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WM: Leading the Next Generation

Why Wabash?

For Declan Chhay-Vickers ’26 —an intelligent, outgoing kid from Chicago who could have easily attended many other schools closer to home—the answer is simple.

“It’s the relationships,” Chhay-Vickers says with a bright smile as he reflects on how far he’s already come over the past year and a half.

Chhay-Vickers knew he wanted to enroll at a school that fostered connections, as he believed those future relationships with professors, staff, and peers would be key to his learning, well-being, and overall success.

His first glimpse at those kinds of possibilities came when he met Kyle Vowell, senior associate director of regional admissions. As part of the Greater Chicagoland Initiative, funded by Walt ’68 and Kathy Snodell, Vowell works as the College’s Chicago-based admissions counselor.

“Kyle was fantastic,” says Chhay-Vickers. “Out of all of the admissions representatives my dads and I met, Kyle was the most attentive. He genuinely seemed like he cared, which was a big thing for us.”

Chhay-Vickers says education was always important to his family, as both of his parents are college graduates—one immigrated from Cambodia and attended University of Illinois and the other attended DePaul University.

“I knew my parents would support whatever I did,” he says, “but after meeting Kyle and learning more about the opportunities Wabash had to offer, I think they were happy to see me come here.”

heather thrush, associate dean for student engagement and success, remembers being amazed by the grit and determination Chhay-Vickers displayed when he first arrived on campus.

“Very early in his freshman year, he was already more engaged than most,” Thrush says of the Snodell Scholar. “He’s incredibly intelligent, was very involved as a leader at his high school, already had an internship under his belt, and was very focused on his studies. He was ready for college. Not all students have that confidence.”

Kim King ’99, assistant director of the Malcolm X Institute of Black Studies (MXIBS), echoed Thrush, recalling the first time he met Chhay-Vickers.

He was one of three students to join King and MXIBS Director and Dean for Professional Development Steven Jones ’87 on a trip to Anderson, Indiana, to watch a production of “The Meeting,” an award-winning play about an imaginary meeting between Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcolm X in 1965 in a hotel in Harlem during the height of the Civil Rights Movement.

“What struck me about Declan was—and still is—how true of a renaissance mind he is. That trip he was as comfortable talking about business interests and his long-term goals of investment banking and private equity as he was fine dining,” King says with a chuckle. “I’m listening to this freshman, and I’m thinking, ‘Who are you that you can have these seamless, seemingly different conversations?’ And it was only pertinent that all of that was happening against the backdrop of going to a play for which he volunteered, saying, ‘I want to seize this opportunity to learn.’

“That is typical Declan,” King continues. “He’s always seizing an opportunity and going into activities with an inquisitive attitude and outlook on life—not the characteristics you’ll find in most young people.”

thrush and king say it was apparent that Chhay-Vickers came to Wabash open to new experiences and was eager to emerge as a leader.

And that’s exactly what he’s done.

The financial economics major is an innovation consultant with the Center for Innovation, Business, and Entrepreneurship and the vice president of the Investment Banking Association. He also serves as the MXIBS treasurer, an executive position usually held by upperclassmen.

“Being selected to serve as a Ram’s Horn is a great responsibility and has given me so many great opportunities, especially being a sophomore,” says Chhay-Vickers. “I want to do all I can in this leadership position to spread the MXIBS message further and help the institution get to a great place where I believe it can be.”

Chhay-Vickers was one of a small group of student leaders selected by Associate Dean of Students Marc Welch ’99 to join administrators for a visit to Hampden-Sydney College this fall. While there, he attended dinner at the president’s home and met with other campus leaders and students to discuss similarities and differences between the two institutions in an effort to learn from each other.

“The Hampton-Sydney trip was amazing,” says Chhay-Vickers. “I was honored to represent Wabash; it was something I never expected.”

He also got the chance to connect with the president of Hampden-Sydney’s Minority Student Union (MSU).

“I learned how they run the MSU, issues that have happened at the school, things they wish they would do differently,” he says, “and I hopefully cultivated a lasting relationship between the MSU and the MXIBS.”

Chhay-Vickers returned from that trip energized and excited to share all he had discovered.

“He talked about how Hampden-Sydney’s Minority Student Union has a house where students can actually live together. He compared, contrasted, and analyzed how to make the social component of the MXIBS even more robust,” King explains. “He raised questions about Wabash’s history regarding conversations for historically Black fraternities. He talked about the Divine Nine, and how that might have an impact on student recruitment.

“As a sophomore in college, he’s already thinking about future Wabash men,” says King, “and how he can leave the MXIBS better.”

That’s a goal of Chhay-Vickers, who says he found his “home away from home” at the MXIBS.

“I experienced a bit of a culture shock coming to Wabash. Chicago is very diverse with lots of people who look like me, and Crawfordsville is kind of the opposite,” Chhay-Vickers says. “I was one of the founders of my high school’s Black Student Union and I wanted to continue work that promoted diversity and inclusion, so I thought joining the MXIBS would be perfect for me.

“When I went to the call-out, I sat next to a stranger who has become my best friend,” he says. “The MXIBS brotherhood is really special, unlike anything I’ve been a part of before. It’s made up of a great group of guys, some of the best on campus.”

Thrush says she has no doubt Chhay-Vickers, not even to the halfway point in his Wabash tenure, will continue to do great things at Wabash and leave a legacy that sets the example for the next generation of students.

“We want our students to be like him—approachable, conversational, inclusive— someone who values relationships with students, faculty, and staff,” she says. “I think he will be an alumnus that we will see again. He’ll be involved, mentor students, and pay forward some of the things that are being given to him now as a student.”