Widener University has named as its next president an academic leader and historian whose expertise is in U.S. women and the 19th-century antislavery movement.

Stacey M. Robertson, provost and vice president for academic affairs at the State University of New York at Geneseo, will begin July 1 at Widener, which enrolls nearly 6,000 undergraduate and graduate students and is based in Chester. She will replace Julie E. Wollman, who announced last June she would leave this summer to become a professor of practice in higher education at Penn’s Graduate School of Education.

“This is a caring, compassionate, determined, innovative and remarkably talented community,” Robertson, 56, told students and staff gathered for a live announcement of her presidency that was held remotely. “As your next president, I am committed to you — all members of the extended Widener community including our alumni, our friends, and our neighbors — and to building on the superb foundation that you have created.”

» READ MORE: Widener University’s president will leave the school to join Penn’s faculty next year

Born in Scottsdale, Ariz., Robertson got her bachelor’s in social history and social movements at Whittier College in California, where her interest in racial justice grew. Her adviser introduced her to a collection of letters by, at that time, a little-known abolitionist and minister named Parker Pillsbury. At the time, the letters were being stored in multiple Nike shoe boxes, she recalled. That’s no longer the case.

“His life became the topic of my senior project at Whittier and became the topic of my dissertation and my first book,” she said. “He taught me so much about racial justice and social justice in the 19th century. He was one of the most amazing male feminists of the 19th century.”

She got her doctorate in history at the University of California Santa Barbara and started her academic career as an assistant professor of history at Bradley University in Peoria, Ill., where she spent 20 years, the last two as interim dean of liberal arts and sciences. At Bradley, she also served as chair of the history department for four years and led the women’s studies program for 18.

She then became a dean at Central Washington University, and since 2017 has been at the SUNY campus in the Finger Lakes region.

Robertson said she has worked with Historians Against Slavery, which she described as a nonprofit focused on bringing historical context to the anti-human trafficking movement.

“It just allowed me to feel like the work we do as scholars has meaning in the world today,” she said.

Widener officials said they selected Robertson for her expertise in strategic planning, “hiring practices that support and promote candidates from underrepresented groups, and developing curriculum that prepares students for success in a global workspace.”

An avid reader who enjoys hiking, biking, and being in nature, Robertson is married to J. Stephen Smith and has two sons, the younger a junior at Earlham College in Indiana.

She said she has spent some time in the Philadelphia area doing historical work and loves it.

“I am so thrilled to be joining the larger Philadelphia community,” she said.