Higher education

Coe College welcomes first-ever provost

Paula O'Loughlin chosen for her 'student-centered approach and personality'

Paula O’Loughlin, new provost and dean of the faculty at Coe College, meets with a group of summer research students in the Peterson Hall of Science in Cedar Rapids on Thursday, July 14, 2016. (Liz Martin/The Gazette)
Paula O’Loughlin, new provost and dean of the faculty at Coe College, meets with a group of summer research students in the Peterson Hall of Science in Cedar Rapids on Thursday, July 14, 2016. (Liz Martin/The Gazette)
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The days were never long enough for Paula O’Loughlin, who as a University of Minnesota Morris political science professor was teaching, heading a variety of campus committees and engaging students in one-on-one meetings.

So she moved to “the dark side,” commonly referred to as administration, landing a job in 2012 as associate provost and dean of arts and humanities at Gustavus Adolphus College in Saint Peter, Minn.

“I basically had 25 to 30 years left in my career, and I had done all I could without moving into administration,” O’Loughlin said. “I just realized I needed to start creating systems.”

But years before the East Coast native jumped from her faculty post at Morris to the Gustavus administration, she encountered Coe College in Cedar Rapids and experienced a kindred connection. The first rendezvous came around 2000 when O’Loughlin visited Coe for an undergraduate political science conference. She came a second time for the same conference years later.

“I fell in love with the campus on both of my visits and thought, ‘If I ever become an administrator and leave Morris, this is the place I want to go,’” O’Loughlin said.

Earlier this month, she did just that — becoming Coe’s first-ever provost on July 1. As both provost and dean of faculty, O’Loughlin serves as Coe’s chief academic officer and faculty head responsible for the college’s academic programs and policies.

She replaces Marie Baehr, who has moved from vice president for academic affairs and dean of faculty to special assistant to the president. Baehr and O’Loughlin are working with President David McInally on implementing the college’s new five-year strategic plan, which aims to make the campus more inclusive, increase its overall internationalization, create a center for careers and creativity and further integrate the new learning commons.

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A more inclusive campus could mean a shift in demographics at the faculty, staff and administrative levels, O’Loughlin said.

“Our world is changing, and our student bodies are changing, and we want the campus’ faculty, staff and administration to mirror that student population so that students can see themselves in the Coe community,” she said.

Diversity on campus includes minority, international, low-income and first-generation students, O’Loughlin said.

For the last two years, about 30 percent of Coe’s incoming class has come from underrepresented populations. That is up from 18 percent in 2013 and 19 percent for the entering class in fall 2012, according to Coe spokesman Rod Pritchard.

O’Loughlin said she still thrives on student interaction, which she’s had every day since arriving at Coe.

“I just loved the faculty-student interaction,” she said. “I loved the fact that students were talking about internships and study abroad and undergraduate research. I loved the fact there was a hunger for knowledge and making a difference in the world.”

O’Loughlin, 52, grew up in Connecticut with an older sister and three younger brothers and earned her bachelor’s degree from Smith College in Northampton, Mass. She earned a doctorate from University of Minnesota Morris and co-parents 15-year-old triplets with her female partner.

The family is staying in Minnesota until the children graduate high school. She said she hopes they attend Coe.

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McInally said Coe officials decided to create a provost position after surveying similar colleges and finding most use the title for the senior academic officer.

“‘Provost’ conveys that this is an academic leadership position and differentiates it from the other vice presidents at the college, which we think is appropriate for an institution where the primary emphasis is top-caliber academics,” he said in an email.

The college found O’Loughlin through a national search, McInally said.

“We chose her because she has strong experience and skills in areas that are strategic priorities for the college, including curriculum, faculty leadership, innovative and interdisciplinary academic programs and diversity and inclusion,” he said. “We also selected her because she has a student-centered approach and personality, which is essential for a national residential liberal arts college such as Coe.”

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