Suzanne Rivera takes the helm this summer as the first female and Latino president of Macalester College in St. Paul — the product of a search calling for among other things a strong storyteller and bold and optimistic leader.
Inspirational, in other words, according to Jerry Crawford, chairman of the college's board of trustees, who upon the announcement of her hiring Monday pointed not just to Rivera's rise from humble beginnings to the heights of academia, but also to her success as the starting point guard of her high school basketball team.
This despite being just 4 feet, 11 inches tall.
"I think that tells you a little bit about her tenacity," Crawford said.
Rivera, currently vice president for research and technology development at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, won the unanimous approval of trustees during a meeting Friday. She will succeed Brian Rosenberg, who announced last spring he was stepping down and plans to leave the college in May.
In his 17-year tenure atop one of the state's most selective private campuses, Rosenberg helped guide the recruitment of a more diverse student body and gained a national profile as an advocate for the liberal arts.
Rivera said in a news release Monday that it was "an incredible honor and privilege to join the Macalester family. This is a community where curious people thrive, where individuality is celebrated and where the purpose of education is to equip students with tools to make an impact in the wider world."
She emerged as the top candidate among about nine who interviewed in the fall, Crawford said.
Her starting salary is confidential, a Macalester spokeswoman said.
At Case Western Reserve, Rivera has served as an associate professor of bioethics focusing on national research policy and the use of human subjects in studies. A Q&A released last summer by the university said she has explored the ethical, legal and social implications of the practice, and examined the barriers preventing some members of underrepresented and underserved communities from getting involved.
She also co-founded an affinity group for Hispanic/Latino faculty and staff at the university.
"I think most people feel affirmed when they have a sense of belonging within a community," Rivera was quoted as saying.
The daughter of Cuban immigrants, Rivera grew up in a family in need of services that included food stamps and help from social workers. Of her high school years, she, too, has noted that she was the MVP of her basketball team, but added: "We were pretty awful."
She earned a B.A. degree in American civilization from Brown University in Providence, R.I., in 1991, and a master of social welfare degree from the University of California, Berkeley in 1993. She switched careers to academia before earning a doctorate of philosophy in public affairs from the University of Texas at Dallas in 2008.
"Because my own undergraduate experience was so transformative, I'm delighted to have lucked into a career that let me be a part of the academy that opened so many doors for me," she said in the Q&A.
At Macalester, she is expected to spend her opening months listening and learning about Macalester and its culture and priorities, Crawford said. He said she would not be expected to carve out a new strategic plan for the college, but determine "where she can put a mark on it from a priorities standpoint."
Her personal story, and commitment to equity, should be an asset in hiring a more diverse faculty and staff, he added.
When Rosenberg announced his departure, Macalester had about 2,170 students, with roughly a quarter made up of international students. During his tenure, the share of domestic students of color rose from 12% to 26%, and the faculty grew more diverse as well.
Crawford said he often is asked if someone can fill Rosenberg's shoes, and that he has replied that it's "like trying to fill Mickey Mantle's shoes."
Rivera, he said, has the qualities needed to be Macalester's "next all-star president."