Meredith College celebrated 50 years of its adult education program, Wings, with an anniversary event on Thursday, September 15, 2022. Alumnae, past directors, current students, faculty, and staff attended the event in Jones Auditorium that reflected on the program’s history, celebrated alumnae and current students, and recognized leaders who helped create and sustain adult education at Meredith.
The program was established in 1972, as the re-entry program, and was designed to help women ages 23 and older continue their education and graduate with a bachelor’s degree.
Sandra Close, who enrolled at Meredith at the age of 40 and later became the second director of the program, began the celebration by welcoming all attendees. She introduced President Jo Allen, who in Close’s words is one of the strongest supporters of the Wings program on campus.
“Today is a very important day for Meredith College and especially for the Wings program. It was called re-entry, then 23+, and finally Wings. We may have struggled with the name but never struggled with the mission,” said Allen.
President Allen recognized Anne Clark Dahle, ’54, founding director from 1972-94, Sandra Close, director from 1997-2002, LeNelle Patrick director in 2002, Susan Adams director from 2002-07, and Tom Manning, current Wings director. (Shown in photo above)
“The hallmark of the Wings program is caring. Each of these leaders listened, questioned, and encouraged students to dig deep and find strength and talent to help them succeed at Meredith,” said Allen.
Allen recognized that women came to class during their lunch break, after their children went to school, and after work. She believes it is beneficial for traditional-aged students to have an experienced, adult learner perspective in the classroom.
“When you educate a woman the benefits are exponential and you showed us a new dimension of that by joining this program. Everyone in our organization is touched by your new knowledge, and your independence. Meredith also benefits from educating the adult learner because you become ambassadors of the College and show the world the wonders of a Meredith education,” said Allen.
The adult education program was unavailable for a few years but students were still admitted through the Admissions Office. After Allen became president she made a commitment to restart the program. In 2015, Tom Manning was hired as the new director. After much discussion, the program took the new name of Wings. In the last 50 years, nearly 2,000 students have graduated from Meredith through the adult education program.
Jean Jackson, vice president of college programs, celebrated students from each decade with a music selection and various videos highlighted an alumna of that decade.
Alumnae shared what the program meant to them and their experience on campus.
“I was born into learning. It changed my life for good. It has been one of the best experiences I have had. I will never forget it,” said Lili Ruth Lawson Jones, ʼ82. Jones said Anne Dahle and the professors were a great influence on her and she appreciated the chance they took on her to attend college for the first time.
Carroll Hill Cato, ʼ94, was a religion major who started Meredith at 44 years old and wanted to be a hospital chaplain. “I had a lot of fun here. I grew up here. I remember coming to the campus the first time and stood in a line with 17- and 18-year-olds. I made an appointment with Close and Dahle, took one class at a time, then took two classes, and then went full time. The professors’ doors were always open. I loved that about Meredith.”
Pinaky Patel, ʼ19, was a computer science major. “Tom Manning’s support and energy and the fact that he was always there for you no matter what and without any hesitation any time, any day made me want to stay at Meredith College. The staff and professors were amazing.”
Vaune Blalock, ʼ20, majored in dance studies at the age of 55 and was a full-time student. “The best thing about Meredith College for me was the experience. It was a great experience of acceptance at my age. Everyone made me feel so welcome. Now I have a legacy of education for my entire family.”
Valerie Rodriguez Jusino, ʼ23, current Wings Organization president, was 28 when she enrolled at Meredith in 2021. After receiving an applied science degree and a master’s in biotechnology she worked as an office assistant learning about accounting, international commerce, and human resources. She found her passion for business. After moving from Puerto Rico in 2020 to Raleigh, she learned about Meredith. She spoke about her path to complete her second bachelor’s degree in business administration at Meredith.
“I have learned it is never too late. It was one of the best decisions of my life. Meredith College has helped me build confidence and keep my dreams alive,” she said.
Tom Manning, current director of Wings, gave his vision for Wings and talked about how to bridge the gap in tuition for Wings students. He shared his dream with Anne Dahle in January 2022 that no admitted student be turned away due to money. He recalled that Dahle sat quietly and reflected and said, “Well I will endow it.”
“Your kindness will always warm my heart. Anne the visionary starting director of Wings at Meredith caught the vision. By endowing the Anne C. Dahle Founder’s Fund, the gap fund between financial aid and awards and tuition, she provided the foundation for Wings growth for future generations,” said Manning. “You have changed so many lives in this room and beyond.”
The event closed with the singing of the Meredith Alma Mater. In addition, a tea and a social were held before and after the celebration to provide an opportunity for Wings alumnae to gather and remember their time at Meredith.