Kim and Eric Wise

Kim and Eric Wise with their children, Isabelle ’19 and Ursula ’21.

"It brings things full circle and makes you feel like you're in a community."

When Kim and Eric Wise’s daughters enrolled at Exeter, four hours from their home in Greenwich, Connecticut, mom and dad might well have expected to rely on texts and Snapchat to learn about life at the Academy.

And though they are grateful to smartphone communication for allowing them to easily stay in touch with Isabelle ’19 and Ursula ’21, the Wises have also gained a connection with the broader Exeter community by attending parent- and family-focused events, both near home and on campus.

The campus draw

“It started out locally, at gatherings in New York City for local parents or in Greenwich for Fairfield County parents,” says Kim. “We made it a priority to attend those events, and we met local people.” They also went to larger gatherings, including those that are open to parents throughout the Northeast, and were invited to attend the Exeter Leadership Weekend in September 2016. The Leadership Weekend is an annual event for alumni, parent volunteers, and staff including admissions representatives. Participants attend classes, learn about current and planned campus improvements, discuss strategic goals, and get to know other people with Exeter connections.

Kim says she and Eric have especially enjoyed meeting parents of her daughters’ friends and peers. 

“We've met so many wonderful people,” says Kim. “What makes it really neat is when one of our children happens to mention somebody's name, and I say, ‘Oh, my gosh, I met her mother or her father.’ It brings things full circle and makes you feel like you're in a community.”

Giving and connecting

With busy lives of their own, the Wises might have been forgiven for staying home. Eric is a partner in the New York office of Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher, and a member of the firm’s global finance and business restructuring and reorganization practice groups. Kim is a tax attorney who put her own career on hold to raise the couple’s five children, including John, a sophomore at NYU, and Annika and Henry, who are in sixth and fourth grades, respectively. Instead they have made it a point to come to campus as often as they’re able, whether to watch both Issy and Ursie compete in water polo, swimming or field hockey, or for Family or Leadership Weekends. As 2018-19 national chairs of the Parents Committee, they’re perhaps even more committed to spending time at PEA.

“From my perspective, getting involved is very important because [for most,] Exeter is a boarding school, and if you don't make an effort, you won't have the network of connections that might form at a day school with the parents and the administration,” says Eric. “It’s very rewarding. You get to meet parents of children who know your children, parents who may even know your children directly through their children, administrators and faculty. It makes for community building, and I think it contributes to the children's experience, too.”

Kim and Eric are relatively new to Exeter. Neither attended the Academy, though they had friends who did. When Issy was an eighth grader, she told her parents that she wanted to try someplace different. “She was looking for a new experience with more diversity, outside of Greenwich,” says Kim. She applied to a handful of schools based not only on their academic reputations, but also places where she could continue to swim and play water polo; Exeter topped the list. Two years later, Ursie enrolled, a move that didn’t surprise her parents. “She used to make comments like, ‘When I get to Exeter . . .’,” says Kim. Though both girls were content where they’d been going to school, for each, becoming an Exonian was the best choice.

Watching their daughters grow

“It's been a wonderful place to watch our daughters grow and flourish through the Harkness method and the community,” says Eric. He’s been particularly awed by what he’s seen in Issy after three-plus years, specifically, “the development of her ability to talk about intellectual subjects in groups, and her ability to act independently. It's been wonderful to watch those aspects of her personality flourish in a way that I don't think would have been as possible in other places.” And when occasional growing pains have arisen, as they invariably have, Kim and Eric have appreciated that she’s handled them with minimal involvement on their part.

“She's developed wonderful mentors at Exeter, and she has a network. She knows how to get things done, and who to talk to, and it's really wonderful to see that she has that kind of support system there,” he says.

The Wises have been involved in several Exeter campaigns in the last few years, including The Exeter Fund and capital campaigns. They have a history of providing charitable support to the independent schools their children attend, as a matter of principle, and were more than pleased to be invited to serve as chairs of the Parents Committee. In addition, they know that their active roles are something their Exonian daughters have noted.

“Our kids like to see that we’re involved at our own level,” says Kim. “I think it’s a nice thing to model, too, for children, to be a part of their lives, but on our own plane.”

—Sarah Zobel