Women Who Count: President Trombley Featured in June 2005 Inland Empire Magazine

If it's noon and you're looking for the president of Claremont's Pitzer College, check with the dining hall. Laura Skandera Trombley is likely eating with students and faculty members, chatting about subjects as diverse as the women who influenced Mark Twain to her 8-year-old son's recent activities.

"I love that the students are so interested in the world around them and have really found their voice, which is perhaps the most important thing that college can teach," she says.

Trombley has been at Pitzer since 2003, after spending six years as vice president for academic affairs and dean of faculty at Coe College, a private liberal arts school in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. Trombley, who earned her bachelor's and master's degrees from Pepperdine University and her doctorate from the University of of Southern California, is a noted Mark Twain scholar, a role that fate has laid in her path.

While a graduate student at USC, a professor told her about a man who had called to say he had a box of 100 letters written by Mark Twain. The professor asked her to check out the claim. She did and discovered that the man, who was actually interested in stamp collecting, had purchased the letters from a junk store hoping to get some valuable stamps from them. Instead, he discovered the letters were written by S.L. Clemmons, Many were to the author's daughters and sister-in-law. The stamps weren't of value, but after the Mark Twain Archives had authenticated the letters, Trombley says, they were sold for about $500,000 at Sotheby's.

What Trombley found interesting was how the letters revealed Twain's relationships with and respect for the women in his life. Trombley wrote her dissertation on the topic and later a Mark Twain biography.

"He considered these women intellectual equals, and I found that intriguing because it was a Twain I didn't now existed," she says.

As in Twain's time, Trombley says, young women today face challenges she hopes she can help prepare them to meet.

"Young women need to discover what is most important to them, take ownership of their lives and seek people who will support them," she says. "They have the right to make choices about their lives and they should recognize the extraordinary talents they have and realize that the world needs them."

Trombley says that while growing up, she was influenced by her parents and how supportive her father was of her mother's career as a school principal at a time "when women did not usually hold that position."

"I grew up expecting that was the norm," Trombley says.

One of her goals as president of Pitzer College is to let young people know "how exciting the life of the mind is. It's the one pure pursuit that will carry you to the grave," she says.

To that end, she hopes she can help the public, as well as policy makers, understand the importance of liberal arts colleges.

"I give talks all the time about the looming issue of access to higher education and what an extraordinary issue that is." I don't think we're really addressing the problem on a national level. We have more and more students who want to have a college educational experience, and we're reducing access to it. I think that's disastrous for the future of our country," she says.

Trombley is married to artist Nelson Edmund Trombley, and they have one child, Nelson Jr. She is a member of the Los Angeles Area Chamber of Commerce, the San Gabriel chapter of the Young Presidents Organization, the Organization of Women Executives and the Trusteeship. She was honored as Pepperdine University's 2002 Distinguished Alumna.

--Tammy Minn, Inland Empire Magazine, June 2005