Dennis Hanno Becomes Eighth College President

President Dennis Hanno

Dennis M. Hanno was named the eighth president of Wheaton College on February 22, 2014. He came to Wheaton from Babson College, where he had served since 2006.

Hanno grew up in Glenfield, New York and graduated from Notre Dame in 1977 with a Bachelor of Business Administration. He attended graduate school at Western New England University where he earned a Master of Science in Accounting in 1981. He then attended the Isenberg School of Management at University of Massachusetts Amherst where he studied accounting and psychology and obtained a PhD in Management in 1990.

Before beginning his career in higher education, Hanno worked as a certified public accountant in New York and Massachusetts, founding and running his own firm in Lowville, New York from 1982 to 1985. In 1990, he became an assistant professor of accounting at the Carroll School of Management at Boston College, where he worked until 1992. From 1992 to 2006, Hanno worked at the University of Massachusetts Amherst’s Isenberg School of Management where he taught as an associate and assistant professor of accounting and served as associate dean for undergraduate matters.

In 2006, he joined the faculty of Babson College as a President’s Endowed Professor of accounting and dean of the undergraduate school. Hanno helped establish and became the first director of the Babson Entrepreneurial Leadership Academy, a program that works with high school students in other countries to help them develop leadership skills and encourage entrepreneurial ideas. In September 2010, he helped found the Babson-Rwanda Entrepreneurship Center in Kigali, Rwanda and became its executive director. In 2012, Hanno was appointed as dean of the F.W. Olin Graduate School of Business and vice provost of Babson College, and in 2013 he was promoted to provost and senior vice president of the college.

At Wheaton, Hanno made his mark on the curriculum by expanding the reach of the recently-created Business and Management major, and embedding social entrepreneurship deeply into the curriculum. Under Hanno’s leadership, Wheaton has launched a variety of initiatives promoting social innovation and social entrepreneurship within the liberal arts, many of which are located within the Idea Lab. Hanno’s fundraising efforts matched these campus initiatives. In 2018 the College secured a $10 million commitment toward social entrepreneurship programs and an endowed professorship from the Diana Davis Spencer Foundation. The gift was one of the largest in Wheaton’s history.

Inauguration of President Dennis M. Hanno

Wheaton continued its facilities upgrades and additions under Hanno. In 2018, Wheaton broke ground on Pine Hall, a residential facility built to Passive House standards using union labor. The College also began planning for a renovation of the 1968 Science Center, incorporating new homes for the Psychology, Business and Management and Nursing departments as well as campus makerspaces and a renovation of the Filene Center.

This focus on social innovation reflects Hanno’s work as an educator and entrepreneur. He is the founder and head of IDEA4Africa, a non-profit that seeks to inspire and equip youth entrepreneurs to develop social and economic value for their communities and for the world. The organization grew from Hanno’s work leading leadership and innovation seminars in East Africa, work that he began during his tenure at the University of Massachusetts Amherst.

Hanno also serves as a commissioner of the New England Commission on Higher Education, a three-year term that began in 2019.

Hanno was outspoken on issues of social justice during his term. He composed several letters to the Trump administration, urging actions on issues ranging from harassment to rules governing international students. Along with the American Council on Education and hundreds of other colleges, he petitioned Congress to protect Dreamers. In 2017, after a white student wore blackface as part of a halloween costume, Hanno’s cabinet halted classes to host a teach-in about the racist history of blackface. In January 2017, after the Trump Administration banned immigrants from majority-Muslim countries, Wheaton offered scholarships to students from countries named in the ban.

Hanno’s tenure was marked by the coronavirus pandemic. The college’s response–including an initial shutdown of campus in March 2020, a twice-weekly testing regimen conducted in partnership with the Broad Institute at MIT, universal masking and social distancing measures–balanced equity with fiscal restraint. 

Dennis is an occasional contributor to The Washington Post, writing about Islamophobia.

Dennis and his wife, Susan, a schoolteacher, were frequent guests at campus events and often welcomed staff into their home.

On December 9, 2020, Hanno announced his retirement from Wheaton.