Schoolchildren that the Wheelers met during a trip to South Africa in 2010. The scholarship the couple created retains a uniquely personal connection to places they have visited.
Judge Thomas Wheeler ’70 can pick the best of the best when he reviews applications for judicial clerks. One of the 16 judges appointed to the United States Court of Federal Claims, Wheeler says he receives about 500 applications each year and accepts two.
“I look for excellent academic credentials, maturity, and a well-developed world view,” Wheeler said. “Invariably the best candidates have had some unusual global or international experience at some point along the way,” he said. “That makes them more savvy and knowledgeable about the way the world is.”
Those insights and his world travels with Janet Ritter Wheeler ’70 have inspired the couple to create an endowed scholarship fund for international students, part of Gettysburg Great: The Campaign for Our College.
The pair began dating in the spring of their freshman year and married soon after graduation. Janet taught junior high school to support them while Thomas earned his law degree from Georgetown University Law School.
Tom and Janet Wheeler
“Janet and I both love Gettysburg dearly and we were thinking about how we could possibly improve the experience for students,” Wheeler said. “We found our international travel to be really positive cultural experiences and we see the many benefits of diversity.”
He says that when they were students in the late sixties, Gettysburg College was a much more homogenous place than it is today. “It looked like ‘J. Crew College,’” Wheeler quipped, allowing that this has changed. Last year the College enrolled students from 36 states and the District of Columbia and 68 international students from 26 countries or territories.
“We thought the opportunity for even more interaction would be wonderful and that the scholarship would be a good way to expand the cultural diversity at Gettysburg,” Wheeler said. They believe that their investment will improve the education experience for all involved.
“Janet and I have found it so educational to get to know people from other parts of the world. I know that students experience some of that with programs like study abroad,” he said, “but we felt that it would also be good to have more of an international community on campus.”
The gift retains a uniquely personal connection to the Wheelers, in perpetuity. They have stipulated that the College make the scholarship awards with a primary preference for students from places they have visited, such as countries in Scandinavia, the British Isles, Africa, and the Caribbean, expanding to other countries as a secondary preference.
As undergraduates, did they ever expect to invest so generously in their alma mater?
“Not on your life!” said Wheeler. “We’ve been very fortunate over the years through a lot of hard work and stick-to-itiveness. We feel blessed to be able to do this.”
Gettysburg Great: The Campaign for Our College is a comprehensive campaign to increase support for student scholarships, faculty and teaching, active learning activities such as research and internships, global experiences and the transformation of Plank Gymnasium, and the Gettysburg Fund. To learn more, visit the campaign website www.gettysburg.edu/campaign/ or follow #gettysburgreat on Twitter or Instagram.
Founded in 1832, Gettysburg College is a highly selective four-year residential college of liberal arts and sciences with a strong academic tradition that includes Rhodes Scholars, a Nobel laureate and other distinguished scholars among its alumni. The college enrolls 2,600 undergraduate students and is located on a 200-acre campus adjacent to the Gettysburg National Military Park in Pennsylvania.
Contact: Sue Baldwin-Way, editor, Gettysburg Magazine, 717.337.6832.
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