During the fall gathering of the Board of Trustees, Hobart and William Smith celebrated 10 years of success and growth at the Centennial Center, home to the Colleges’ flagship programs in leadership, entrepreneurship and innovation.
At the 10th anniversary dinner in October, Centennial Center Director Amy Forbes highlighted the “culture of innovative programming” and instrumental leaders in the Center’s founding and success including Mara O’Laughlin ’66, L.H.D. ’13, who headed the team that raised the funds for the Center, and Susan Pliner — now director of the Center for Teaching & Learning and associate dean for teaching, learning and assessment — who directed the Center for its first nine years.
Forbes also acknowledged the role of William Smith alumnae who advanced the concept of a leadership center during the celebration and coinciding campaign for the William Smith Centennial. “These women philanthropists reflected back on their own education and realized that a defining characteristic of their undergraduate experience was the ability to take on leadership roles,” said Forbes. “They wanted to ensure that current and future students would have even more opportunities to gain leadership experience during their time at Hobart and William Smith.”
Recognizing the contributions of one alumna in particular, Julie Bazan ’93 and Jane Erickson ’07, president and immediate past president of the William Smith Alumnae Association, presented HWS Trustee Cynthia Gelsthorpe Fish ’82 with the Centennial Bowl.
Fish, who has served as a Trustee since 2006 and is current vice chair of the Board, donated the lead gift during the William Smith Centennial celebration in 2008 that established the Centennial Center. The award honors her, as Bazan and Erickson said, “on behalf of the Alumnae Association and the more than 14,000 alumnae who have graduated from William Smith in the past 110 years, on the 10-year anniversary of the creation of the Centennial Center, and in recognition of all [Fish has] done for the Colleges.”
“I was fortunate to show up at the time that I did and be able to participate in the way that I did, but a lot of other people contributed, William Smith and Hobart — it really was a coordinate effort,” said Fish.
The Centennial Center’s success demonstrates what can happen, she said, “when you really embrace the story…if you believe in it and have people who will join you in partnership…We started with a shell, like an empty bowl, and no vessel is worth much until you fill it — and look how it was filled.”
Fish noted recent HWS graduates Daniel Budmen ’15, Almamy Conde ’18 and Sara Wroblewski ’13, who each spoke to the transformative experiences, skills and values the Centennial Center imparts.
“We must cultivate leaders not solely defined by their intelligence but also by their passion, empathy and resilience,” said Wroblewski. “Of course, I don’t need to tell you all that. I am here because a bunch of people in this room believed I could be.”
Since winning the inaugural Stu Lieblein ’90 Pitch competition in 2012, Wroblewski has grown her nonprofit One Bead, which was founded to sell beads to raise money for education in Kenya, into a broader enterprise with OneLife, a leadership development organization for youth in the United States. That success, she said, began at the Centennial Center, where her experience shaped “not just my career, but who I am as a person.”
Conde, a sales and marketing associate at the Bozzuto Group, reflected on his experience as a finalist of the Pitch contest in 2016. That year, he launched a real estate tech startup in a process that “gave me confidence and enhanced my work ethic [and] made me understand the importance of focusing on the things I needed to do versus focusing on the things I wanted to do.”
For Budmen, now assistant winemaker and vineyard manager at Bellangelo Winery, the Centennial Center helped show him that he could “combine my passion for the environment, my love for working with children, and my interest in community leadership…One of my fondest memories at the Colleges was the day that we built a tree nursery at the Geneva Community Center — this project was made possible by the Centennial Center’s Fellowship Program.”
The Centennial Center was founded in 2008, at the culmination of the William Smith Centennial celebration, to bring leadership education to Hobart and William Smith Colleges and challenge students to invest in their leadership learning before graduation. During the past 10 years, spurred largely by student interest, the Center has grown to be much more. The Center now develops and sustains programs in leadership, entrepreneurship and innovation, driving hands-on, applied experiences that empower students to create social change, pursue innovative solutions to big challenges and become leaders in their fields.