In a matter of weeks, Matt Ewalt will begin his new position as chief of staff after serving as associate director of education and youth services since 2014. He discussed his new role and acknowledged the leadership of Sherra Babcock, vice president and Emily and Richard Smucker Chair for Education, at the Institution Leadership Porch Discussion Wednesday on the porch of the Hultquist Center.
“I just want to publicly acknowledge the incredible work (Babcock) has done in all education areas — from the lecture platform to particularly the literary arts — and the mentorship she has provided me over the past few years,” Ewalt said.
As chief of staff, Ewalt will oversee the morning lecture platform, serve as program curator for the upcoming season and offer strategic counsel to President Michael E. Hill. In the past, the lecture platform fell under the Department of Education.
“I will work toward greater collaboration among members of Chautauqua’s executive leadership team, represent President Hill at various meetings and functions,” Ewalt said, “and am responsible for advancing and executing strategic initiatives and major projects led by the office of the president.”
Ewalt said Hill’s creation of the chief of staff position is “part of some structural changes within leadership at the Institution.”
“The creation of a director of literary arts position in the education office opens up some key strategic planning space for really reimagining our youth programming here on the grounds,” Ewalt said.
David Griffith, the incoming vice president and Emily and Richard Smucker Chair for Education, also spoke during the Porch Discussion. Griffith will work in tandem with Babcock for the month of September. Previously the director of creative writing at Interlochen Center for the Arts, he’s spent the past few weeks observing, learning and providing feedback about how the Department of Education and Youth Services functions at the Institution.
“In my capacity here, what I’m going to be doing is overseeing all the educational programs and really asking lots of questions in my first year,” Griffith said. “What is it that there’s the will to do? What is that we are concerned about? What is it that we do really well?”
In particular, Griffith said, he will focus on the “experience of Special Studies and all kinds of other classes that take place on the grounds.”
“That’s a really exciting but a little bit daunting opportunity for me,” Griffith said of the volume of courses that are offered and the wide age range of students.
“There are some multigenerational opportunities within those classes,” he added.
Griffith also said that Hill wants him to create more opportunities for young Chautauquans, including those who’ve aged out of Boys’ and Girls’ Club, through college students.
“I’m a really firm believer in passion. If you don’t bring passion to the educational process, chances are, you can take it or leave it. You’re neither hot nor cold,” Griffith said. “That’s what I see all around the ground — lots and lots of passion on the part of Chautauquans.”
Griffith said he’s also observed a great deal of compassion within the Chautauquan community.
“There’s so much division, there’s so much turmoil (in the world), there’s so many questions that we need answers to, we want answers to,” Griffith said, “but easy answers don’t come dropping in our laps, so we have to start with compassion.”
The conversation shifted back to Ewalt, who spent time detailing the need and potential impacts of “extending beyond the nine-week season,” both in the local community and across the country.
“What we learn here and discuss here, we carry with us — but what is Chautauqua doing to help that have some real lasting power?” Ewalt said. “Chautauqua is both what I consider this large classroom and this conversation because of your not only being here, but because of what you make it and the conversations you have on your front porches, in the plaza, the way in which you challenge leadership and anyone on these grounds to be thinking of the future of this place.”