Lewis Letters: A Blog from our Head of School
Last night, I attended an alumni gathering in New York City. It was organized as a social event, but also as a forum with a particular focus on the professional workplace, in this case finance and technology. In attendance were alumni ranging from those who are only a year or two out of college, to a member of the tiny class of 1977, Andre Mann, who was WIS's first IB Diploma recipient. Our panelists were Isabelle Winkles, Class of 1996 and a Managing Director at Morgan Stanley, and Erik Nordlander, Class of 2000 and a Partner at Google Ventures.
I chaired our panel discussion, offering Isabelle and Erik some difficult, unscripted questions. First, considering your time at WIS and what you got out of your experience, what had the greatest impact in the work you do today? Second, thinking broadly about the role of ethics in the workplace, what are some of the dilemmas that you face, and how do you go about reconciling them? Third, in a professional world characterized by disruptive innovation, how have you dealt with some of the attendant uncertainties? Fourth, as you manage teams, what are the indispensable skills you look for and how do you think WIS prepares students for such opportunities?
I jotted notes as I listened to Isabelle and Erik's thoughtful and articulate responses. Here are a few points that stood out to me:
- The teachers at WIS helped students learn how to learn. They were curious, and that made students curious and encouraged them to flex their intellectual muscles.
- In a fast-paced work environment, it's important to show independence and initiative. Employees need to be willing "to go out into the wilderness" and adapt to challenges and change. Plus, navigating the workplace is like making a move on the chessboard; nothing happens in isolation. WIS gave students the orientation to look at the big picture and shift direction when necessary.
- There are questions of ethics every day. Some professionals have a "will do anything" attitude. Ethical standards must come from a voice at the top. If you can't be trusted, it's a deal breaker. Questions of ethics permeated their WIS education, culminating with IB Theory of Knowledge.
- Erik and Isabelle spoke about the multidisciplinary nature of a WIS education, and how they gained the ability to connect the dots across seemingly disparate subjects. During the forum, their references to biology and geography demonstrated that they retain this multidisciplinary approach.
I spoke individually with every attendee. They held in common a wholehearted appreciation for teachers, community, and values, spanning five decades. It's impressive to see this continuity, and I look forward to future opportunities—for myself and our alumni—to maintain and strengthen our WIS connection.
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