Emily Zuniga, one of our news writers, had the opportunity to interview Lawrence University’s next president, Laurie Carter, on Friday, March 5. The two met virtually the day after Carter was announced to be the 17th president of Lawrence. Carter will be the first BIPOC to serve as president at Lawrence, and her tenure will begin July 1, 2021.
Come Spring Term, we will be releasing a full article on Carter’s appointment. Until then, please read the interview transcription below.
Zuniga: What has your career path been like leading up to Lawrence and what influenced you to go into higher education?
Carter: I’ve actually spent my entire career in higher education, and I fell into higher education by accident. I worked as a residence hall director to help fund my master’s degree. I never left the profession after that. So, I worked in residence life, and then my career developed from there.
Zuniga: What was your experience like at Shippensburg University?
Carter: It has been a wonderful experience. We’ve been able to do a lot of really great things. We shifted the focus of the university to equitable student success, so a lot of the work has been directed at helping students achieve their goals. We created a student success center, a first-year experience program that helps students better prepare for success at the university. We revised the general education curriculum to provide a stronger foundation for learning. We have actually had some facilities projects. We created a welcome and alumni center. We restored an old building on campus and created a new welcome center. It’s at the entrance to campus, so as folks come in, they are able to see it. Also, as they are coming into the entrance of campus, we renovated an old steam plant that used to convert coal into energy for our campus. It is now the home of our engineering programs. We created a new facility downtown so that we brought the university into the community, and we call that our Centers of Excellence. It houses our Center for Land Use and Sustainability and our Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation. We built a new locker room to provide more space for our student athletes. We’ve done a lot of work in the DEI, [diversity, equity and inclusion], area. I created the first Chief Diversity Officer position, an executive level position. We created an Anti-Racism Institute, renovated the home of the Minority Student Association, which had fallen into disrepair, and are now engaging in a robust environment of courageous conversations and DEI training as well. We also created a Pride Center which didn’t exist on campus when I arrived. While we were doing all of that, we fixed some financial challenges that we had. Icing on the cake.
Zuniga: I know you did a lot of work to strengthen diversity and inclusion at Shippensburg — is this something you plan on focusing on at Lawrence as well?
Carter: I got a very strong sense from everyone I met with — and I met with a lot of people — I got a very strong sense that [this] work is important at Lawrence. So, I’m excited to engage with the community in that process. I know that there is a lot of thinking already about it and around it. I look forward to spending time listening to folks with where they are and where they think Lawrence can go in this regard as well as connecting with the broader Appleton community. It’s work that has to be done both on- and off-campus. I know that the community members were a big draw for me. There’s such a strong sense of community and such passion for the work. I look forward to engaging with everyone on that.
Zuniga: What drew you to a liberal arts school in general and what drew you to Lawrence specifically?
Carter: I spent 25 years at a place that was steeped in the arts, and that’s really a big part of the attraction to Lawrence. The fact that Lawrence also has this liberal arts component and they’re very coordinated is really what drew me to the institution. I believe that the liberal arts are the foundation for learning that will serve students well into the future. My experience is sort of this arts with a liberal arts core, and Lawrence spoke to that. I was also drawn to Lawrence’s mission and values. I’m a values-based leader, and so it was important to me to feel connected to an institution that shared my values of really trying to support students so that they can learn and develop in the most rich environment.
Zuniga: In my conversations with members of the search committee, the importance of being engaged in both the Conservatory and the college has been stressed. I know that you also worked at Juilliard. How will that experience help you at Lawrence?
Carter: I taught on the liberal arts faculty at Juilliard, so that component is already there for me. As I said, I have a real passion for liberal arts and the skills that students gain through that experience, but I have a passion for the arts as well. When I was at Juilliard, I created a touring program, and I was able to actually see the intersection between that liberal arts piece and the arts. Students perform, but they also facilitated workshops [and] led jazz camps in different places around the country. When we traveled abroad, they would engage in international cross-cultural dialogue and discussion that sometimes had to do with music and sometimes not at all. Watching the students be able to take those liberal arts skills they were learning, being able to communicate effectively, being able to write effectively, to communicate through written medium but also being able to think on their feet, to be able to solve problems within the spaces that we traveled. Also, that understanding of how they could grow from these cross-cultural experiences and really value and appreciate other people. So, the intersection between the two is something that I have actually experienced come to life, and I’m really passionate about the power of it.
Zuniga: What is the most rewarding thing about holding a position within the administration of a university?
Carter: It’s serving students. It’s helping students achieve their goals and their dreams. For me, I love the process of watching students come in and then grow and develop through the academic and extracurricular experience. It’s very, very rewarding.
Zuniga: I know it’s been very heavily publicized that you are the first BIPOC president of Lawrence, and I was wondering if you could speak about the importance of that role?
Carter: Absolutely. It’s a role I take very seriously, and I have actually carried with me through much of my career. I was the first African American administrator at Juilliard. I was the first executive-level administrator at Eastern Kentucky University. I’m the first woman and first African American president at Shippensburg. I understand that with these positions [come] a great deal of responsibility, and that responsibility is to demonstrate to folks that you can achieve these positions regardless of gender, race and that when you are in them you really have to give back. I look forward to working with the BIPOC community as well as young women and the entire community, so folks understand that I’m just like everyone else. I’m just leading the institution perhaps with a different look.
For more information about Carter and her appointment, please follow this link to the recent article from Lawrence’s Communications Office