Brief Q/A with Dr. Catharine O’Connell

January 14, 2009

What stands out for you, even this early, about Mary Baldwin and what makes it special, unique?

From the moment I set foot on the beautiful campus I was struck by the energy of the faculty, staff, and students. There is a palpable sense of community at Mary Baldwin that is invigorating and inviting. I was particularly impressed by the students I met who were diverse in many ways but all had in common a gracious confidence, a well-articulated sense of civic responsibility, and a clear professional direction which are remarkable traits in undergraduate students. The emphasis on leadership education at Mary Baldwin is evident in the students and it is wonderful to so clearly see an institution’s values expressed through its students.

Have you thought yet about what you may want to do first?

My first goal will be to get to know the faculty and curriculum in order to understand areas of distinction within the academic program and therefore be able to assess potential opportunities that position the college well for the future and express Mary Baldwin’s academic values.

What role do you hope to play in Mary Baldwin’s future? How do you see your leadership serving the college’s strategic plan Composing Our Future?

Mary Baldwin has done a good job of looking toward the future while preserving its history and traditions. There are several current and recent initiatives that are very forward looking. Providing an array of educational opportunities for non-traditional students in multiple locations while preserving the importance of the residential college is one. Another is the manifest commitment to diversity and to education for civic and global engagement that are responsive to the increasingly inter-cultural and international world of the 21st Century. All of these efforts work together to advance the personal transformation of students, academic excellence, and a vibrant intellectual climate, as expressed very well in the strategic plan, Composing Our Future. I look forward to working with faculty and administrative colleagues to take the next steps in realizing the goals of the strategic plan. Even from a brief acquaintance with the college I see many exciting opportunities that result from Mary Baldwin’s having been responsive to a changing world and intentional about clearly articulating its educational values.

As you have expressed, you enjoy the art of collaborative/shared decision-making. Can you tell us why that works well for you and how you believe it benefits a college community like Mary Baldwin?

Collaborative decision making and shared governance is at the heart of an academic institution. I have spent my professional career at small schools and have always enjoyed personal interactions with colleagues in the process of working to strengthen policies and academic offerings. The serious inquiry and lively debate that attend academic decision making helps to ensure that the end product is informed by the perspectives of individuals with a range of personal and disciplinary values.

How does your family feel about this move?

My husband Matt remarked during our visit that he felt an immediate connection to the members of the community he met. We look forward to getting to know the larger Staunton community and this lovely region of Virginia.