arts school. She has experience in a variety of areas in advancement.”
The search committee consisted of Chesney, the head of the committee, two members of the Board of Visitors and Governors, a faculty member, two senior staff members, and a student, according to Chesney. “We hired a consulting firm to help with the search,” he said. “They did most of the resume reviews, and the committee looked closely at applications of sufficient quality. The committee then interviews the applicants and makes a recommendation to the president.”
“The most important thing from my standpoint in Human Resources is that the staff in College Advancement have been waiting for a leader to come on board,” said Chesney of his considerations. He did emphasize that Barbara Heck, associate vice president for Leadership Gifts, who has headed the College Advancement office during the year-long period when there was a vacancy, has done “a great job in the interim.”
For Dwyer’s part, the process worked very well.
“I was definitely looking for a certain type of position,” she said. “I knew the head of the firm who was doing the search. My husband and I have three young kids, so we were looking for something in particular, and Washington College offers all that we were seeking.”
Staff members feel that this dynamic works the other way as well; Dwyer fits what WC as an institution was looking for. “She had demonstrated that she was someone who could raise money and manage a group of people,” said Chesney. “The personal characteristics that she has are what set her above the crowd; she relates well to people, she’s articulate, and she works hard.”
WC President Mitchell Reiss agrees. “I am delighted that Gretchen has agreed to join us at Washington College,” he said. “She has been a central figure in the success of a number of our nation’s premier advancement programs. I am confident she will make enormous contributions to Washington College.”
“It’s always good to have another person at the table,” said Dwyer. “I want to build on the tremendous work that’s been done before.”
“She’ll bring an enthusiasm for raising money at Washington College,” Chesney said.
Dwyer is enthusiastic about other aspects of WC as well. She and her family plan to live close to campus, and says she will enjoy walking to work each day. She also appreciates the atmosphere of the College.
“Everybody is at the same time very open and welcoming, and very prideful, which instantly makes you feel very comfortable,” she said. “You can tell you are a part of something special, and you don’t have to spend a lot of time here to know that.”