Interview with St. Michael’s College President Lorraine Sterritt
St. Michael’s College in Colchester, founded in the Catholic intellectual tradition — which also recognizes the principles of social justice and compassion — is a selective, fully residential Catholic college. The closely connected community provides internationally respected liberal arts and graduate education. To prepare for fulfilling careers and meaningful lives, young adults there grow intellectually, socially and morally, learning to be responsible for themselves, one another and their world. The new president of St. Michael’s College in Colchester, Lorraine Sterritt, answered the following questions posed by Vermont Catholic Content Editor/Staff Reporter Cori Fugere Urban.
What led you to a career in higher education?
A deep love of learning and a desire to facilitate the education of others.
What challenges currently face colleges and universities, in general?
Among the most significant challenges are affordability and changing demographics.
- Affordability: Families struggle with the cost of education, and while institutions do what they can to help make education affordable through scholarships and financial aid, for many that help is not enough. There are bright spots, however. For example, St. Michael’s was invited to participate in the American Talent Initiative, a national effort among the country’s leading academic institutions to enroll and graduate promising, low-and moderate-income students. I believe that American companies needing well-educated employees increasingly see the value of investing in education in order to secure a promising future for our country.
- Demographic changes: Certain areas of the country are experiencing growth in the number of college-bound students, while other areas are experiencing declines.
What specific challenges — such as enrollment — is St. Michael’s facing, and how do you plan to address these challenges?
- The college has recently increased its efforts to reach out to areas from which we currently draw students and also to develop new markets for students. We are also planning to introduce new academic programs, publicize the success of our graduates and expand and promote our degree-in-three program, which enables students to attain a degree in three years.
How does your faith influence your work in higher education?
- I am a member of the Catholic Church. My work in higher education has always been closely aligned with my Christian faith. St. Michael’s College, founded by the Society of St. Edmund, espouses the principle that there is more to success and fulfillment than doing well; one must also do good. I fully agree.
How will you work with the Society of St. Edmund, founders of the college, in promoting the Catholic faith on the campus of St. Michael’s College?
I very much enjoy working with the Edmundites. Their constant supportive presence, their kindness, their hospitality and their ministry all play special roles in the development of our students, regardless of their faith traditions. The Edmundites radiate a sense of invitation by gentle attraction through daily example. Given their charism of hospitality, they honor and respect differences among members of our community. Our campus ministers are always present for all our students, but opportunities abound for interested students to be active in Catholic retreats; to participate in Sunday liturgies as lectors, servers and musicians; to engage in an abundance of volunteer service activities; or to receive Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults instruction. Edmundites teach courses in religious studies and are highly visible and beloved on campus. Two of our Edmundite priests host “The Edmundite Show” on YouTube. Our curriculum gives all of our students the opportunity to learn about Catholicism.
What are your top three priorities as president of St. Michael’s College?
- Ensuring the quality of our educational programs and the welfare of our faculty, staff and students
Please comment on your distinction as the first female president of the college.
- I am honored to be the first female president of the college. It is timely since there is currently so much conversation about the important roles of women in society. We know from the story of Martha and Mary that Jesus welcomed the full participation of women in intellectual discussion and the life of the mind.
In general, how do you see St. Michael’s College moving into the next 20 years?
- Since I have just arrived, and since I have met with only a portion of the community, it would be presumptuous of me at this point to lay out a vision for the college for the next 20 years. That said, the college must continue its strong emphasis on the liberal arts and the Catholic intellectual tradition. It must also create new academic programs and more opportunities for students to gain the knowledge and skills to be successful in their careers and to address the new challenges and opportunities the world faces. St. Michael’s College will continue its culture of service to humanity in the Catholic tradition.
—Originally published in the Fall 2018 issue of Vermont Catholic magazine.