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By Samantha Mocle

Pictured in four rows from left to right, top to bottom: Charlotte Winslow, Tom de Witt (former Lasell President), Stormy Horton Bell '90 '92 G'20 P'22, Kate O'Connor (Vice President for Enrollment Management), Kathy Urner-Jones '83, Laura Jensen '61, Nancy Grellier '49, Eric Turner (Vice President for Graduate and Professional Studies and Former Board of Trustees Chair), David McInnis '04, Nancy Donahue '49, Jeffrey Bradford '02, Kristy Walter (Director of Athletics), Michael Conner '03, Brittany Baker '07, Gail Winalski Burd '58, and Michael B. Alexander (President, Lasell University)

How do you help history come alive? You give it a voice.

Lasell's intricate history spans nearly two centuries of global and institutional change. In just over 30 years, it has evolved from a two-year women's college to a bustling university - and throughout it all, countless students, administrators, faculty, alumni, and donors have molded Lasell's character, reputation, and vision.

From waves of change flow stories of self-discovery. These narratives all have a common anchor: no matter the name or physical footprint, the heart of Lasell continues to beat as an intimate and nurturing home away from home.


Charlotte Winslow: My husband Don was born in Karandon House in 1911. His father, Guy Winslow, was the principal and then president of Lasell. When Don retired, he decided to write a history of Lasell.

That narrative, Lasell: A History of the First Junior College for Women, was published prior to the arrival of Thomas de Witt.

Tom de Witt: I knew that Lasell was one of the oldest colleges in Greater Boston. I knew why it was founded and what it wanted to do and that was all very well and good. But by 1988, it has ossified. There wasn't really a push to move beyond.

Stormy Horton Bell '90 '92 G'20 P'22: When Tom came in, he saw Lasell's rich history. He saw us going places.

Kate O'Connor: At the time our largest program had been a two-year associate's degree in nursing. It was one of the first in Massachusetts and it ranked well, but the profession began to evaluate whether they would continue to grant associate degrees for registered nurses (ADRN).

The market shifted. The standard for nursing education became a Bachelor of Science in Nursing.

Tom: The aspiration to become the best two-year women's college in the country was not viable if you wanted to look to the future.

Tom de Witt had a very different idea for Lasell's future than his predecessors. Pictured: Incoming President Thomas de Witt with Board Chair Robert Freeto following de Witt's investiture in September 1988. Kathy Urner-Jones '83: In many ways, it felt like Lasell was trying to emerge from the vestiges of what it once was, but it hadn't fully shaken that. There was an interesting campus dynamic between some of the students who felt we were young feminists about to take over the world, and some of the older faculty who pictured us as young ladies preparing to find husbands.

Kate: There was no place to go but up. You couldn't sustain enrollment at that time as a two-year private college when there were more affordable community colleges around. Tom's first goal when he arrived was to look at becoming four-year.

Tom: Actually, one of my conditions when I took the job was that the Board of Trustees had to agree to investigate becoming four-year.

Kate: Tom was a force.

Stormy: His vision, his personality ... it was refreshing. He brought hope back to Lasell.

Tom: I am not a nasty guy, but I came across like a thunderbolt. Many people were unhappy. Here was this blunderbuss - me - there to destroy what they believed in. Well, we didn't destroy it, but we changed it radically.

In 1989, Lasell Junior College became Lasell College. Along with the new name and addition of baccalaureate degree programs came physical changes, too. Pictured: The first graduating class of baccalaureate students and the charter they signed in honor of Lasell's change to a four-year institution.

Kathy: The campus had so much deferred maintenance at the time.

Tom: The place hadn't had a new coat of paint in years. There was no landscaping.

Laura Jensen '61: My parents dropped me off on my first day on the front steps of the old Bragdon. My father wanted to know where the fire escape was, and it turns out that it was enclosed in wood. He was appalled. There wasn't much activity on campus in those days. The only places you could really congregate were the houses or dorms you lived in, or the Barn.

Nancy Grellier '49: That's where the "Day Hops" went - that's what we called the commuter students.

Kathy: Winslow Hall - now de Witt Hall - was an old gymnasium that still had only a half basketball court because when it was built, young ladies were not supposed to run that far.

Kate: It was built in the 1930s. Out of bounds was if your foot touched the wall, and we kept score on a little flip chart. It was a very different place than what you see today ... but boy, did we have a lot of fun.

President de Witt and his wife, Margaret Ward, became friends with Chairman Minoru and Kyo Yamawaki H'93, who frequently sent students from Yamawaki Gakuen Junior College in Japan to Lasell for further education.

Tom: As we talked about rebuilding Lasell, we also talked about them funding and naming part of the campus after them to build that relationship. It gave them a presence here beyond just the students [from the sister school]. The construction of the Yamawaki Art and Cultural Center was almost as important as the decision to go four-year. It sent a message to campus: we weren't closing. It was one thing to say we were going to thrive, but it was another to have a visible project to the tune of a $2million renovation.

Charlotte: When it went four-year, the residential crowd changed. More cars, more activity, more noise. [Living in the neighborhood], it was an adjustment.

Stormy: It was pretty cool to be part of that first class. I got two more great years. 

Kate: That first group of women, about 40 of them, stayed with us from their associate's degree to complete their bachelor's. They were remarkable.

Nancy G.: I was thrilled with the decision.

Tom: We started to balance the budget. Enrollment got stronger. We hired new faculty, including [former professor] Richard Bath. He lit the place on fire! Things took off.

Vice President for Graduate and Professional Studies (GPS) and former Board of Trustees Chair Eric Turner: We were in the mode of the little engine that could, very carefully watching the budget and considering new ideas and initiatives. There was always something that Tom and his staff had in mind to try. There was such a committed, can-do faculty here and that still exists today. They cared about meeting student needs while trying new and innovative things.

Kathy: I studied business in the go-go 80s, and I remember that [former Professor of History] Joe Aieta would always call on me to defend the role of business in his ethics class. It put me on the spot, but as a result, it taught me to think objectively and to consider all sides of a situation.

Laura: In my time we did internships at Newton General Hospital, where you learned how to take blood pressure, take blood samples, and examine slides under a microscope ...

Kate: In the early 90s, Cathy Livingston was our chief academic officer. She understood that it was important for curriculum to spiral, not just stack. And, that it had to be fresh. We realized that the English 101 curriculum had students reading primarily works by white Western men. It was important to get other voices in there. Not many people thought about academics like that, then.

For 25 years, Lasell owned a 13-acre plot of land adjacent to Seminary Avenue known as "The Esker" that could not be touched until the early 90s. Neighbors walked their dogs and played with their children in the empty space. One option for utilizing the land was to create homes that could be sold to town residents.  

It took seven years of court appearances and legal filings before Lasell received building permits for what would become Lasell Village, a one-of-a-kind CCRC on a college campus. Pictured: Lasell Village residents take classes and participate in campus events with Lasell University students - a true intergenerational community. Kate: The idea of creating million-dollar homes to bring in cash wasn't going to move the world. We wanted to do things with the property that would be valuable to society.

Tom: When the board approved our decision to build a Continuing Care Retirement Community (CCRC), our visibility went up. The neighborhood looked at that land as a community space, and so over time I became unpopular since their way of life was affected. Talk about free press and visibility. 

Tom: The required educational component is what sold it to future residents - the units sold out in six months. RoseMary B. Fuss launched and funded the Center for Research on Aging and Intergenerational Studies and along with it, courses that combined undergraduate students with Village residents.

Kathy: People got very excited about the Village. What people previously thought was just this sweet "all-girls school" shot onto the national stage. It made us very proud.  

Charlotte: I swore I would never come to the Village because I didn't want to have the academic requirements ... but I love my classes. I just adore the students so much.

David McInnis '04: Age diversity was a thing. You could be in a class with an 80-year old and that was so transformational. 

McInnis' arrival on campus in the fall of 1999 signified more than just the turn of the millennium. He was a member of the second co-educational class to enter Lasell College. 

Nancy Donahue '49: Lasell was a wonderful place for women to find themselves and shine. An all-women's school gave them the opportunity to participate and be in leadership positions. It made them stronger, and that aspect of it made me hesitant about going coeducational.

Stormy: Everything was done by women and it was very empowering. College leadership was attuned to preparing women to do anything. I thought that bringing in men would take away from that.

Kathy: I thought there was tremendous value in single-sex education, but I could certainly see that the numbers pointed toward coeducation as being the path to growth. That's where the future was.

Laura: Tom and I had a lot of conversations about that. I guess you could even say I argued with him. I understood the numbers of it all, but my question was, how did we know if the guys even wanted to come?

Tom: I felt that we had to grow our enrollment to 1,000 students. Otherwise, we would remain too small to do the things we wanted to accomplish in the future. We were growing every year but it had slowed. We needed to be more competitive with financial aid.

Kate: There were a number of undergraduates opposed to it.

Tom: We set up a committee to look at the long-term impact this could have on the institution. And, students were always allowed to speak with us or make presentations. Some would do chalk messages or picket outside the President's House. We weren't doing it because times were difficult; we were thinking ahead of where we could be. And so, the Board of Trustees took a roll call vote to decide.

Kate: It was historic.

Nancy D.: Like change everywhere, it can be exciting and hard. I said at the time, "my heart says no, but my head says yes." The decision made the institution more viable.

With that came swift changes on campus. Pictured: The fall 2004 co-ed cross-country team. Kate: The vote passed and it was announced in the dining hall that Lasell would become coeducational. And the women who were opposed to it stood up, linked hands, and said, "We are here for Lasell." It was a really moving moment. 

Jeffrey Bradford '02: I remember being home on a snow day when I got the call from [then Head Men's Lacrosse Coach] Kevin Tyska. I had already deposited to play lacrosse elsewhere, but within a few minutes he had me interested in attending Lasell. The idea of being part of the start of something new there was intriguing.

Director of Athletics Kristy Walter: We hired coaches for four men's teams once the vote had passed. They spent the year recruiting so that we'd have the men on campus, which ensured our full NCAA membership.

Kathy: By then I was working for Lasell, and I remember seeing all of these young guys in powder blue uniforms and thought, "This just doesn't compute."

Kristy: It was a total culture shift. We went from no men on campus to having a large group of student-athletes here training and competing.  

Tom: We became a noisy campus. The living patterns changed. Instead of a huge portion of students leaving campus for the weekend, it got lively. I remember regularly being woken up at one o'clock in the morning to the sound of students ... not going to bed.

Kristy: We used to be more of a sleepy campus, but with so many athletes competing on evenings and weekends, things shifted. Athletes played a key role in that transition. The addition of games and practices created an energy and excitement that helped grow the institution's culture.

Nancy G.: Before they went coed, Lasell was a "suitcase school." And now there is something always happening.

Stormy: It was the right decision. And can you believe, my son goes there now?! That was never even a thought.

Michael Conner '03: You could feel the college transforming. There was direct attention on building out academic and student programming. New dorms were being built. They added Grellier Field.

Jeffrey: We went through the growing pains of adding more structures. We had maybe 500 students? But the energy was there.

David: By the time I entered my senior year [in 2004], there were men in every class and you might have Village residents with you, too. I've always felt that Lasell has had a maternal culture, including [current] President Alexander. He has that nature and has kept it an excellent place for young men to mold themselves.

Brittany Baker '07: It was a lot of fun to be in Boston in the early 2000s. The Boston Red Sox came back to win the World Series, the city was in the Big Dig, and for my friends and I, it was our first time voting in a presidential election. My laptop weighed, like, 20 pounds. It was the first place I could go wireless.

David: I worked at the IT help desk when we were first launching the internet to the Village. You can imagine what it was like trying to explain it to someone who was 90 years old!

Lasell at the turn of the millennium, as seen in the 2001 edition of The Lamp. Jeffrey: No one had cell phones on campus when I arrived. You dialed the four-digit intercampus lines to reach your friends, or maybe you stuck your head out the window to see if they were in the Woodland courtyard.

Over the next decade, Lasell continued to blossom while maintaining its founding atmosphere: a small, student-first institution. 

Michael C.: I got there in 2000 and the Connected Learning component is what really drew me in. I wanted a place where the focus was not just on classes, but on underscoring the content from my major with practical experience. And, I wanted those one-to-one relationships with professors. I didn't want to just be a number.

Jeffrey: You step on campus today and see that change in infrastructure, but it still has that feel of being a safe place, a place of comfort. It is really refreshing.

Nancy D.: I find it really remarkable that even though my classmates and I were there when it was a two-year college, we all kept in touch and have remained close friends for many, many years. And still today, Lasell concerns itself with students as whole people.  

Gail Winalski Burd '58: It was a great place to grow up. Even though the relationship between faculty and students is very different than in the 1950s, I remember Dean [Ruth] Rothenberger literally letting her hair down on our school trip to Bermuda. She was very prim and proper on campus, so to see her in her shorts and knee socks made her more of a person.

Nancy G.: It was one of the best times. I want it to remain that way, where students can talk to their professors and become involved in their field of interest upon arrival at Lasell.

Jeffrey: I was a student at Lasell on 9/11. I had just made the decision to live off-campus with a friend in Rhode Island. Then I woke up that morning and saw the news, and I just got in my car and drove to campus, because it was the only place I thought I could be comfortable.

Gail: I came from an all-white neighborhood in Connecticut in the late 1950s to Lasell. We had one member of our class who was biracial, another who was deaf, and one with Cerebral palsy. It was refreshing to see a world that looked different than the one I grew up in.

David: It's an accepting place. When I was there, you could tick every sort of box when it came to people of different backgrounds - racially, ethnically, and socioeconomically, for sure.

Kate: It was a very warm and engaging place. When I first came to Lasell, I knew the students, their parents, and the name of their dog. We were small. We've grown tremendously, but the core of who our students are hasn't changed.

Discussions of offering a master's degree program began shortly after Lasell Village opened. 

Tom: Kate and I were always asking, "What if?"

Kate: We'd meet in the Hamel House living room and talk about where we should go and what we should do next.

Tom: The opening of Lasell Village gave us a springboard for actually implementing master's degrees. We didn't want to make them just for the sake of having them ... but no one had an elder care management program that trained people to run CCRCs like Lasell Village, so ...

Kate: We opted to add graduate programs since it would strengthen us and continue to diversify the student population. For a number of years there, it felt like the New England Association of Schools and Colleges (NEASC) was here every week to accredit new programs.

Eric: We were pretty smart about seeing where the market was headed. It is still that way - we always have something on the drawing board. Elder care made perfect sense given the resources we had on campus. And right now, it's an area that we need to re-think as the market has changed. It's what we do with every program we have, tweaking and evolving along with the demand for certain skills. 

Tom: One of the reasons that Lasell is where it is today is because it has experienced the rare situation of not falling back after getting better. And that is because it has been fortunate to have had two good presidents serve one after the other.

Eric: To some extent, it is not a surprise that we got Michael Alexander. He and Tom are very different individuals, but at their core, they both understand that they are change agents. They both came to Lasell at very distinct times in its history, and knew how we could prepare ourselves for the future. It was so important to the board that we find a leader who could continue and hopefully increase the trajectory that we were on.

After 19 years of service, President de Witt announced his departure. The college's upward momentum was now in the hands of Michael B. Alexander. Pictured: President Alexander greets new students at the start of their - and his- first year at Lasell in fall 2007. President Michael B. Alexander: I had always wanted to be a small-college president. When the opportunity arose and I did the research, it became apparent to me that Lasell had a lot going for it that wasn't necessarily recognized by public perception. Under Tom's leadership, the school had stabilized. I felt that it was poised to leap forward with the courage to make investments and take risks ... and so we did.

Charlotte: Michael has a mind that can look to the future and see it. With Lasell in his hands, we are alright.

Tom: His style is very different than mine. He loves strategic planning, and that kind of thinking used to make my eyes glaze over! Lasell has grown so much because of him. He pays attention to what is happening in the world. He doesn't just sit back and hunker down when things are going well. That takes a lot of guts.

Michael A.: As early on as 2011, we recognized that the biggest upcoming problem in higher education would be the cost of attendance. We started making plans early on to manage that. That is part of where the growth of our GPS programs came from - that expansion helped subsidize the cost of granting more financial aid at the undergraduate level. Then, we had to strategize other ways to keep a high quality, private, four-year education with a student-first focus all at a significantly lower cost. That is no mean feat. We piloted the Sophomore Alternative Semester for two years before launching Lasell Works. It is possible, if the program works the way we intend it, that this could not just change Lasell, but all of higher education.

With graduate growth on a steady incline, President Alexander turned his focus toward launching Lasell Works, the institution's professionally focused cost-savings path to a bachelor's degree. Pictured: The first cohort of Lasell Works students with President Alexander in April 2019.

In early 2018, the college announced that it would explore a potential merger with Mount Ida College. Though the acquisition fell through, the question of becoming a university remained on the table. The charter to become Lasell University was approved by the Massachusetts Board of Higher Education on August 12, 2019.

Kate: The topic of becoming a university started coming up about 10 years ago. We had a really interesting board meeting where we were asked to envision the organization in really creative ways, and that was an option that arose. It resonated. But we also asked, "Are we a university?" And if we had everything we needed to qualify, did we even want to? It is an appropriate time in our history to pivot - just as it was in 1987 to pursue baccalaureate degrees and in 1997 with coeducation.

Eric: Many of the things we do here, especially in GPS, are rapidly changing and evolving. We have to be nimble enough to react quickly to changes in the market and offer educational resources in different formats.

Michael A.: As a university, we will find ways to invest in more graduate degree opportunities, services for adults, and continuing education. We're thinking ahead and responding to change in society. Our milestones in the past 12 years haven't been about one-time decisions, but about building out our facility. The sciences were an insignificant part of our offerings and now they are one the fastest growing areas, despite a challenging market.

Brittany: It shows how strong we are in a time where many other schools are closing. It shows the world that we are not only here, but that we are advancing our stature in the field.

Nancy G.: I have mixed feelings about it. I'm certainly not against it, but I don't want Lasell to lose any of that family feel. When you read about where the industry is going, though, I am glad we did it.

Charlotte: If you had asked me 10 years ago what I thought about becoming a university I would have said, "WHY?" Don would have been horrified. But with how things are today, you realize that it is time.

Michael A.: Becoming a university should inspire our community to reach for greater heights. That is the core of who we are and what we want for our students.

Tom: When I'm on campus nowadays, I have to drive five miles per hour with the number of students all around. It's nice! Who would have guessed in 1988 that that would ever happen?

Brittany: We've grown, but the small community feel hasn't changed. We are still Lasell, just stronger.

Kate: One of the wonderful things about this organization, is that if you read Edward Lasell's original writings, he talks about women being well-versed in the classics as well as the practical aspects of everyday life. If you look at ads for the original seminary, it talks about blending theory and practice. We call it Connected Learning now, but that essence of who we are has been there from the start. I have loved watching the whole ethos of the place continue to prosper. That has been a terrific journey.  

Do you have a story to share? Help us expand the narrative with your Lasell recollections by emailing leaves@lasell.edu.