The College of William and Mary has selected Katherine Rowe, as the 28th and first female president.
Currently the provost of Smith College, Rowe will begin her term at William and Mary on July 1, after the current college president Taylor Reveley retires on June 30.
In the college’s 325 years, Rowe is first female president of the university. She was unanimously elected by the Board of Visitors Tuesday morning.
“Of course this was an institution that was founded by a woman as well as a man,” Rowe said Tuesday morning. “It is the centenary of the first women enrolled. That is an incredibly moving thing to know as I step into this leadership role … I'm honored beyond words to be the first woman president and more than that honored to be in an institution that expresses the values I care about in education.”
At Smith College in Northampton, Massachusetts, Rowe leads academic strategy and planning, including overseeing all academic operations. During her tenure, Smith has transformed its liberal arts curriculum, increased diversity in faculty hiring, launched one of the first statistical and data sciences majors at a liberal arts college and broke national fundraising records for women’s colleges. She also has served as Smith’s interim vice president for inclusion, diversity and equity.
Smith College, an independent liberal arts women’s school, had 2,600 students enrolled in 2016; William and Mary enrolled 8,617 students the same year. However, Smith had a $1.6 billion endowment in 2016 while William and Mary’s endowment was $900 million in 2017.
When Reveley announced his retirement in April 2017, the Board of Visitors created a presidential search committee composed of board members, college faculty and staff, a recent graduate of the college and a student leader.
As part of the process, committee members held more than 150 listening sessions throughout the country, involving nearly 1,600 people; hundreds of emails and submissions were also received via the presidential search website. Todd A. Stottlemyer, rector of the Board of Visitors, said in a prepared statement that students also had an opportunity to participate in the presidential search process through a social media campaign.
“They did come up with the griffon as an application which is particularly fun,” Stottlemyer said, referring to the school’s mascot. “Behind the fun, there was a serious effort to keep the community informed and involved throughout this process.”
Stottlemyer said Rowe’s understanding of technology and liberal arts are a rare combination for a candidate.
“(This is) a multi-disciplinary data-informed world, one which Katherine is very comfortable with,” Stottlemeyer said. “She is constantly scanning the horizon to find new ways to innovate the liberal arts.”
Rowe earned a bachelor’s degree in English and American literature from Carleton College and a master’s and a Ph.D. in English and American literature from Harvard. She has also completed graduate work in Cinema and Media Studies at NewYork University’s Tisch School of the Arts.
Before working at Smith, Rowe spent 16 years at Bryn Mawr College as an English professor, department chairwoman and director of the Katharine Houghton Hepburn Center for leadership and public engagement. At Bryn Mawr, she was awarded the Rosalyn R.Schwartz Teaching Prize for Excellence and Innovation in 2011.
Rowe is co-founder and CEO of Luminary Digital Media, which has re-imagined books with interactive reading apps that transform and enhance student engagement and learning of classic Shakespearean texts.
Luminary Digital Media led to national recognition for Smith College and Rowe, who was featured by the New York Times as well as the Atlantic’s special project, “Startup Nation: Ideas and Entrepreneurs on the Leading Edge.” She also represented liberal arts opportunities in teaching and learning data science at “Crunching the Numbers: An Atlantic Forum on Data Analytics and Tomorrow’s Workforce” in 2017.
In addition to serving as interim vice president for inclusion, diversity and equity at Smith College, Rowe also was responsible for navigating hiring of faculty at the college. She crafted a strategic plan to reshape the faculty along with the curriculum. The result was almost 30 academic new hires at Smith, about 45 percent of them scholars of color, representing the largest cohort of underrepresented faculty hired in the college’s history.
Meeting the students
A more casual forum was held Tuesday afternoon, where Rowe was introduced to students and faculty of the college. The Commonwealth auditorium was packed full of people eager to meet her.
After a series of short speeches, Rowe met one on one with students outside of the auditorium. Taking selfies, and exchanging handshakes Rowe told students “Call me Katherine.”
Macy Calder, a freshman at William and Mary, said she was excited to have Rowe has the next president.
“I’ve wanted to come (to William and Mary) since the third grade,” Calder said. “So to see someone as a strong female leader like Rowe makes me excited for the next four years.”
As Calder was talking, another student walked past and interjected her own opinion about the new president. “I just touched her, she’s everything!”
Rowe has been an ultimate frisbee coach for more than 10 years, so one of the college’s four frisbee teams, the Mother Huckers, gave Rowe a team shirt.
“I’m here today because the more that I have come to know William and Mary the more I feel I have found my people,” Rowe said.
“Katherine is also someone who really appreciates and respects William and Mary’s history and traditions,” Stottlemeyer said. “At the same time, she also understands how change, transformation and vision for the future are essential to the university’s continued excellence.”
One of Rowe’s many career accomplishments was her role in helping Smith expand and diversify its faculty. Rowe said she has no solid plans for bringing more diversity the William and Mary at this time because she does not know the campus well enough yet to create a plan that will fit it best. However, she said she’ll be listening to the input of students and staff while creating one.
Rowe also looks to expand the college’s use of technology with teaching. She thinks this can be a good tool in addition to face to face teaching, but also extend the reach of the William and Mary.
“With Katherine as our president, I am confident we have got a leader who will help us achieve a shared vision of historical remembrance and contemporary excellence,” Stottlemeyer said.
Amelia Heymann can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org, or on twitter @HeymannAmelia.