Edmundson preparing for life after Wilson

April 24, 2011|By JENNIFER FITCH |
  • Lorna Duphiney Edmundson has been president of Wilson College since 2001. She will mark her last day at the Chambersburg, Pa., college on June 15.
Submitted photo

CHAMBERSBURG, Pa. — For 10 years, Lorna Duphiney Edmundson has been one of the “Wilson Women” at Wilson College, but the campus president is preparing to turn over the school’s helm to her successor.

Edmundson, the women’s college’s 18th president, will mark her last day June 15, turning over the position to Pittsburgh library system’s Barbara K. Mistick.

Edmundson was living and working in Vermont when she received a call from the Women’s College Coalition about the Wilson presidency. She dove into conversations with the search committee to learn more about the board, finances and programs.

“I was drawn by the mission and values,” said Edmundson, who joined Wilson in 2001.

Edmundson’s first visit to the campus left a good impression, despite miserable weather. Edmundson said the buildings’ architecture awed her as rain fell on a frigid day.

“Of course, the real work is not done with the buildings, it’s done with the people,” Edmundson said.

Women’s colleges succeed because they provide a learning environment free of social constrictions for young women in their formative years, Edmundson said.

Wilson College’s traditions, such as the annual visit to Sarah Wilson’s grave, link students to alumnae, according to Edmundson.

“It’s because of their meaning they continue on,” Edmundson said of traditions. “All human beings like to be a part of something bigger than themselves. It creates a sense of belonging and meaning.”

Wilson College allows male students ages 24 and older in its classes, but not its dormitories.

In her decade at Wilson, Edmundson said she strived to put people first. The college added eight full-time faculty members and did not undergo furloughs or layoffs in the recession.

“A lot of colleges had to gut the faculty and staff to make budget,” Edmundson said.

The endowment grew from $35 million to $70 million, Edmundson said. The school became more generous in its financial-aid packages when families struggled in the down economy, she said.

“Lorna’s been a real visionary for the school. ... Just look at the endowment of Wilson and the fundraising over the past 10 years: Lorna has been important in that,” said Steve Oldt, an economics graduate and retired Orrstown Bank chief operating officer.

Oldt is finishing his second three-year term on Wilson College’s board of trustees.

The college is recruiting abroad and on the West Coast to reach an enrollment goal of 1,000, according to Edmundson. Today’s enrollment is about 800.

More than 50 students have graduated from Wilson’s “Women With Children” program that allows single mothers to live on campus with their children. Wilson was the first college in the country to offer the program; now, a half-dozen schools do.

Edmundson said 50 schools remain members of the Women’s College Coalition, compared to 326 in the 1970s. She said the schools need to work together as a sector to advance their position.

After June 15, Edmundson plans to spend time with her husband, Dan, as well as her daughters and grandchildren while starting consulting work. She wants to further her Fulbright Scholar research concerning Japanese and American female visionaries.

“It’s really been an honor for me and very rewarding that Wilson is my last full-time administrative position in higher education,” Edmundson said.

“We’re going to miss her tremendously. There’s no question about that,” Oldt said.

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