“The appointment of Dr. Katherine Rowe as president of the College of William and Mary is at once a strong affirmation of the college’s traditional mission, as well as an innovative step into the future,” wrote William T. Walker, a retired vice president for communications at the college and a respected historian, in a Letter to the Editor of the Gazette.
He continued, “Rowe’s strong commitment to the liberal arts will sustain the college’s dedication to its core curriculum that was bred in its bones in 1693. Over the centuries, the liberal arts have proven capable of educating students who become leaders dedicated to the public good; such women and men have never been more needed than today.”
Apparently, Rowe couldn’t agree more with this assessment.
When in the course of a recent interview I referred to her reputation for a “monkish” devotion to education, she replied: “I have never had anyone refer to me in exactly this way, since I am an enthusiastically social person. But it is correct to say that I am passionate about being part of an educational community committed to excellence and access for all students. It’s clear that this is a passion shared by faculty at William and Mary.
“I’m also an advocate for the importance of liberal arts to prepare students to be successful in whatever path they choose after graduation. Our society needs more critical thinkers and more individuals who have the kind of breadth of knowledge that allows them to adapt to a rapidly changing world.”
Rowe is known for finding innovative ways to develop liberal arts, particularly by the application of digital technology.
“I am a Shakespeare scholar but also deeply interested in design thinking, data science and new ways to use technology to teach more effectively,“ she said. “The ‘digital humanities’ is a way to describe a turn in the humanities over the past two decades.”
To further this process, Rowe co-founded Luminary Digital Media, which re-imagined books as interactive reading apps that can enhance anyone’s engagement with classic Shakespearian texts.
Considering the community-wide interest in not just Rowe’s academic background, but also family history, I asked her about it.
“I am the oldest of five and part of a large and close family. Many of us are based in the Boston area and some in the D.C. area. My father’s family came from Cornwall — his father, a Methodist minister, immigrated ... when he was 12. My mother, a Quaker, comes from a family of physicians and educators.”
Rowe, not hiding her pride, described her own family this way: “My husband, Bruce Jacobson, is a successful telecommunications entrepreneur. He did his BS in electrical engineering at the University of Pennsylvania, then went on to take a masters in technology and public policy at MIT and also an MBA. His family are Jewish and we raised our children, Daniel and Beah, now out of college, as part of a reform congregation in the Philadelphia area.”
All members of the Rowe family are serious sports fans and are thrilled to be joining a Division I school. “Bruce was the play-by-play commentator for the Smith College basketball team. Playing and coaching Ultimate Frisbee has been a significant part of our lives. Bruce and I met because we were both playing competitively in the national club division after college.”
In the summer of 2011, the family played together on a team that won the Philadelphia area summer league. At the final tournament, they won the MVP award as a family. “It was a special moment for me as a mom and as an athlete,” Rowe said.
At William and Mary, many believe Rowe will have loads of special moments as the 28th and first female president of the university.
Shatz is a Williamsburg resident. He is the author of “Reports from a Distant Place,” the compilation of his selected columns. The book is available at the Bruton Parish Shop and Amazon.com.