On Friday, May 18, Olivet College celebrated the new Gruen Engagement Center and those who contributed to the Responsible Learners – Responsible Leaders: Olivet College 2020 and Beyond comprehensive campaign to make the renovations possible. The former home of beloved chemistry professor Fred Gruen, Ph.D., has been transformed to a place where today’s students and faculty can collaborate in a social setting, while also serving as a lodging and hospitality space for visitors such as professors-in-residence, campus speakers and special guests.
“Through strong relationships between faculty and students, we are able to have powerful experiences in all sorts of ways that extend beyond just the learning that might happen in a classroom. When I came to Olivet College, I quickly discovered that the value of those relationships has persisted despite the other changes and evolution that have happened at this great college,” said Olivet College President Steven M. Corey, Ph.D. “Today, our faculty desperately wanted a tool and our students needed a tool that will help to facilitate that engagement. The Gruen Engagement Center will provide a residential space for our campus community and faculty to engage with students in a more casual environment. This is a wonderful testament to our history, but also an exciting tool for our future.”
Dr. Gruen helped establish the relationship-based educational experience Olivet College is known for. He had the exceptional ability of engaging students in learning outside the classroom, often entertaining them at his home on Yale Street. Research consistently indicates that outside-of-the-classroom student/faculty interaction has multiple positive outcomes for both the student and the institution. These include improved retention and academic performance, personal and intellectual development, educational aspirations and overall satisfaction.
The Gruen Engagement Center includes a large, functional main floor for students and faculty to connect. A reception area, space for dining, and a library give the home the flexibility to accommodate various-sized groups and a number of activities. There is also a fully-functional kitchen for preparing meals, as well as three bedrooms to host overnight guests, such as visiting professors and speakers. The house includes a three-floor elevator and many widened doorways to ensure the space is inviting and accessible to all.
Dr. Gruen taught chemistry from 1951 to 1991, and during that time raised two daughters, Carol and Evelyn, with his wife, Marian. The family frequently welcomed students into their home for help with homework in the evenings or hosted dinner parties for faculty and staff members, and often a combination of both – offering a space for students and professors to socialize and relax. Before his passing in 2003, Dr. Gruen said, “The most positive aspect of my work at Olivet was the relationship between faculty and students.”
Lead support from Carol Gruen ’76 and her husband, James Cash, and Evelyn (Gruen) Cortesi and her husband, Ron Cortesi, as well as many of Dr. Gruen’s former students and friends made this transformation possible.
“I am excited about my parents’ home becoming a place where faculty will be able to meet with students outside the classroom,” said Carol Gruen. “It is definitely a way to carry on the legacy of my parents and what they valued so much about Olivet. Having my undergraduate degree from Olivet and then going to a large university for my master’s degree, I can certainly see the advantages of a small liberal arts education. The type of personal relationships my father had with his students is incomparable.”
“Thanks to the support and vision of so many, this home is grander now than ever and will serve a purpose that will keep its legacy alive. Fred and Marian would be in awe of this transformation to their home,” said Evelyn (Gruen) Cortesi. “I can tell you for certain, they would be so honored that their beloved Olivet College has made this possible. Carol and I, and our families, are so proud and grateful to be standing here today to see this amazing vision come to life. Thank you for making this dream come true.”
The Responsible Learners – Responsible Leaders: Olivet College 2020 and Beyond comprehensive campaign will continue to fund priorities across campus that are crucial to building on the college’s strength of empowering students to be responsible leaders and to solidify its place in the higher education landscape of tomorrow. Learn more and get involved.
Contact the Office of Advancement at 269.749.7752 or firstname.lastname@example.org for questions.