A Conversation with Hiram College's President-Elect Dr. Lori Varlotta
What were your impressions of the people you met with during the search process?
Everyone I met with talked about the sense of community at Hiram. People work hard, care about one another and are accountable to each other as part of their shared commitment to students.
What were your impressions of the trustees you met with during the process?
It is a remarkably diverse and accomplished group of people. They are relentless ambassadors for the institution and give freely of their time, talent and treasure. I felt wonderfully supported and warmly welcomed.
And Hiram students?
It is clear that Hiram strives to attract and retain a diverse student body and that is very important to me. The College’s efforts in this area are visible, and I look forward to enhancing even further the diversity that exists on campus. The students I met were gracious, engaged, intellectually curious and excited to be a part of the community. Many are first generation students who are working very hard to represent their families well. That was exactly my experience as an undergraduate.
Many colleges and universities in the country currently face a number of fiscal challenges. Is that the case at Hiram?
There are only a few institutions in the country that don’t need to worry about finances each and every year. Like nearly all of its competitors, Hiram remains tuition driven. This means that Hiram, like other private colleges, lives and dies by its ability to recruit and retain students. Hiram should be proud of the fact this it is a stronger institution than it was in 2003. Under Tom Chema’s presidency, enrollment, retention, and fundraising have all increased. It will be my job to build on that momentum and make it an even more robust college than it is today.
Tom Chema in a recent interview noted that he spends more than 60 percent of his time fundraising. How comfortable are you in your ability to raise money?
I have been actively engaged in friend and fund raising for many years. Here, at Sacramento State, I work closely with the Development Office to identify and cultivate friends and donors. I also work with the University's Foundation Board. I have been lucky enough to make many presentations to the Board and to garner their support for numerous programs and initiatives. Friends and donors alike tell me that I am a good listener—one who has helped them connect their personal interests to the needs of the University in ways that make everyone a winner. I thoroughly enjoy building these kinds of relationships, and look forward to forging similar ones with alumni, community members and business leaders in and beyond Northeast Ohio.
What do you see as the biggest challenge you face as you assume the presidency?
One of Hiram’s most attractive features—its peaceful, beautiful location, in an almost surreal close-knit community—is also one of its greatest challenges. Here’s what I mean by that: Hiram is not a place you accidentally stumble upon while you are walking your dog or enjoying a Sunday drive. Most people have to make a bit of an effort to “get there.” This means that one of my challenges will be to get people there for a “look and see.” Make an afternoon of it: come on over, and visit the campus. I suspect that like me, you will be thoroughly impressed by what you see, how you feel and how you are treated by members of the College. Believe me, I wouldn’t leave California for just any place. Hiram College is special, and most people feel it right away.
Hiram has recently renovated a residence hall and dedicated it to house veterans. What experience do you have with the recruitment and retention of veteran students?
For a decade now I have worked in California—a state with more U.S. veterans than any other in the country. Sacramento State has worked hard to serve those veterans, and I am proud to say we have between 1200 and 1300 veterans and dependents enrolled each year. Because of the large number of veterans we serve, I have been fortunate to develop a strong expertise in recruiting and retaining student veterans and helping prepare them for civilian careers. I should also say that working with student veterans has been a highlight in my career. They are a driven, motivated, mature group of men and women who are interested in learning and continuing to serve their new community. Working with them has been an honor, and I hope to utilize my interest and experience in this area as president of Hiram. Hiram’s student veteran program is just getting started and I am very excited to help shape that program. Hiram offers the best of both worlds to veterans, a quiet place for careful study coupled with a connection to the life found in three major metropolitan areas of Cleveland, Akron and Youngstown-Warren. I’m anxious to get started to shape this program.
It was -25 with wind chill last week here in Northeast Ohio. You are coming from California. Any concerns about that transition?
I grew up in Pittsburgh, earned a masters at Syracuse University, and lived in Madison, Wisconsin for several years, so I am no stranger to harsh winters. Admittedly, I do prefer California’s winter over those bitter cold ones. In terms of acclimating, however, I’m more concerned about being a Steelers fan in the heart of Browns country.
When will you begin your duties at Hiram?
In early August after I finish up some commitments to my current institution. However, I do plan to visit campus and travel on Hiram’s behalf as we work out the presidential transition over the next six months.