Nicole Hurd, a historian of American religion who spent the last 15 years founding and leading an organization that broadened access to college for low-income and underrepresented students, will become the new president of Lafayette College in Easton this summer.
The college announced her hiring on Wednesday. She’ll take the helm as Lafayette prepares to open for a fall semester expected to return campus life to close to its pre-pandemic status.
“We’ll return to normal, but let’s do normal even better,” said Hurd, 51.
She will replace Alison Byerly, a Glenside native who led Lafayette for eight years and is leaving to become the president of Carleton College in Minnesota.
The leadership change is one of almost a dozen recently announced at area colleges or expected over the next year. They come as schools across the nation begin to emerge from the pandemic, having endured some of the most challenging financial, health, and enrollment issues in decades — not only from the pandemic, but also as the number of high school graduates declines. Colleges, like many other institutions, also are dealing with a racial reckoning and calls to improve conditions for students of color.
Lehigh University in April announced that Joseph Helble, a 1982 alumnus and provost at Dartmouth, would become the Bethlehem school’s new president in August. Helble, who got a bachelor’s degree in chemical engineering at Lehigh, replaces John D. Simon, who will step down after six years.
Earlier this month, Dickinson College said its president, Margee M. Ensign, would resign effective June 30 after only four years. She said she will return to her previous job as president of American University of Nigeria (AUN), where she helped young girls who had been captured by the radical organization Boko Haram. She welcomed some of them to Dickinson, in Carlisle.
“I felt called to continue the education and peace work we had started through the university,” she said in a statement. “The institution has been without a president for six months and conditions for education are deteriorating in the region. I will try to make a difference, to work for the common good.”
John E. Jones III, chair of the Dickinson board of trustees and chief judge for the U.S. Middle District of Pennsylvania, will step in as interim president for two years, the college said. Jones, a 1977 Dickinson alumnus who was appointed to the federal post by President George W. Bush in 2002, will retire from the bench this summer and resign from the board, the college said.
Temple University also is expected to announce a new president soon. Richard M. Englert, the current president, said last summer that he would retire after 45 years in various roles at Temple.
The University of Pennsylvania also is expected to launch a search for a new president in the months ahead. Amy Gutmann’s contract expires in June 2022. Gutmann, 71, who became president in 2004, will be Penn’s longest-serving president.
La Salle University’s president, Colleen Hanycz is leaving next month to become president of Xavier University in Ohio. Moore College of Art & Design, Chestnut Hill, and Pennsylvania State University also announced recently that their presidents would be leaving next year, while Rutgers-Camden hired a new chancellor in April and Holy Family University, a new president the same month.
» READ MORE: Temple University launches search for new president
Hurd, who begins at Lafayette in July, said she will try to help students, faculty, and staff “reset, renew, and recommit to each other” as the school comes out of largely remote instruction this past academic year.
“Part of leading is acknowledging when hard things have happened,” she said. “It’s acknowledging the ways people have weathered this together and thinking about ways we can go forward together.”
Hurd, a California native, got her bachelor’s degree in history from the University of Notre Dame, her master’s degree in liberal studies from Georgetown, and her doctorate in religious studies from the University of Virginia. Her thesis work for her doctorate, which centered on St. Katharine Drexel, brought her to Philadelphia quite a bit, she said. She flew with some Sisters of the Blessed Sacrament to Rome in 2000 when Drexel was being canonized.
She is married and has two children, one a student at the University of Virginia and the other about to begin at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
Hurd is CEO of College Advising Corps, which she said has helped more than 525,000 students get into college with the aid of 800 recent college graduates who serve as advisers. She started the organization in 2005, when she was assistant dean and director of undergraduate excellence at the University of Virginia. It currently works with 31 colleges and universities, including Franklin & Marshall in Lancaster.
“My journey has really been about making sure every student has access to the American dream and access to college,” she said.