At his recent inauguration as Emerson College’s 12th president, M. Lee Pelton set out a vision for the future that ranged from establishing stronger civic engagement with the Boston community to transforming the school into a global leader in communications and the arts.
On the stage behind him sat the college's top administrators. This team, much like the fields of communications and the arts, is changing rapidly. From a new vice president of diversity and inclusion to the president’s new special assistant, the college has some important new faces in key positions.
This year the college also will be searching for a new vice president of academic affairs to replace Linda Moore, who is retiring at the end of the academic year after 10 years in the position.
This is the first of a two-part series of thumbnail profiles of some of Emerson's new figures. Part I will introduce three new vice presidents and one associate vice president who’ve joined President Pelton’s inner circle. Part II will feature a cadre of new and interim academic leaders helping to lead the college as it strives to meet the president's goal of making it “the world’s leading institution of higher education in the arts and communication.”
DONNA HEILAND, vice-president and special assistant to the president
Heiland was chosen as Emerson’s first vice president and special assistant to the president this year. Heiland, 53, earned her doctorate at Yale University before teaching English at Northwestern University and Vassar College. She has worked as director of fellowship programs at the American Council of Learned Society and more recently as vice-president of the Teagle Foundation, where she oversaw the day-to-day operations of the foundation’s New York office.
KEY ROLE: "I work with Lee Pelton to help enhance his capacity to implement his agenda as quickly and effectively as we can."
WHY EMERSON: "Emerson was already strong and recognized, but clearly poised for significant and exciting development. And I saw a match between my experience and what was happening here."
GOALS FOR THE YEAR AHEAD: “To learn quickly, use time well, and build effective partnerships across campus."
SYLVIA SPEARS, vice-president of diversity and inclusion
Spears, 56, holds her doctorate in education from the University of Rhode Island. She joined the Emerson community from New England College, where she was serving as assistant vice-president for academic initiatives. Before that, she served in a variety of roles at Dartmouth College, including associate dean of student life, acting senior associate dean, and interim dean of the college. Among her responsibilities will be to chair the Emerson’s diversity council.
KEY ROLE "To build a strong foundation on the diversity and inclusion that already exists, to bring it to the next level and to give voice -- which is the very essence of diversity and inclusion -- by creating a venue for all members of our community to be heard and respected."
WHY EMERSON: "It's that unique niche that Emerson has that was attractive to me,” says Spears. “I think the kinds of people who are gathered here -- the students, the faculty, the staff, the visiting artists -- make it an incredible and vibrant college experience."
GOALS FOR THE YEAR AHEAD: "The goal is for us to push past our conceptualization of inclusion to something bigger,” Spears says. “It's creating programs, policies, practices of diversity at the highest level that leads to inclusion."
JEFFREY SCHOENHERR, vice president for development and alumni relations
Schoenherr, 43, holds a BA in political science from the University of Michigan and five advanced certificates in fundraising and management from Johns Hopkins University. Schoenherr comes to Emerson from Harvard Law School, where he worked as the executive director of development and alumni relations. He also is a columnist for The Chronicle of Higher Education.
KEY ROLE: Schoenherr says he’s here to “increase the engagement of alumni, parents, and friends with the school through new programs, events, and opportunities to volunteer on behalf of Emerson."
WHY EMERSON: "The opportunity that I see here is to really make a difference at a college that is on the cusp of becoming larger than what it has been,” says Schoenherr. “There is a lot of opportunity within academics, within fundraising, and within the community at large in Boston."
GOALS FOR THE YEAR AHEAD: "One of our goals is to try really hard to reach out to students when they're on campus so that students are aware of what the development and alumni relations are and how to participate in events here on campus.” Furthermore, he said, “We are bringing in new people to work with the already existing staff to help us create a better culture of philanthropy."
ELIZABETH DEMSKI, associate vice-president of research and scholarship
Demski stepped into her position this March to help faculty, students, and alumni find external funding for their research and creative scholarship. She came to Emerson with nearly 20 years of experience in academic and community outreach and research development and administration. She has worked in grant and research development at Saint Anselm College, the University of Massachusetts Amherst, and the University of North Carolina Wilmington.
KEY ROLE: To help faculty seek grants and other financial support for their research, everything, notes Demski “from traveling, buying lab equipment, hiring student assistants, and attending conferences.
WHY EMERSON: “Faculty who are research active are better teachers,” says Demski. “They are so appreciative of the presence of the office, which wouldn’t even exist without President Pelton. So the help and support I can give them through this position is what makes it worth it.”
GOALS FOR THE YEAR AHEAD: “We’ve gone from about $300,000 in grant requests to federal agencies and outside organizations per year to nearly $3.5 million in grant requests last year,” Demski says. She hopes to see that figure grow again this year to “help realize President Pelton’s vision for the school as a the premiere leader in arts and communication education.”
This story was written under a partnership between Emerson College and the Globe.