Dr. Lori Varlotta's newest job is a dream nearly 30 years in the making.
It was 1985 when Varlotta took her first job out of college as a residence hall director at Robert Morris University. And it was there an inspiring welcome message from the university's president left her thinking, "Wow, I want to be him someday."
"I wasn't in a real rush to get there," Varlotta said, "but I had always hoped I would get to lead a university or lead a campus, and I'm really glad that it's Hiram College that is giving me that opportunity."
Hiram College announced Tuesday that Varlotta -- senior vice president for planning, enrollment management and student affairs at California State University, Sacramento -- will be the college's 22nd president.
Varlotta will replace President Thomas Chema, who announced in May he will retire this summer after 11 years with Hiram.
Varlotta will be the first woman to lead the private liberal arts college since its founding in 1850.
"It does make me proud as someone who has a background in women's studies and feminist philosophy to have the position as the first female president," she said. "I hope I will be a good role model for all students, but I do hope that women students in particular will look at me and see that I am very much like them. If I can get a position at the top of my field, I'm hoping a lot of women students at Hiram will feel the same way about their opportunities."
Varlotta was selected from a trio of finalists including J. William Berry, executive vice president and provost of the University of Dallas; and David Evans, vice president for academic affairs at Buena Vista University in Storm Lake, Iowa.
"Lori Varlotta is an experienced and accomplished college administrator, and we are delighted to welcome her to our community," said Ken Moore, chairman of the Hiram College Board of Trustees. "She was the unanimous choice of the board of trustees and was very favorably received by the faculty, staff, students and alumni whom she met during the search process. She has a deep commitment to Hiram's nationally respected liberal arts tradition and possesses enormous energy and creativity that will allow her to be a highly effective college president."
Varlotta, 50, is a Pittsburgh native with 29 years of service as a university administrator. She has spent the past 11 years at CSU in Sacramento where she has dealt with issues ranging from retention and graduation, planning and budgeting to transparency and accountability.
Among various accomplishments including overseeing efforts to construct several new buildings and facilities, Varlotta is credited with helping recruit some of the largest and most diverse classes ever recorded at CSU at Sacramento and bolstering student retention -- both of which are top priorities at Hiram.
"California still has a growing population of college-age students, unlike the part of the country I'm moving into," Varlotta said. "I think one of the challenges for me will be the enrollment challenges facing northeast Ohio."
Comparatively, CSU at Sacramento recorded an enrollment of about 28,800 students this past fall. Hiram has an enrollment of about 1,300.
But Varlotta, who began her career at smaller colleges in Pennsylvania, said she's looking forward to returning to a smaller campus that she says foster personal connections among administrators, students and faculty.
"I do very much enjoy the kinds of relationship building that can occur on small campuses like Hiram were people really do know each other and understand each other," she said, noting how CSU at Sacramento has implemented small-college features including cluster classes and learning communities.
Varlotta is married to Eric Premack, executive director and founder of the nonprofit Charter Schools Development Center in Sacramento.
Varlotta said she intends to move to Hiram into the presidential Harbert House this summer and begin work no later than early August, but said she'll still be involved with Hiram and making visits in the meantime, effectively working two jobs during the next six months.
The private college has declined to share details about Varlotta's contract. Hiram spokesman Tim Bryan said the three-year deal includes provisions for extensions and housing expenses.
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Lori Varlotta began her higher education career as a resident director and peer tutor advisor at Robert Morris College, and worked her way up to the following administrative positions prior to serving at California State University, Sacramento:
• Dean of Student Life at the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater
• Assistant Vice President for Student Affairs at the University of San Francisco
• Director of Leadership and Service-Learning at Miami University (Ohio)
• Director of Student Activities and College Union at the University of Pittsburgh-Bradford
Varlotta is a first generation college student, with degrees in philosophy and education. She earned her B.A. in philosophy at the University of Notre Dame (1985), her M.S. in Cultural Foundations of Education from Syracuse University (1990) and her Ph.D. in Educational Leadership's Interdisciplinary Program from Miami University (1997).
Some of Lori Varlotta's top priorities for Hiram include:
-Increasing diversity among students and staff
-Building a strong freshman class
-Continuing student retention efforts
-Fostering positive, personal relationships with students, faculty and the greater community
At California State University, Sacramento, Varlotta leads a team of more than 500 full-time faculty and staff members in 30 departments, focused on enrollment, retention, educational equity, student life and athletics Her accomplishments include:
• Building an enrollment management team that continually hits fast-changing enrollment targets.
• Recruiting and enrolling the most diverse student class in Sacramento State history.
• Co-chairing the campus's graduation and retention initiative, leading to increased retention in several cohort areas.
• Creating and implementing an outcomes-based assessment program that has been replicated on campuses across the country.
• Opening "The WELL," California's most integrated collegiate recreation and wellness facility.
• Establishing a nationally acclaimed student veterans program.