Friday, March 1, 2024

New William & Mary President Katherine Rowe plots university’s future

William & Mary President Katherine Rowe tours the Intergrated Science Center. She plans to spend much of her first year at W&M meeting with the university community. (WYDaily photo/ Steve Salpukas, W&M)
William & Mary President Katherine Rowe tours the Integrated Science Center. She plans to spend much of her first year at W&M meeting with the university community. (WYDaily/Courtesy Stephen Salpukas, W&M)

New William & Mary President Katherine A. Rowe has been an innovator all her life, and she plans to infuse that spirit throughout the university to ensure that students will be able to adapt as their careers change decades from now.

That innovative spirit is reflected not only in her academic career, but also in the office she occupies on the second floor of the university’s Brafferton Building. Instead of the traditional president’s office furnished with a heavy desk and leather chairs — like that of W. Taylor Reveley III, who presided over the university for a decade before Rowe — the space now looks like that of a tech startup, with a standing desk, a conference table and, most importantly, a large whiteboard where she can jot ideas during meetings.

And just as Rowe, 55, has transformed the president’s office, she also has seen her career change over the years.

“I’ve been a teacher, scholar, parent, an entrepreneur, an administrator and president,” she told WYDaily during an hour-long interview in her office. “I’ve loved all of those identities, and they fit together very well.”

Possessing a combination of agility, adaptability and critical thinking will be the best benchmarks of success for W&M students as they graduate and embark on their careers, Rowe said.

“Half of the jobs students are graduating into won’t exist in 10 years, and half of the jobs that will exist haven’t been created,” she said. “They will redesign themselves over and over, four or five times in the course of their careers.”

Related: William & Mary names Katherine Rowe as its first female president

To illustrate her point, Rowe recounted meeting one student was a double major in economics and dance. While those may seem like to disparate fields of study, Rowe said the combination shows that W&M students are not only high-achieving but are seeking more than a traditional education.

“These students are ones who are drawn to breadth and are exploring breadth in different modes of learning,” she said. “I think that would be an enormous asset for them going forward.”

That forward thinking also is what made the president position at W&M so appealing, Rowe said. Before coming to W&M, she was provost at Smith College, a women’s liberal arts school in Northampton, Massachusetts.

“I was of course attracted as a Renaissance scholar to a place with such a deep history,” she said. ”I’m impressed that that history is one of self-transformation. Advance the mission via innovation and transformation is the 325-year story of William and Mary.”

New WIlliam & Mary President Katherine A. Rowe receives a standing ovation before beginning her remarks during her swearing-in ceremony Monday, July 2, 2018, in the Great Hall at the Wren Building. (WYDaily/Bryan DeVasher)
New Willliam & Mary President Katherine A. Rowe receives a standing ovation before beginning her remarks during her swearing-in ceremony Monday, July 2, 2018, in the Great Hall at the Wren Building. (WYDaily/Bryan DeVasher)

Setting priorities

Rowe has spent the first months of her presidency getting to know students, faculty and alumni, as well as the Williamsburg community.

Rowe recently revealed her Thinking Forward initiative, in which she will spend much of her first year in office meeting with students, faculty, staff, parents and the community to gather input on the future of not only knowledge, but also work and service.

Related: New William & Mary president Katherine Rowe promises to foster diversity, drive innovation

“How is your working life changing? What’s important about that?” she asked. “How is your learning life or your research changing? What’s important about those changes coming down the pike from your discipline?

“We need to know as an institution in order to chart those two decades ahead,” she said. “We have to be thinking long-term because we are committed to being here for eternity.”

In addition to meeting with the community, Rowe also has traveled to New York, Washington, Florida, Richmond and elsewhere to meet alumni and gather their input.

Her first priority, however, is ensuring the university’s For The Bold campaign reaches its goal of $1 billion by 2020. The campaign, which has raised more than $800 million so far, aims to make W&M more affordable for a wide range of students.

“It’s one of the best ways to support our students,” Rowe said. “Every institution of higher education is concerned about affordability. I appreciate coming to a place where affordability is so front of mind.”

New WIlliam & Mary President Katherine A. Rowe greets a well-wisher while others wait to meet her after her swearing in Monday, July 2, 2018, at the Wren Building. (WYDaily/Bryan DeVasher)
New William & Mary President Katherine A. Rowe greets a well-wisher while others wait to meet her after her swearing in Monday, July 2, 2018, at the Wren Building. (WYDaily/Bryan DeVasher)

Commitment to diversity

For Rowe, a diverse student body and faculty is one of the best ways to guarantee long-term success for W&M graduates.

“If you want to solve a problem, put a diverse set of problem-solvers together.” she said. “The more diverse a community, the more quick and sophisticated the solutions are.”

Rowe applauded the university’s efforts over the past several years to diversify the faculty, but, she said, “we have more to do.”

She also praised the university for the steps it has implemented since 2015 to combat sexual violence.

“It’s impressed me how proactive this institution has been to address sexual assault and harassment on campus,” she said.

Athletics also play a role

Rowe is, at heart, an athlete, and she has played and coached ultimate Frisbee and soccer since her college days. She views sports as an integral component of W&M’s progress.

“I see athletics as deeply intertwined with the future of the institution,” she said. “Success in athletics will advance every other institutional goal that we have.”

Rowe recently met Tribe football coach Jimmye Laycock when she and her husband, Bruce Jacobson, dropped in on a practice. Laycock will step down as coach at the end of this season, and a national search is under way to find his replacement.

“I feel very fortunate that I get to spend his final season with him,” she said.

Bryan DeVasher
Bryan DeVasherhttp://wydaily.com
Bryan DeVasher is the managing editor-digital of WYDaily. A resident of Hampton Roads for more than two decades, he has worked for news organizations in Virginia, Illinois, Missouri and Indiana. He most recently was a member of the public relations staff for Virginia State Police.

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