Recently, I experienced the wisdom of two popular adages. The first states, “You are never too old to learn.” The second is gleaned from Mary Lathrap’s 1895 poem entitled “Walk a Mile in His Moccasins.” On April 5, and for the third year in a row, a Davis & Elkins College student assumed the presidency of Davis & Elkins College for a day, and I stepped into the proverbial shoes of that student. For “both D&E Presidents” it was an educational experience.

Isabella “Bella” Martinelli is completing her junior year and is pursuing a bachelor’s degree in nursing. Bella is also a student-athlete as a member of our women’s lacrosse team. A native of Chicago, she also serves as a student ambassador with our Admissions Office and a resident assistant in Gribble Hall. Among these experiences, Bella can now add President of Davis & Elkins College, at least for a day.

President Bella spent a large portion of her day in meetings. She convened a meeting of the College’s Cabinet, talked with a member of the College’s Board of Trustees on a virtual call, was briefed on new capital projects and deferred maintenance needs being addressed on campus, was interviewed by two local television stations and had her story told in the Inter-Mountain. There were also meetings with the Dean of Students, the Vice President for Business and Administration, and she received an invitation to be the guest speaker for the Elkins Rotary Club. Bella learned quickly that meeting and talking with various constituency groups is high on the list of responsibilities for a college president.

Chris, the newest student on the D&E campus, also had a few eye-opening experiences walking a few steps in Bella’s shoes. Included among the highlights for this “older” student were: (1) working with the Enrollment Management Team in my role as a Student Ambassador to assist with the recruiting of new Senators; (2) a tour with President Bella of Gribble Hall and her residence hall room where we discussed the joys and challenges of residence hall life; (3) lunch in the dining hall with a group of commuter nursing students who were delightful, candid, and enlightening; and (4) practice at Nuttall Field with the women’s lacrosse team. The team was gracious and patient enough to allow me a shot at goal against Marissa Cuevas, the team’s outstanding goalie. I would brag had I been successful…enough said! The highlight for me was stepping back into a college classroom where the magic happens. Watching D&E faculty engaged in the art of teaching only confirmed and strengthened the respect I have for the job they do each day.

The “Presidential Switch Day” was a spectacular opportunity for Bella to gain firsthand understanding and experience at leading a complex organization. For me, I was reconnected with the core of this institution and refocused to keep students at the center of all we do. Both Bella and I had our horizons expanded.

Davis & Elkins College proclaims in our tagline we are “Leading the Way.” Becoming “President for a Day” is but one of countless examples where D&E students are presented with opportunities to be molded and shaped into the leaders and changemakers of the future. Transformative moments are commonplace on this unique campus.

The journey continues….

Chris A. Wood
Davis & Elkins College