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New Wilmington College president plans for campus renovations and new work programs

A formal inauguration ceremony was recently held for Wilmington College’s 18th president, James M. Reynolds, but on a daily basis at the Quaker institution, Reynolds is known to everyone as just “Jim.”

He does not use a formal title, does not have a specially-marked parking space and is “no more noble than the next person” — reflections of Wilmington College’s foundational Quaker values, he said. After a little more than a year leading the college, Reynolds is preparing to launch new programs and begin a public fund raising campaign for campus improvements.

“I get to do a lot of inspirational things,” he said from his office on the 65-acre campus. “I tell everybody I’ve got the best seat in the house.”

Reynolds, 55, came to the college in 2007 to serve as its head of academics and was selected as president in February 2012 following a national search. He said he was drawn to the school because of the Quaker values that are “really deep in our institutional DNA.”

“It’s about peace and social justice, it’s about simplicity, it’s about community — those are really important values to us,” said Reynolds, who is not Quaker.

He succeeded Daniel DiBiasio, who left Wilmington last summer to become president of Ohio Northern University.

Wilmington College has been teaching people of all faiths (or no faith) since it was founded in 1870 by the Religious Society of Friends. However, explaining a Quaker college today to a 17-year-old prospective student can be difficult, Reynolds admitted.

“Their initial reaction is the guy on the oats box… or in some cases they’ll think about an Amish person,” he said. “What we hope is that when they come to campus, they experience those values that we practice.”

About 2 to 3 percent of Wilmington’s 1,086 students on the main campus are Quaker and so are about 8 percent of the faculty and staff, Reynolds said. There are only about 100,000 Quakers in the United States, and last year just 1,000 students who took the ACT or SAT identified themselves as Quaker, he said.

Along with the college’s values, its programs are a major draw for students, including a best-in-the-state athletic training program and one of only two agricultural majors offered in Ohio. Agriculture is the college’s largest program, with about one in five students enrolled in the major. The programs balance training for a career with the liberal arts.

About half of Wilmington’s students are the first in their families to go to college, which was also a major draw for Reynolds, who was the first in his family to earn a degree.

“When you think about a small college like this, educating first generation college students, this four-year experience becomes a really important part of their lives,” he said. “It’s not just a way station for them between high school and a career.”

Reynolds said he often cites a line spoken by Wilmington’s president in 1875: “Education is for use, not merely for display.”

“Wilmington has always had this very practical application of theoretical knowledge as its really fundamental basis for education,” Reynolds said.

The college has also always had a connection to work; students even once constructed their own dormitory, Marble Hall, in 1950. Reynolds said this fall, the college will pilot a new program providing free housings for some students who work on campus. The program will be a way to make college more affordable and accessible, he said. The sticker price for Wilmington is currently $37,186 for tuition, fees, room and board, and 99 percent of students receive financial aid.

Reynolds said the college will also renovate and expand campus over the next two years, including updating its science and agricultural facilities and dorm rooms. It is also considering a new partnership with the local hospital and companies in allied health programs.

The college will also establish a Center for Applied Leadership and Sustainable Change, which will better connect students with community programs on campus.

And Reynolds said he would like to see the school’s enrollment grow slowly to 1,300 or 1,350 students by the college’s 150th anniversary in 2020, which will allow it to maintain its small-school character.

Centerville High School graduate of 2009, Julie Creech, said she chose Wilmington for its close-knit community feel.

“It just felt right,” said Creech, who is pre-medicine and studying athletic training. “Because it’s a small school with smaller classes, you really do develop good one-on-one relationships and mentoring relationships with your professors.”

When it comes to Reynolds, Creech said he is well-known by students.

“You can tell he really cares about each student,” she said. “He goes out of his way to make himself known on campus, not in just a figurehead role, but kind of in the embodiment of Quaker values.”

His 13 months in office have reaffirmed the board of trustees’ decision to select him as the college’s leader, said board chairman Robert Touchton at the inauguration ceremony.

“Jim’s impressive academic credentials, his proven leadership skills, his strong commitment to, and affection for, Wilmington College, as well as his performance as the interim president made him the logical and best choice for the Wilmington presidency,” Touchton said.

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