Year One in Review
Laura Skandera Trombley made history when she began her tenure as the 16th president of Southwestern University in July 2020, becoming the college’s first female leader. The historic year that followed brought profound challenges to us all, but Southwestern thrived under President Trombley’s direction. Now, Dr. Trombley’s inauguration as our new president, postponed numerous times in the unpredictability of the past months, is also a time to celebrate the accomplishments of her first year.
The University implemented a detailed reopening plan that allowed students to return to campus safely in the fall. Seventy percent of classes were held in person, and the COVID-19 positivity rate remained extremely low throughout the year because of stringent health protocols. While many universities across the nation were struggling with student retention and budget shortfalls, Southwestern set an enrollment record for the spring semester and ended the year with a substantial surplus.
Fundraising efforts reached new highs, ensuring the University remained in a strong financial position. Alumni participation in institutional giving was up more than 10% over the previous year, and total gifts to the University were up over 12%. Southwestern Giving Day 2021 set a record high for both the number of donors (1,231) and dollars raised ($325,332) in a 24-hour period. Donors also generously gave to the SU Emergency Fund, which provides direct assistance to students needing emergency help for unexpected expenses such as food, housing, medical care, technology, and travel; fully funded a new advising and retention program; and provided financial support for nearly 200 high-impact experiences, including internship, student–faculty collaborative research, community-engaged learning, work–study, and study-abroad opportunities.
Southwestern strengthened its ongoing commitment to diversity and inclusion throughout Trombley’s first year as president. The University was an inaugural member of the Liberal Arts Colleges Racial Equity Leadership Alliance (LACRELA), a consortium of almost 70 institutions that aims to help its members develop and achieve equity goals. The Office of Diversity Education offered programming on social justice, difficult dialogues, and peacebuilding to help students navigate today’s issues and challenges, including racism. At its spring meeting, the Board of Trustees revised the University’s investment statement to include an expectation that vendors will share a commitment to a diverse and inclusive workforce. In the fall of 2021, more than 25% of students will identify as Hispanic/Latinx for the second year in a row, allowing Southwestern to begin preparations to apply for Hispanic-Serving Institution status, and the Black or African-American population will reach a record 9.9%.
The Southwestern community celebrated old traditions in new ways. Trombley worked closely with the presidents of the universities in Southwestern’s two athletic conferences, the Southern Collegiate Athletic Conference and the American Southwest Conference, to ensure the safety of student-athletes and the continuation of Pirate Athletics. The University hosted its first virtual homecoming, with 859 alumni and community members representing 20 states and eight countries engaging in at least one of the 50 programs held over the weeklong event. In May, Southwestern held not one but two commencements: one for the class of 2020 and one for the class of 2021.
In addition to ensuring Southwestern survived the present, Trombley led efforts to actively plan for the University’s future. To that end, she established a 20-person Tactical Planning Task Force, which included representatives from all constituency groups. The task force reviewed 237 proposed initiatives for a new Five-Year Tactical Plan, ultimately narrowing them down to an implementable 36. The Board of Trustees unanimously and enthusiastically approved the plan, which focuses on five priority initiatives: diversity, inclusion, belonging, and equity; retention; program development; physical and technological infrastructure; and competitive compensation.
Despite the myriad challenges and dire prognostications, the University ended the year stronger than ever under Trombley’s leadership. The Southwestern community came together, found innovative solutions to previously unimaginable circumstances, and demonstrated resilience in the face of overwhelming odds. As she begins her second year as president, Trombley is committed to ensuring Southwestern University continues to excel and provide a world-class educational experience.
The Inauguration of Laura Skandera Trombley as the 16th President of Southwestern University