Julie Wollman, named Tuesday as president of Widener University, is focused on the student experience.
She teaches a freshman seminar - "College: What, Why, How" - at Edinboro University in northwestern Pennsylvania, where she has been president since 2012.
And she's taken a class herself, a beginner's course in bagpiping, rooted in Edinboro's Scottish heritage. (Edinboro was founded in 1857 as the Edinboro Academy by Scottish descendants who named it after Edinburgh, Scotland.)
"Taking a class was a great opportunity to be humbled and experience what it's like to literally feel like a freshman and have no idea what you're supposed to do," said Wollman, 56, who will become Widener's 10th president on Jan. 19. "We had to perform in class in front of others, and that was really humbling."
Wollman, a Philadelphia native and Harvard graduate, replaces longtime president James T. Harris III, who left in August to become president of the University of San Diego.
She was the first woman president at Edinboro, one of 14 universities in Pennsylvania's state system. Under her tenure, she said, the 6,550-student school saw an increase in female donors.
Wollman also successfully lobbied the Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education to allow Edinboro to reduce its out-of-state tuition to little more than what an in-state student pays, a key move for a university only 20 miles from both the Ohio and New York state borders.
The move, she said, resulted in a 35 percent increase in out-of-state enrollment and a $500,000 annual boost in revenue. The state system has extended the pilot program.
Recruited for the Widener job, Wollman said she was intrigued by the private university's commitment to Chester and the region, and its emphasis on sending students into the community to learn.
"I thought, 'This is a place that has values I really care about,' " she said of Widener, which enrolls 2,900 undergraduate students and 5,900 overall.
Born in Philadelphia, Wollman graduated from the Baldwin School in Bryn Mawr. At Harvard, she majored in English and American literature and language, and earned her master's in secondary education from the University of Pennsylvania and her doctor of philosophy degree in education from New York University.
Wollman previously worked at Wheelock College, Worcester State University, and Rhode Island College.
Her husband, a former dean and provost, is president of the American Association of University Administrators. She has two daughters, one currently at Harvard and the other a mental health clinician, and two stepsons.
And how'd she do in that bagpipe class?
"I didn't take it for a grade," she said. "But he did tell me I was one of his best students."
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