The Weissman Center for Leadership is a promising practice at Mount Holyoke College that illustrates how our campus is successfully fulfilling its civic mission.

Our strategic plan, The Plan for Mount Holyoke 2003, adopted in 1997, centers the College on our mission to foster the alliance of excellent liberal arts education with purposeful engagement in the world. It spawned a number of faculty-led initiatives including our now thriving Weissman Center for Leadership. The overarching goal of the Weissman Center is to enhance students abilities to become effective agents of change. In its first few years the Center has drawn significant faculty and student interest, major donor support (including a 4-million-dollar naming gift), and considerable public attention. Over 150 faculty and hundreds of students have participated directly in advancing the Center s work. Center programming falls into three main areas:

I. Focus on Critical Public Issues:
Through a variety of educational activities, the WCL seeks to increase awareness of the critical problems of our times and to engage the entire community on and off-campus in discussion about workable solutions and avenues for action. Each semester the WCL organizes a campus-wide focus on a specific public issue or problem. The theme is incorporated into the curriculum in myriad ways and public events include lectures by distinguished specialists, panel discussions, and student debates. Recent themes include:

  • Fall 1999: Silent Killer? Environmental Contaminants and Health
  • Spring 2000: U.S. Foreign Interventions: Human Rights versus National Interests
  • Fall 2000: American Democracy in Crisis?: Money, Politics, and Civic Participation
  • Spring 2001: Legacies of Frances Perkins, Secretary of Labor under Franklin Roosevelt

II. Active Learning Strategies
The WCL promotes active learning strategies that enhance students ability to think independently and analytically, to participate in informed and vigorous discussion, to grapple with uncertainty and complexity, and to work in groups across difference. These include:

  • The Community-Based Learning Program (CBL): an educational initiative located in the Weissman Center that links Mount Holyoke students with local communities in nearby Springfield, Holyoke, South Hadley, and the surrounding Pioneer Valley in courses that combine analysis with action. Begun in 1993 as a pilot project funded by the Andrew Mellon Foundation, community-based learning now has over 30 courses in a wide variety of disciplines.
  • The Case Method: a learning strategy that provides students with a narrative account of an actual problem and compels them to develop dynamic approaches toward solving it under the close questioning of faculty and peers, and with the constraints of new information. Supported by a $100,000 grant from the Hewlett Foundation, the WCL is working during 1999-2001 with twenty faculty members from different disciplines to use the case method in their courses.

III. The Speaking, Arguing, and Writing Program (SAW): A vibrant program that works with faculty and students to help students to think critically, speak articulately, and write effectively in order to develop students capacity to be active and effective agents of change. It includes the Writing Center and the innovative Speaking Center, which direct the efforts of scores of writing and speaking assistants and mentors. SAW conducts workshops for faculty and students, publishes Word of Mouth (newsletter for students), and coordinates other initiatives to foster a culture of conversation at Mount Holyoke.

Contact: Chris Benfey at and Karen Remmler at, Co-Directors, Weissmann Center for Leadership