Last Look: Lisa Christensen, Marlboro College
Marlboro College is a small — there are currently 330 undergrads and approximately 35 grad students — academically rigorous liberal arts school nestled in the Green Mountains of Vermont. Its fundraising model is profoundly donor-centric — and therefore completely relevant to nonprofits trying to keep current in today’s rapidly changing philanthropic climate.
We spoke with Lisa Christensen, Marlboro’s chief advancement officer, about the unique college’s equally unique development mission, as well as some of its fundraising highs and lows.
FundRaising Success: Can you give me a brief history of Marlboro College?
Lisa Christensen: Marlboro’s story begins at the end of World War II in Biarritz, France, where Walter Hendricks, a former Amherst scholar teaching English at Illinois [Institute of Technology], was recruited to teach at a makeshift university for U.S. soldiers waiting to be sent back to the states. Hendricks was impressed by the GIs’ can-do attitude and spirit of personal investment in what they were learning. He envisioned a community of learners, living and working together democratically under the rules of the New England town meeting, unhindered by titles or academic rank.
His vision kindled excitement among intellectual and artistic luminaries in southern Vermont at the time, including his mentor, poet Robert Frost, who became an honorary trustee.
Marlboro opened in 1946 in a cluster of farmhouses, barns and out buildings that made up three old Vermont hill farms on 360 acres of woods and fields. The 50 pioneering students, including 35 GIs, spent much of their first year adapting the buildings to use as classrooms and dormitories. The eight remaining historic buildings comprise the heart of the campus.
Today Marlboro’s mission remains true to its founding vision. The undergraduate program is distinguished by its small size, self-governing philosophy and rigorous liberal arts curriculum taught in very small classes and one-on-one tutorials in the junior and senior year. Marlboro’s program emphasizes creative inquiry and synthesis by mature, self-motivated students. The college’s small size and eight-to-one student/faculty ratio foster a close-knit community in which academic work is respected and ideas are appreciated. Sixty-eight percent of Marlboro’s graduates pursue further study at some of the nation’s finest graduate institutions. Marlboro’s Graduate Center, founded 10 years ago in downtown Brattleboro, Vt., offers a variety of degree and certificate programs for working adults with faculty who are experts in their fields.