A Vision Realized

February 22, 2023

By Luke Woodling ’17MBA

President Grant Cornwell discusses why having the entire Rollins community rally around a shared vision was critical to the success of Brighter Together.

Grant Cornwell headshot

Brighter Together was the most ambitious fundraising campaign in the College’s history. If you go back in time to when you accepted this post eight years ago, how did you know Rollins was ready for such a bold endeavor? One of the reasons I decided to come to Rollins is because it has really great bones. It has a rich history and a legacy of innovation. It boasts a wonderful geographic position that is rife with opportunity. And it was just full of tremendous assets, from people to programs to places. What I think it was missing eight years ago was strategic direction and a clear vision of how Rollins could realize its full potential.

When you arrived at Rollins, you deliberately engaged the entire college community in a strategic planning effort to establish that collective vision. Why was that democratic approach so important? Often, a failure of leadership is that a strategic vision for an organization is held by the president or the cabinet, but there’s no broader buy-in. That’s never going to work. The most powerful thing for a college like Rollins is for it to cultivate a shared sense of vision, mission, and purpose. It’s essential for donors to share that vision, because, as I often say, a strategic plan without a financial plan is a work of fiction. It’s a bunch of great ideas, but there’s no way to realize them unless our alumni and donors invest in the vision of where Rollins is headed. One of the things that made this campaign so successful is that our donors have invested wholeheartedly in that vision. They have helped us fund our strategic priorities, and they are boldly moving Rollins forward.

Can you talk a little about the proceeds of that investment? If you look back to your first day at Rollins to where the College is today, how far have we come? I think we are making Rollins into one of the very best, most mission-driven liberal arts colleges in the nation. The fact that Rollins is now one of fewer than 300 colleges to house a chapter of Phi Beta Kappa is proof of that. We have invested in faculty, who are now regularly recognized as the best in the South. We’ve bolstered scholarships and financial aid, making it possible for more students to pursue a Rollins education. We’ve built on our legacy of academic excellence and strengthened everything from the arts to athletics. We’ve created and elevated programs that arm our students with essential experience—experience that will give them a competitive advantage as they launch their meaningful lives and productive careers. I don’t think it’s an overstatement to say that we’ve changed our position in the higher-education landscape and transformed Rollins into a top-choice school for more and more students. You can see proof of the progress we’ve made in the record number of applications we received each successive year for the past several and in the size and strength of the enrolling class of 2026, which is the largest class in the College’s history. As amazing as those things are, that’s really just scratching the surface of what we accomplished, and we’re going to continue to see the proceeds of this effort for years and decades to come.

What would you say to the alumni and donors who made this campaign such a success? Thank you, for starters. Thank you for buying into this vision of a more brilliant future for our students and our College, and thank you for your investment in that vision. Without your generosity, none of this is possible. Without you, we’d still be sitting here with a bunch of great ideas, but we’d have no means of acting on them. I hope everyone who joined this campaign is as proud as I am of all we’ve accomplished together because the results are nothing short of transformational.

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