When Kimberly Wright Cassidy became interim president of Bryn Mawr College last year, she started a new tradition at the 129-year-old institution: the Pop Up.

Once each month, students are surprised with a campuswide event to, as she puts it, "build a sense of community and joyfulness."

They have played skee ball, danced on the college green, received chair massages and hand-cream rubs, and reveled at "Cassidy's Carnival," whose sign now hangs over the mantel in her office.

For last Monday's Pop Up, students encountered a silk-screen shop outside the library, where they could grab T-shirts announcing the presidential inauguration of the woman who gave them the Pop Up.

"We were all hoping while she was interim that we would get to keep her forever," said Anna Kalinsky, 21, a senior chemistry major from Chatham, N.J. She picked up a powder-blue T-shirt proclaiming: "Inaugurate #KCass."

That's the kind of connection with students that Cassidy, 50, strives for in her role as the women's college's ninth president. She shed the "interim" part of her title in February and was inaugurated on Saturday.

Cassidy, a child-psychology expert who started at Bryn Mawr in 1993 as a lecturer, has said she had never dreamed of leading a college.

But when her predecessor, Jane McAuliffe, resigned in 2013 after only five years - the shortest tenure ever at Bryn Mawr - the board of trustees asked Cassidy to step in. She was provost at the time. At a campus event two days later, she was introducing Hillary Rodham Clinton.

McAuliffe's departure was part of a string of high-level cabinet turnovers at the college over the last couple of years, including the college's dean, admissions director, and chief financial officer.

In a 90-minute interview last week, Cassidy said the turnover actually provided an opportunity to build her team from scratch.

"You wouldn't perhaps have thought of it that way, but it was," she said.

Cassidy, who is serving on a five-year contract, has tapped a chief enrollment officer from the University of Nebraska/Omaha and a chief financial officer from Lafayette College. A search goes on for a chief communications officer, and the faculty will fill the provost job this year, she said. The school will wait until next year to hire a dean.

As the provost for six years, Cassidy played a key role in developing the college's plan and sees no reason to alter direction.

She touted the close relationships that are built on the liberal arts campus, enrolling about 1,300 undergraduate women and 400 coed graduate students.

Certainly, there's no talk of going coed, as some other women's colleges have done in the face of a more competitive market.

"We're doing very well," she said, noting that applications remained steady this year after four years of increases and that the college accepted 40 percent of applicants - about the same as it did 50 years ago.

Cassidy said she would aim to keep tuition increases at a reasonable level. Tuition, fees, and room and board run $59,890 this year.

A native of Elverson, Chester County, Cassidy is the only child of public school teachers. A standout student at Twin Valley High School, the 6-foot-2 Cassidy played center for the high school basketball team, as well as tennis and lacrosse, and performed in jazz band and chorus.

She got into the eight colleges she applied to, including Harvard and Princeton - and chose Swarthmore because it offered her a leadership scholarship.

Starting as a premed major, she fell in love with psychology. She credits psychology professor Allen Schneider for stirring that interest.

"There is nothing more rewarding for a teacher than to see his student rise to leadership in higher education," Schneider said. "I look forward to Bryn Mawr's splendid future under her guidance."

At Swarthmore, she found another love, her future husband. She and Bart, a lawyer, have two sons, a sophomore at Hamilton College and a freshman at Friends Central.

As president, Cassidy continues to teach a class in educational psychology.

"It keeps my perspective on the students and the academic mission fresh and real," she said.

Not everything about the job came easy. She struggles with being "the face of the institution" 24/7 with limited ability to speak for just herself.

But she relishes the increased interaction with students. Cassidy has guest-coached the basketball team, rowed crew, and each year swims in a charity event on campus - her team has won five years in a row.

She greeted students as they arrived for their inaugural T-shirts on Monday. A staffer manning a table yelled out: "Get your KimKats here! Get your KimKats here!" - offering students chocolate bars renamed for their president.

Up walked Khadijah Seay, a junior psychology major from Cleveland. She told Cassidy she was pleased the college is dealing better with issues of race.

"I'm excited for change," Seay said. "It's been like a breath of fresh air, coming off my first year."

Kimberly Wright Cassidy

Favorite vacation spot: Italy

Favorite musical group: Trout Fishing in America

Favorite movie: "The Princess Bride"

Favorite book: "Jane Eyre"

Last book read: "My Beloved World" by Sonia Sotomayor

Favorite food: Pizza

Her hero: Her mom and dad

Hobbies: Kayaking, biking, hiking

Person she'd most like to have met: Nelson MandelaEndText

215-854-4693 @ssnyderinq

www.inquirer.com/campusinq