Looking Back, Looking Ahead
Five years of transformational leadership: Laura Skandera Trombley being mindful of our future.
AN ACTION-PACKED FIVE YEARS of remarkable leadership sums up Laura Skandera Trombley's presidency at Pitzer College from 2002 to the present. Her accomplishments touch upon every area of the College from campus improvements, to academic program expansion, to fiscal growth, to institutional stature.
Her presidency began with a resounding vote of confidence by the Board of Trustees who established a scholarship fund named in her honor for firstgeneration students. Her work at the College continues to attract the notice of the Pitzer community, her colleagues and the media. Trombley was named one of five “rising star” college presidents for her close connection with students and faculty and for being a leader who knows that moving ahead is about working together. Nowhere is this better exemplified than in Trombley's leadership in the planning and implementation of a five-year strategic plan that will be completed a year early.
In five years, Pitzer College has soared in multiple areas. The endowment has more than doubled, surpassing $110 million (an increase of 144 percent) and included the largest gift ever received by the College; student applications continue to break records yearly; and the admission acceptance rate has moved from 56 percent to 26 percent making Pitzer one of the most selective colleges in the country. The College's first-ever comprehensive campaign finished early exceeding the $40-million goal; the recent $18-million Residential Life Project campaign also finished early and over the goal; and leadership, alumni and parent giving has increased dramatically. Pitzer College was ranked among the top fifty liberal arts colleges for the first time this year by U.S.News & World Report, and the College became the West Coast leader in adopting an SAT-optional policy in 2002.
Highly focused, energetic and enthusiastic, Trombley has transformed ideas into action and affected significant change by working together with the Pitzer community. To this end, Trombley uses a hands-on style of leadership for ease of accessibility and transparency to Pitzer's students. From Trombley's open office hours to talk about what is on their minds to serving late night snacks with her vice presidents during finals week, students know that their president is genuine in her concern for their education and future. She ardently believes that education best begins with a conversation between students and their professors, and that this exchange should continue long after the students graduate from the College.
For four of the five years, Pitzer students have been awarded the highest number of prestigious Fulbright Fellowships per capita among all colleges and universities in the country. The percentage of students studying abroad has increased to 70 percent with many students studying in more than one destination. The doubling of overseas opportunities to more than forty domestic and international exchange programs has been a major factor.
The number of faculty members has increased during Trombley's tenure. She has focused on maintaining small class sizes, with a 10:1 student faculty ratio to be reached by 2008-09, while strengthening faculty salaries and research funds.
A hallmark of her presidency and the theme of this issue is the building of three new residence halls that are pending Gold LEED certification by the U.S. Green Building Council—the culmination of countless hours spent by members from all Pitzer constituencies, especially the students. With the completion of the second and third phases of the Residential Life Project, Pitzer stands positioned to become the first college in the nation to replace all its residence halls with Gold LEED certified buildings.
Phase II and III of the Residential Life Project will include a new Media Studies facility, classrooms and seminar rooms. Other campus improvement projects include the renovation of Avery Auditorium and a new entryway to McConnell Center.
What has always fascinated people in and outside of academia is Trombley's scholarly work on Mark Twain. A creative as well as a strategic thinker and an internationally renowned Twain scholar, she has plenty to say on the topic. Her discovery of one hundred lost Twain letters when she was a graduate student and subsequent twenty years spent as a Twain scholar was the subject of a 2005 front-page story in the Los Angeles Times. She has recently completed her soon-to-be published fifth book titled Mark Twain's Other Woman.
Ever aware of the importance of community and civic engagement, Trombley is an active member of numerous local and national organizations including the Claremont Rotary. Additionally, she is the vice chair of the Association of Governing Boards Council of Presidents and a commissioner to the Western Association of Schools and Colleges (WASC). In 2006 Trombley joined the American College & University Presidents Climate Commitment, a high-visibility effort to make campuses more sustainable.
Articles have been written about and by Trombley that focus on balancing a high-demand lifestyle as a college president with that of being a mother to her son Sparkey. In all of her roles— president, wife, mother, Twain scholar—her husband Nelson has been both a supportive as well as an active partner.
As the College community nears its fiftieth anniversary in 2013 and reflects on the numerous individuals who have contributed to its greatness, Laura Skandera Trombley will most certainly be among them.