Hampshire College taps tech entrepreneur, alum Jose Fuentes to lead trustees

  • —Submitted Photo

  • JOSE FUENTES

Staff Writer
Published: 1/14/2020 4:31:30 PM

AMHERST — As Hampshire College continues transforming its curriculum and pursuing a significant fundraising campaign, a technology entrepreneur and alumnus who lives and works in New York City has been appointed as the new chairman of the 20-member board of trustees.

Jose Fuentes, a trustee since 2016 and vice chairman, takes over in the leadership position from Luis Hernandez, a member of Hampshire’s first class who completed an eight-year tenure as trustee. Fuentes is joined on the board by others including new President Ed Wingenbach, in his first year at the helm of the school, along with alumni, parents and a student trustee.

Fuentes said in a phone interview Tuesday that it’s an exciting time to be in higher education, even though the field has undergone massive disruption in the decade since he graduated from Hampshire.

“Hampshire is the type of education that needs to exist,” Fuentes said of the college’s focus on independent study and project-based learning. “Part of the success of our country is people thinking in different ways.” 

He added that supports remaking Hampshire’s curriculum so it empowers students with advanced entrepreneurial, critical thinking and technology skills, giving them what they need to be successful in whatever path they choose to pursue in life.

Fuentes, originally from Guatemala, oversees Maison, an educational technology company that helps community colleges retain and graduate more students using online services. Previously, he was a managing partner at Savory, a food and software company that prepares and delivers meals in New York City, and he co-founded Duolingo, an online language learning platform with more than 300 million registered users worldwide.

Fuentes said the blueprint of Hampshire is experimentation, and the college needs to do a better job of communicating this. He pledges to be a partner with Wingenbach and support his vision and agenda.

The trustees board, like the college itself, had an at times rocky year in 2019, with resignations of two members following the January 2019 announcement by then-President Miriam Nelson that the college would be searching for a partner institution. That was followed by the trustees’ Feb. 1 decision to not have a traditional first-year class, admitting only 77 students who had been accepted during early admission or had accepted an offer to take a gap year and matriculate in the fall. In addition, faculty took a no-confidence vote in the board, though that was later nullified based on a technicality.

Fuentes will be president of a board that is engaged in a fundraising campaign to raise $60 million by 2024, with $12.7 million already raised, and $2 million pledged in December. The campaign, which yielded the most successful end-of-year financial support for operations the college has ever seen, is co-chaired by documentary filmmaker and Hampshire alum Ken Burns.

“I’m pretty optimistic we’re on the right path,” Fuentes said. “People really want this to succeed and I’ve been pleasantly surprised to see the support.”

The college, which was notified in November that it will continue its accreditation with the New England Commission of Higher Education after being put on notice that this was in jeopardy, is embarking on other projects in addition to redesigning the curriculum, including a new sustainable business model and celebrating the 50th anniversary of the college’s founding.

In fact, Hernandez will remain involved with the college as a volunteer leader on a committee marking the college’s first 50 years, with events planned for Oct. 16-18.

The board’s responsibilities, outlined in college bylaws, include ensuring Hampshire’s fiscal integrity, strategic plans and the quality of its academic programs. Fuentes, as chairman, will preside over three annual meetings and be the voice of the board.

Six new members, as well as Wingenbach, have joined the board in the past year, including Elle Chan, Dayna Cunningham, Josiah Erikson, Stephan Jost, Catherine Smith and Jordan Strauss.

The board is supported by its secretary, Hampshire Chief of Staff Jenny Chandler. She succeeded Beth Ward, who served in that role for a decade before leaving the college.

Scott Merzbach can be reached at smerzbach@gazettenet.com.

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