Endowed professorships

Wright Investments

The Wright family's gift to the economics department continues their tradition of Kenyon involvement.

Wright family, President Decatur, Colleen Garland
Members of the Wright family (front from left) Alex Wright, Libby Erndt Wright, Hunter Wright, pictured with (back) President Sean Decatur, Karen Buchwald Wright, Colleen Garland, vice president for advancement, and Tom Rastin. (Katherine Gruman Wright not pictured.)

Growing up in Mount Vernon, Alex Wright ’05 remembers trick or treating in Kenyon’s residence halls. Years later as a student, Alex found not sweets, but a sweetheart, when he met and later married Libby Wright ’05. Hunter Wright followed his brother to Kenyon along with his girlfriend and now wife, Katherine Wright, among the Class of 2010. Katherine is now a member of the Gund Gallery board of directors and the boys’ mother, Karen Buchwald Wright P’05 ’09, served on the Board of Trustees and has joined the advisory board for the Center for the Study of American Democracy (CSAD) at Kenyon. 

Now the Wright family is ensuring their many connections to Kenyon College endure through their varied volunteer roles and with significant support of the Our Path Forward campaign. Led by Alex, a current member of the Board of Trustees, the family has made another major investment in Kenyon, with a gift to create a faculty position in the economics department to explore the traditions and values that have built American democracy and free enterprise.

“I have had a lifelong connection to the Kenyon campus,” said Alex, who was a political science major. “This was a really meaningful gift for me and my family to make to support Kenyon in this campaign.”

The new chair adds dedicated study of political economy and the history of economic thought to Kenyon’s curriculum. Kenyon will seek someone trained in the field of new institutional economics which explores the concepts that underlie markets and the ways different institutional arrangements foster or impede economic growth.

Karen Wright, who also grew up in Mount Vernon, is the chairman, president and CEO of Ariel Corporation, a leading manufacturer of compressors used in the natural gas industry and Knox County’s largest employer. She established the Ariel Foundation in 2009 to improve the quality of life and increase opportunities in her hometown of Mount Vernon.

The Ariel Foundation has provided a grant for a project to bring 16 upper-level apartments to downtown Mount Vernon, spread across four buildings (200-206 South Main Street), with plans for half to be donated to Kenyon. Construction began in September with a planned completion date of June 2020.

President Sean Decatur lauded the family’s many philanthropic endeavors. “The Wright family’s commitment to invest not just in Kenyon, but in their hometown of Mount Vernon strengthens the inextricable link between the two, to the benefit of both. As we seek to attract and retain talented faculty, who may choose to live and raise their families in Mount Vernon, we are thrilled to have access to these well-appointed apartments to help introduce them to all Mount Vernon has to offer,” Decatur said.

In 2015, the Ariel Foundation helped Kenyon acquire the former Buckeye Candy building on South Main Street, with additional support from the Community Foundation of Mount Vernon & Knox County and gifts by private donors. The Wright Center opened in 2017 and is home to a two-story film studio, a film editing room, a 30-seat screening room, the Kenyon Office for Community Partnerships and SPI, a science-play initiative for children. 

Of the new economics chair, Provost Joseph Klesner said, “This chair, being in the realm of political economy, is a quintessentially liberal arts approach, for those of us interested in how societies work. This will be the study of how great thinkers of the past have grappled with understanding economics and how the science of economics emerged from a branch of social philosophy.”

Economics is the second-most popular major by degrees completed over the past five classes, and it was the most popular major for the Class of 2014. The average number of majors per graduating class for the past five years is 51.

This professorship can create natural synergies with political science, sociology and history and CSAD, all of which will be housed in the new academic building that is part of the West Quad construction, which is also adding a library and an admissions building to campus. 

“We want a connection with the Center for the Study of American Democracy because that’s where we do a lot of our public policy analysis. The history of economic thought parallels the history of political thought. It’s valuable to make that connection,” Klesner said.

CSAD will relocate to the new West Quad academic building to better integrate its programming with the faculty there. The collaboration within the building will facilitate the informed civic discussions that are the hallmark of a well-functioning democracy and a vital part of Kenyon’s liberal arts education.