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Associate dean saying goodbye to Beloit, continues to promote liberal arts

March 14, 2012


This will be Emily Chamlee-Wright’s last semester at Beloit. This summer, the Elbert Neese Professor of Economics/associate dean and her family will move to Maryland, where she will take on the role of provost and dean at Washington College. The change was announced to the college community earlier this month.

In an email to the campus, Beloit College Provost Ann Davies said that “Emily’s wisdom, energy, generosity, loyalty, and sense of humor have greatly benefited our community over the 19 years she has been with us.”

Below, Chamlee-Wright reflects on her time at the college, talking with the Terrarium about what she’s looking forward to, and what she’ll miss about this place.


Terrarium: Why did you decide to take a position with Washington College? What are you most excited about, with regards to this new role?

Emily Chamlee-Wright: Over my many years of teaching at Beloit, my love for and dedication to teaching economics has grown into a love for and dedication to liberal arts colleges in general. In particular, I have become increasingly focused on the important role liberal arts colleges play in fostering a robust civil society. Institutions like Beloit College and Washington College are incubators in which people learn and live the habits of civil discourse and self-governance. The great American experiment is an ongoing project and liberal arts colleges have a critical role to play. But in order to play this role, institutions like ours need advocates and leaders who recognize their broader significance. This is the central reason why I am stepping into this new role.

That said, if I were going to leave Beloit, it would have to be for a very special place. Established in 1782, Washington College is the tenth oldest college in the country and the first college to be established after the Founding. Its sense of history and place, and its connections to the values I describe above, are palpable. But a rich tradition and history are only part of what makes Washington College distinctive. I believe that like Beloit, Washington College is on the cutting edge of integrative learning. Much like the liberal arts in practice we promote at Beloit, Washington College taps the emancipating power of liberal education by making its historical, cultural, and ecological context a kind of laboratory for discovery. And just like Beloit, Washington College insists that every student, no matter what their primary discipline, master the skills and art of effective writing. Finally, like Beloit students, the students I met at Washington College consider their own character development as fundamentally intertwined with their intellectual development. Given these core similarities, and the visionary leadership of their new president, Mitchell Reiss, Washington College seemed to me to be an ideal place to pursue the next stage of my career.

Terrarium: How has the college changed during your time here? 

Emily Chamlee-Wright: The distinctive qualities of a Beloit College education have been clear since I arrived. I remember responding to Beloit’s ad with excitement that it was a place that emphasized the “three-legged stool” of interdisciplinary, experiential, and international education. These themes still mark a Beloit College education. What I think has changed is our ability to articulate how these distinctive features of a Beloit education integrate with each other and with the broader curriculum in a way that leads to a transformative experience for our students. 

Terrarium: Of what accomplishments are you most proud?

Emily Chamlee-Wright: Hands down, my work with Jeff Adams to develop the Miller Upton Programs is the most important achievement that marks my time here at Beloit. I am also proud of my record as a teacher-scholar. The kinds of projects I worked on, such as the ethnographic work that Virgil Storr’96 and I pursued in New Orleans following Hurricane Katrina (a project featured in Beloit College Magazine) just wouldn’t have happened at an institution that didn’t value interdisciplinary and hands-on, engaged integrative learning.

Terrarium: What will you miss most about your colleagues/department/students?

Emily Chamlee-Wright: Perhaps this is true of all disciplines, but economists see the world in a very particular way. It affects everything about us; not just how we teach, but also what lessons we draw from the novels we read and the movies we watch, our sense of humor, even the way we raise our kids. We all live in the world among non-economists, so we have learned to be bi-cultural in this sense, but when we are “amongst our own” we feel a certain sense of being at ease as we know we will be understood. We know we are home. Not being able to walk into Campbell Hall will feel a bit like I have left my native country for a distant land.

I cannot begin to describe what an honor it has been to serve in the department of economics at Beloit. My department colleagues are among the finest teachers I have ever met. Literally, on a daily basis, I have seen each of them work their magic in creating a transformational experience for our students. I will deeply miss not being able to witness those daily miracles unfold.

It is tremendously difficult to describe how much I will miss our students. Their engagement in the world of ideas and their growth during their time at Beloit leaves me feeling incredibly proud. The fact that so many of them remain connected to Beloit after they graduate and help our current students gain experience and fulfill their ambitions leaves me feeling incredibly grateful. This circle of reciprocity is a mark of how special a place Beloit is.

Terrarium: What was your favorite class to teach and why?

Emily Chamlee-Wright: My favorite class to teach is the comparative economic systems course. This is saying a lot since each of my other courses holds a special place in my heart. It was my undergraduate course in comparative systems that convinced me to pursue a career as an economics professor. The course content played a part in this, but it was really the professor, the late Don Lavoie, who changed my thinking and my life forever. Only a few faculty members will remember his visit to Beloit in the mid-1990s, but I like to think that Don’s legacy is woven into the Beloit fabric through this course. Every time I teach comparative systems, it feels like I am bringing my students into conversation with the greatest teacher I have ever encountered.

Terrarium: Any advice for future Beloiters?

Emily Chamlee-Wright: If you have made the decision to be a part of the Beloit College community, you have already demonstrated your excellent judgment and you don’t really need any advice from me. But since you asked… it is good practice to remind yourself periodically how special this place is. Every once in a while we all need to be re-inspired, recharged, and re-engaged. It is helpful to remember that there is no better place to live out your values, do your best work, and to grow and learn than Beloit.