President Laura Skandera Trombley
Laura Skandera Trombley is the fifth president of Pitzer College, a noted Mark Twain scholar and a nationally recognized champion of liberal arts education.
Under her leadership, Pitzer has founded several innovative collegiate centers and majors. Most recently, the College launched the Robert Redford Conservancy for Southern California Sustainability at Pitzer College. The Conservancy joins a roster of other unique initiatives including the Firestone Center for Restoration Ecology in Costa Rica and the Vaccine Development Institute’s partnership with the University of Botswana. The College has developed ground-breaking courses such as Learning from YouTube and Sustainable Places in Practice. In 2011, Pitzer became the first college in the country to offer a degree in secular studies.
Trombley has raised Pitzer’s national profile and enhanced its reputation for academic excellence. The College shot up an unprecedented 35 spots in U.S.News and World Report rankings in less than a decade—from #70 in 2004 to #35 today. In 2012, Pitzer was named the 20th most selective higher education institution in the country.
The percentage of students studying abroad has increased by more than 50 percent since Trombley took office. Nationally, Pitzer has been the leader in Fulbright Fellowships per 1,000 students for 10 of the last 11 years and has been the top producer of Fulbright awardees among all US liberal arts colleges for four consecutive years, from 2010-2013.
In 2013, President Barack Obama appointed Trombley to the 12-member J. William Fulbright Foreign Scholarship Board that was established by Congress to supervise the global Fulbright program. She was sworn in on February 11, 2013.
A passionate proponent of environmental sustainability, President Trombley led the charge to transform Pitzer into a model of green building and living. Constructed on time and under budget, the College’s eight mixed-use residential buildings have earned either LEED Platinum or Gold certification from the US Green Building Council. The campus’ drought-tolerant landscaping has helped the College cut its water use in half since 2002. Pitzer’s farm-to-fork dining hall routinely ranks among the healthiest places to eat on any American college campus.
Trombley secured the four largest single donor gifts in Pitzer’s history while guiding the College through one of the worst economic downturns in US history. Over the past dozen years, Pitzer’s annual fund has grown by approximately 80 percent and the College’s endowment has increased by more than 170 percent.
President Trombley is the author of five books. Her most recent, Mark Twain's Other Woman: The Hidden Story of His Final Years, was published by Knopf in 2010 and issued in paperback by Vintage in 2011. As a graduate student, she discovered the largest known cache of Mark Twain letters, which ultimately became the primary source material for her dissertation and her 1994 book, Mark Twain in the Company of Women. Her other books include Constructing Mark Twain: New Directions in Scholarship (2002), Critical Essays on Maxine Hong Kingston (1998) and Epistemology: Turning Points in the History of Poetic Knowledge (1986). She is frequently invited to speak about Twain in public forums and appeared in Ken Burns' documentary on the literary icon.
Trombley writes about issues affecting US higher education and contributes to The Huffington Post and The Daily Beast. She reviews books for the Los Angeles Times and her scholarly articles have appeared in publications such as American Literary Realism and The Paris Review. In addition to the Fulbright Foreign Scholarship Board, she is a member of the Chief Executives Organization and the Council of Presidents of the Association of Governing Boards.
Prior to joining Pitzer in July 2002, Trombley was dean of the faculty, vice president for academic affairs and a professor of English at Coe College. She was a Wissenschaftliche Mitarbeiterin in American Studies at the Universitaet Eichstaett in Germany and received early tenure at SUNY Potsdam, where she held several administrative posts, including assistant provost.
The daughter of an elementary school principal and a second-grade teacher, Laura Skandera Trombley enrolled at Pepperdine University at the age of 16, receiving her BA in English and humanities and graduating summa cum laude with a master's in English. Pepperdine named her one of its Accomplished Alumni in 2002. In May 2013, Trombley received an honorary doctorate from Pepperdine University and delivered the commencement address for the university’s Graduate School of Education and Psychology. Trombley earned her PhD in English from the University of Southern California where she received the Virginia Barbara Middleton Scholarship and was named the Lester and Irene Finkelstein Fellow for Outstanding Humanities Graduate Student. A Southern California native, she enjoys hiking, surfing and race car driving. In 2013, she summited Mt. Whitney after hiking 190 miles on the John Muir Trail with a group of Pitzer students, faculty, alumni and family members. Her son Sparkey is in high school.