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Sarah Bolton named next president of Whitman College, will leave Wooster at end of academic year

Sarah Bolton

WOOSTER, OH (Jan. 11)—President Sarah Bolton has been named the next president of Whitman College in Walla Walla, Washington.  She will assume the role on July 18, and will remain in her role at Wooster through the current academic year.

Whitman announced Bolton’s selection as their 15th president in a message to campus on Tuesday, January 11. She will succeed President Kathleen Murray, who retires in summer 2022.

Bolton joined Wooster in 2016 and is the first woman and first physicist to serve in the permanent role of president. During her tenure at Wooster, Bolton has championed significant transformations of the campus community and overall student experience by catalyzing investments in virtually every area of the College and building strategic connections across disciplines, individuals, teams, cultures, and differences to support the thriving of every student.

The “Connect, Create, Discover” strategic plan, developed by Bolton in collaboration with the Wooster community, served as a guide for much of the transformation accomplished in recent years. Sustained strong enrollments and fundraising fueled this critical work amid the most significant pandemic to hit campus in its more than 150-year history.

“Serving as Wooster’s president has been a tremendous joy and privilege.  I will always deeply admire this extraordinary community—its people, its values, its leadership in teaching and learning, and its vision for the future,” said Bolton. “I am profoundly grateful for all the ways that Wooster’s students, staff, faculty, board and alumni have come together to make our college an even brighter beacon for learning over the past five and a half years”

“The challenges and opportunities at Whitman appealed to me in part because of the deeply held values that Whitman and Wooster share,” added Bolton. “Like Wooster, Whitman’s community is brilliant, kind, and determined to make a positive impact in the world through teaching, learning and action.”

In announcing Bolton’s appointment, Whitman’s Board Chair Joe Davis shared his enthusiasm for the committee’s selection of a values-based leader who was steadfastly focused on delivering a liberal arts education for all. “Sarah is a dynamic leader and a thoughtful listener whose values and vision mirror those of Whitman. She believes that student learning and growth should be at the center of every decision, that excellence requires equity and a commitment to fulfill the college’s promise for every student,” he said. “She believes a great liberal arts education like Whitman’s is more important than ever—preparing students to impact the world in ways that are so greatly needed at this moment. With these guiding values, Sarah Bolton is the right president for Whitman College at this time in the college’s history.”

Prior to joining Wooster, Bolton served for six years as Dean of the College at Williams College, overseeing many aspects of student life, including building bridge programs for first-generation college students, strengthening academic advising, academic resources, international study, first-year residential life, and student safety. She chaired the Faculty Steering Committee and was a model for women in science.

She started at Williams as an assistant professor of physics in 1995 and was promoted to associate professor in 2001 and full professor in 2007—the first woman to reach this milestone in physics at Williams. She served as chair of Williams’ physics department from 2007 to 2010 and won the college’s Outstanding Mentor Award for Fostering Inclusive Academic Excellence in 2009. As a professor, she advised a dozen senior theses and more than 20 student research projects.

While Bolton didn’t personally get a chance to advise senior thesis projects during her time at Wooster, the top-ranked Independent Study (I.S.) senior capstone program was among the major draws for her. Since her arrival she has been an outspoken proponent and cheerleader for the College’s unique commitment to ensuring that every student, in every major, regardless of rank, will work one-on-one with a faculty mentor to complete a significant piece of original research, scholarship, or creative expression.

In his best-selling book, The Price You Pay for College, New York Times columnist Ron Lieber dedicates an entire chapter to explaining “How The College of Wooster Puts it all Together” to deliver an education worth the investment. In it, Bolton describes the real value of I.S.  “Faculty will know when you’re trying and know when you are not and will push you beyond what you imagined you could do,” she said.

In between a sea of posts featuring Bolton (and her husband Ari Solomon) donning Wooster’s beloved MacLeod Tartan, cheering on the Fighting Scots and congratulating students and alumni on their recent successes, followers of her Twitter feed @PresidentBolton have been showered with seemingly endless words of encouragement as they pushed through to the I.S. finish line, many of whom beamed with pride that the President took time to recognize their hard work.

As president, Bolton worked to build on Wooster’s history of academic excellence by expanding experiential learning opportunities, supporting strategic new academic pathways and connections, and cultivating a more global and anti-racist community and curriculum.

Despite the pandemic, Wooster is in strong health and focused on a path of continued innovation and advancement in nearly all ways thanks to her enormous contributions over the years.

Academic Innovations and Creating Connections

Understanding the changing needs of today’s college students, Bolton worked early on with Wooster’s faculty to identify opportunities to enhance the academic program in ways that would provide greater flexibility, exploration, and hands-on learning.

In 2018 and 2019, Wooster faculty introduced five new interdisciplinary majors in environmental geoscience, environmental studies, education, global media and digital studies, and statistical and data sciences.

Amid the ongoing pandemic, the College in 2020 followed up with the introduction of new interdisciplinary Pathways programs, optional add-ons to students’ major course of study that bring together academic interests, hands-on experiences, and career exploration for credit. Wooster students can now choose from eight programs: Activism & Social Change, Data Exploration & Communication, Digital & Visual Storytelling, Entrepreneurship, Environmental Communication & Action, Global Impacts, Museum & Archival Studies, and Public Health.

Experiential Learning has expanded across the curriculum under Bolton’s leadership both as part of existing outlets such as APEX Fellowships and Applied Mathematics and Research Experience (AMRE), but also as part of the new Pathways programs and individual departments working to identify and credential internships, volunteer work, jobs, research, off-campus study and other applied experiences in new ways that more accurately reflect the outcomes of those endeavors.

Teams of faculty and staff across the College are currently engaged in planning for the implementation of team-based mentoring to help students recognize opportunities for collaboration early on in their academic careers as a way to bridge the gap between the already successful mentoring ventures for first-year students and Wooster’s nationally recognized I.S. program.

Diversity, Equity and Inclusion

Under her leadership, Wooster has grown to be the most international campus in Ohio and 16th in the U.S. for percentage of international students, and among the most diverse. Currently, international students make up 17 percent of Wooster’s total enrollment and hail from 68 countries. US students of color account for 24 percent of the student body.

In addition to continuing to build the internationality and diversity of Wooster’s student body and staff and faculty in every area of the College, Bolton collaborated with students, staff, and faculty in her first year as president to create Wooster’s first Diversity, Equity and Inclusion strategic plan to ensure the campus was also growing evermore equitable and inclusive.

As part of the DEI strategic plan, the College developed the Perry Williams Fellowship program, which has brought 10 excellent early-career faculty members to Wooster and secured a $1.1 million grant from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation to strengthen interdisciplinary work and faculty diversity at the College.

This was followed by the creation of a dedicated Title IX office, appointing a Senior Advisor to the President for Civil Rights and Title IX Coordinator, and the hiring of the College’s first-ever Chief Diversity and Inclusion Officer (renamed Vice President of Equity, Inclusion, and Diversity).

In 2018, new core curricular requirements were introduced to ensure all students build their capacities for understanding issues of diversity, justice, and global engagement. Most recently, Bolton collaborated with a group of recent alumni and current students to introduce the Black Student Equity Fund. The first awards from this fund were distributed in December 2021.

Providing Greater to Access to Wooster, Reinforcing Our Commitment to Ohioans

During the 2019-2020 academic year, Wooster moved forward to adopt a permanent Test-Optional Admission Policy. “The College of Wooster is committed to building and supporting a diverse community of students from across the country and around the world,” Bolton said in announcing the plan to campus. “Our students come to Wooster from many types of experiences and high schools, and we are excited to take this next step to creating the most equitable and accessible admissions process, with a more holistic approach that presents the fewest barriers possible.”

Over the course of Bolton’s tenure, the number of students who are the first in their families to attend college rose to 17 percent and Pell-eligible students attending Wooster rose to 25 percent. Thirty-one percent of all current students come from Ohio.

In her inaugural address, she called on the Wooster campus to “acknowledge the financial realities that students and parents face.” Since joining the College, the amount of institutional aid provided to Wooster students to ensure they could complete their degrees has grown by nearly 29 percent.

In 2019, she reinforced Wooster’s commitment to students in Ohio by establishing the “Tuition Free Guarantee” for Ohio residents who demonstrate the highest levels of financial need on the FAFSA, making them eligible for the Ohio College Opportunity Grant (OCOG). This new policy provides a Wooster education at zero tuition.

COVID-19 Response and Campus Health and Safety

The arrival of COVID-19 forced Wooster to change every aspect of how we work in order to keep our community safe. Leading the charge was Bolton, who wasted no time securing plans and backup plans for tests and masks that were in short supply, naming the College’s inaugural Director of Emergency Management, and setting up consultative partnerships with Ohio State’s Wexner Medical Center, Governor DeWine’s office, the Wayne County Health Department, and Wooster Community Hospital—which proved consequential to navigating the pandemic and ensuring the health and safety of campus.

In February 2020, when travel restrictions began to take place internationally, Bolton gathered Wooster’s international students from China at her residence. Her gathering, which was, in her words, to remind them, “You are welcome here, and we support you,” was covered in The Chronicle of Higher Education.

In April 2020, she was recognized by The Chronicle for her early leadership during the pandemic planning to ensure educational access and affordability for all students despite logistical and health challenges. Since spring 2020, Wooster has provided over $3 million in additional financial aid and emergency grants to students (and families) for whom financial crisis might have prevented studying at Wooster. And eligible Wooster students impacted by the pandemic are now eligible to apply for the Wooster Plus program, which provides the opportunity for a tuition free ninth or tenth semester.

Wooster’s May 2021 Commencement, which was held in-person at John Papp Football Stadium, serves as a beaming symbol of her dedicated and informed leadership through one of the most difficult and uncertain times in higher education.

Funding Strategic Priorities and Campus Infrastructure

Under Bolton’s leadership, Wooster’s endowment performance has soared, growing from $263 million to more than $431 million. Wooster added a total of three new endowed professorships; 38 new endowed funds to support the library, student academic and career advising, experiential learning, academic departments, student and faculty research, and academic support; five new significant current use funds; and 81 new endowed scholarships.

During the height of the pandemic in the 2020-2021 fiscal year, total fundraising activity including cash gifts, pledges, and deferred gifts as well as gifts to The Wooster Fund set all-time records. A total of $41.1 million in outright and deferred gifts were committed for institutional priorities while $3,577,782 million in unrestricted funds were donated to support the College’s immediate needs.

When Bolton arrived on campus she led the final two years of the record-setting $190 million Wooster’s Promise comprehensive campaign, important work started by former President Grant Cornwell and Interim President Georgia Nugent. In 2018, Bolton cut the ribbon on the $40 million state-of-the-art Ruth W. Williams Hall of Life Sciences. Gifts and commitments to Wooster’s Promise throughout the course of the campaign also contributed to the recent construction of the Brush Hall student residence, the transformation of Gault Schoolhouse into residential space, renovations to Andrews, Armington, and Stevenson residence halls, and the renovated Alley in the lower level of Lowry Center.

The $40 million Lowry Center transformation project—perhaps the most visible component of the “Connect, Create, Discover” strategic plan—is on track to be completed by early January 2023, prior to the start of spring semester. “This renovation will create a welcoming and inspiring space that surrounds us all the time with a sense of Wooster’s inclusive values, with a particular highlight on the international and diverse nature of our community. It will be a vibrant and bright center that draws students in and draws them together, with a variety of formal and informal spaces for club and organization meetings, group work and relaxation, an updated dining hall and convenience store, and centralized resources to support student thriving and well-being,” Bolton said when introducing the project to campus.

Bolton will continue in her role as president of Wooster throughout the remainder of the 2021-2022 academic year, focused on implementing key remaining elements of the strategic plan and working to ensure a smooth transition. Opportunities will be provided for the campus and alumni community to connect and engage with President Bolton in the weeks and months ahead.

“By the end of the academic year, Sarah will have led the College through six highly successful years, the last three of which have been touched by the unimaginably difficult management complications wrought by Covid-19,” said Sally Staley, chair of Wooster’s Board of Trustees. “Through the emergency requirements of a pandemic layered onto the ongoing management of academic programs, faculty, staff and the entire campus community, Sarah has steadily led our College with wisdom and inspiration, science and compassion, and an abundance of good humor.”

According to Staley, Wooster will begin immediately on the process of identifying an interim president to lead the College through the 2022-2023 academic year as well as plans for a formal search for a permanent president.

Message from Sally Staley

Read Wooster Board Chair Sally Staley’s full statement to the Wooster community:

Dear Members of the Wooster Community,

It is with great gratitude and no small amount of sadness that I write to share the news that President Sarah Bolton will be leaving The College of Wooster at the end of the current academic year to become the new president of Whitman College in Walla Walla, Washington in July.

By the end of the academic year, Sarah will have led the College through six highly successful years, the last three of which have been touched by the unimaginably difficult management complications wrought by COVID-19. Through the emergency requirements of a pandemic layered onto the ongoing management of academic programs, faculty, staff and the entire campus community, Sarah has steadily led our College with wisdom and inspiration, science and compassion, and an abundance of good humor.

We are especially proud of the Connect, Create, Discover strategic plan, developed by Sarah with collaborations across the entire Wooster community, that has guided the delivery of our mission over the last several years, attracted strong applicant interest, provided our students with learning experiences to prepare for lives of leadership and purpose, and strengthened the financial resources and reputation of the College. Academic innovations have revised the core curriculum to support the qualities we seek for our graduates, and we have added five new interdisciplinary majors and eight new “Pathways” to study and experiential learning in career fields beyond the traditional majors. Alongside this focus, the diversity of our student body, staff and faculty has grown through Sarah’s leadership of intentional recruitment, inclusion and retention efforts. Wooster also has become the most international institution in Ohio, with applicants from more than 135 countries and students attending from 68 countries, even through the pandemic. Financially, despite the challenges of COVID-19, we’ve had strong enrollments, balanced budgets and fundraising outcomes that have ranged from highly successful to record-setting.

The work of recruiting our next president will begin immediately. This process will first focus on identifying an interim president to lead us through the continued implementation of ongoing strategic priorities through the academic year beginning July 1, 2022, while we carefully build and carry out a formal search for a permanent president. This work will be the Board of Trustees’ number one priority until we have identified and hired our next visionary leader. It will call on the efforts and input of faculty, staff, students and alumni across our entire Wooster community. More details on these efforts will be available over the next several weeks.

President Sarah Bolton’s achievements on behalf of Wooster have been outstanding and extraordinary. Please join me and the entire Board in thanking her for her many lasting contributions to our College and in wishing her continuing success in her new venture.

With gratitude,

Sally J. Staley ‘78
Chair of The College of Wooster Board of Trustees

Posted in News, Presidential Search.