Distinctive Leadership Program Focuses on the Presidency as a Calling

​“This is not about how. This is about why.” With these words, Frederik Ohles, president emeritus of Nebraska Wesleyan University and CIC senior advisor, began CIC’s 2019–2020 Presidential Vocation and Institutional Mission summer seminar. The yearlong program for senior college administrators who are considering the presidency began with this seminar held in Woodstock, Vermont, July 14–17, 2019.

Now in its tenth year, this distinctive leadership development program seeks to increase the number of effective presidencies of independent colleges and universities by helping prospective presidents clarify their sense of vocation, or the purpose of their life and work, and weigh it in the context of the missions of institutions they might lead in the future. “The purpose of this seminar is to help those already in senior leadership positions discern whether they may be ‘called’ to the presidency, and if so, where and why” explained program director Ohles. Nearly 35 percent of all past participants in the program have gone on to serve as college presidents, with higher percentages from the earliest participants. The program is funded by a generous grant from Lilly Endowment Inc.

Twenty senior college and university administrators participated in the summer seminar (see participant list). “The program excelled in many ways,” reflected Mark A. Roberts, provost and vice president for academic affairs at Reinhardt University (GA). “The readings were well chosen and served as highly effective jumping-off points for rich and engaging discussions. The various sessions, from plenary to small group to individual consultations, allowed participants to reflect deeply on the value of responding to a call and the importance of being devoted to a mission that serves a purpose larger than the singular self.”

Another distinctive feature is that prospective presidents participate in the program with their spouses or partners. As full participants, spouses are encouraged to seek their own sense of fulfillment, whether in the role of presidential partner or in any other occupation. This year, 17 of the 20 prospective presidents participated with spouses or partners. For Deborah R. Garrison, provost and vice chancellor for academic affairs at Methodist College (IL), “The inclusion of spouses was tremendously helpful to me. My husband and I enjoyed the opportunity to prepare for and participate in the seminar together. This has broadened my perspective on how we would be able to work together to achieve the mission of an institution and to stay grounded in what is most important to each of us.”

In addition to Ohles, others who have thought deeply about matters of personal vocation and institutional mission as they are related to the college or university presidency lent their expertise. Facilitators included Steven and Jane Bahls, president and presidential spouse, respectively, of Augustana College (IL); Donna Carroll, president of Dominican University (IL); Christopher and Constance Currier Holoman, president and presidential spouse, respectively, of Centenary College of Louisiana; and Rosemary Ohles, former presidential spouse of Nebraska Wesleyan University. Facilitators shared their own vocational discernment process from their experiences as presidents and presidential spouses. They also led discussions on readings that ranged from excerpts from David Brooks’s The Second Mountain: The Quest for a Moral Life, to the poetry of Audre Lorde and Robert Frost, to Aristotle’s Ethics. Harry E. Dumay, president of Elms College (MA), and his wife, Maggie Dumay, who recently participated in the program as a prospective presidential couple, served as guest speakers. With the conclusion of the opening seminar, the participants will continue to engage in formal individual consultations with the program facilitators and informal dialogue with each other throughout the year. Participants will gather again for a winter seminar, February 24–25, 2020, at the Emory Conference Center in Atlanta, Georgia.

Group photo of participants seated at tables outside
Participants in the 2019–2020 Presidential Vocation and Institutional Mission gathered for a welcoming dinner during the summer seminar in Woodstock, Vermont, July 14–17, 2019.


​Bellarmine University (KY)
Sean Ryan, Senior Vice President

Benedict College (SC)
Ceeon D. Quiett Smith, Chief of Staff

Brevard College (NC)
Debora D’Anna, Vice President for Student Success and Dean of Students

Concordia College (MN)
Lisa Sethre-Hofstad, Vice President for Student Development and Campus Life

Culver-Stockton College (MO)
William F. Sheehan, Jr., Vice President for Institutional Advancement and Alumni Programs

Eckerd College (FL)
Kelly Kirschner, Vice President and Dean, Executive and Continuing Education

Edgewood College (WI)
Dean A. Pribbenow, Vice President for Academic Affairs and Academic Dean
Gonzaga University (WA)
Judith A. Biggs Garbuio, Associate Provost for Student Development

Hanover College (IN)
Dewain Lee, Vice President for Student Life and Dean of Students

Hiram College (OH)
Elizabeth Okuma, Vice President and Dean of Students
Juniata College (PA)
Lauren Lee Bowen, Provost

Kansas Wesleyan University
Melanie B. Overton, Vice President for Advancement and Admissions

Methodist College (IL)
Deborah R. Garrison, Provost and Vice Chancellor for Academic Affairs

Mount Mercy University (IA)
Nathan Daniel Klein, Vice President for Student Success
Mount St. Mary’s University (MD)
Wayne Green, Vice President and Chief of Staff

Reinhardt University (GA)
Mark A. Roberts, Provost

St. Ambrose University (IA)
Sandra L. Cassady, Vice President for Strategic Initiatives and Dean of the College of Health and Human Services

St. Edward’s University (TX)
Kimberly Kvaal, Vice President for Finance and Administration

St. Lawrence University (NY)
Karl Schonberg, Vice President and Dean of Academic Affairs

Stephens College (MO)
Brian Sajko, Vice President for Enrollment Management


CIC is now accepting nominations for the 2020–2021 Presidential Vocation and Institutional Mission program for prospective presidents. Senior administrators who currently serve CIC member institutions and who are contemplating a college presidency are encouraged to seek nomination by their president for this rigorous and rewarding professional development opportunity. Participants are selected from nominations by current CIC presidents who believe their senior administrators have the potential to become effective presidents and may benefit from the reflective nature of the program.

The nomination deadline is February 7, 2020. View more information and the nomination materials, or contact Harold V. Hartley III, CIC senior vice president, at (202) 466-7230 or hhartley@cic.nche.edu.