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On July 1, 2014, Lori Varlotta was installed as the 22nd president of Hiram College. The veteran college administrator came to Hiram because of its stellar reputation in academics, its campus life and its standing as an educational pillar in Northeast Ohio and beyond. She also chose Hiram because of the College’s commitment to future growth. Here is a closer look at Varlotta, her history and her drive to maximize Hiram’s potential.
Lori Varlotta was drawn to apply for the presidency at Hiram College because of its history as a leading liberal arts institution with a curriculum that emphasizes the real-world application of classroom concepts.
However, when she accepted the job in February 2014, it was with a sharp focus on the future. Varlotta wants Hiram to maximize its potential not just as a traditional liberal arts college but also as an educational resource for the entire region.
“Liberal arts colleges are often criticized for offering a course of study that is disconnected from everyday life,” Varlotta says. “The myth is that these colleges prioritize theoretical and abstract reasoning to the near exclusion of hands-on learning.”
Varlotta says that simply is not true.
“Hiram College promotes all kinds of applied learning, from internships to service-learning opportunities, to community-based research projects,” she says. “Together, these experiential opportunities help students apply theory to practice while simultaneously exposing them to real-world situations that may lead to a career. These opportunities also benefit the regional agencies, corporations, small businesses and institutions that partner with us to offer the onsite learning experience. I believe this type of liberal arts education is the gold standard not only for career preparation but for campus-community collaboration, as well.”
A strategic approach
Varlotta has outlined her vision for Hiram in a four-pronged strategy aimed at serving the needs of all Hiram students.
Hiram’s curriculum is unconventional, with students attending classes for 12 weeks per semester, followed by three weeks of intensive, and often hands-on, study in an area of choice. Varlotta wants to build upon this through Hiram Connect, the first of her four strategic initiatives.
“This program connects classroom learning to experiential opportunities like internships,” she says. “It bolsters Hiram’s long-time tradition of ensuring that learning occurs on and far beyond the campus. As part of this initiative, we are contemplating whether we will require one or more out-of-classroom experiences as part of a graduation requirement.”
The second initiative, Hiram Complete, brings the same high-quality programs offered at the traditional College to students who have started their post-secondary study at a community college.
“We are 40 minutes from several urban areas with large community college systems, and we have a unique opportunity to offer a rigorous liberal arts education to students who might not otherwise consider Hiram as a realistic option,” Varlotta says. “We are partnering with community colleges to offer onsite classes to students who are looking to complete a high-quality bachelor’s degree. We are developing new partnerships with Cuyahoga Community College and Lakeland Community College to augment the one we already have with Lorain County Community College.”
Hiram Start, the third initiative, aims to enhance the first-year experience program by concentrating on the retention of freshmen at a time when many students finish their degrees somewhere different from where they started. Hiram Start aims to connect freshmen to peer and faculty advisers from their first day on campus to help them create a niche and a sense of belonging at the start, one of the most important indicators of student satisfaction and success.
Hiram Health, the fourth initiative, is focused on the health care field. Given Hiram’s proximity to world-class health systems, an emphasis on offering hallmark programs in this area makes perfect sense.
“Hiram stands apart from many universities and
colleges in how we educate aspiring health care providers,” Varlotta says. “We provide the curriculum necessary to enter and build a career in the health care field. But we also prepare holistic health care providers who compassionately and adeptly treat the whole person — not just the disease or ailment.”
Varlotta is also working with colleagues to create and enhance programs that promote the health and wellness of faculty and staff.
“We can’t expect students to value and foster their own health if we do not model the way,” she says. “To have a healthy campus, all of us should commit to making good lifestyle decisions. Most of us spend more time at work than we do at home, so it is important to create and sustain a healthy campus environment.”
The four-pronged strategy represents the core of Varlotta’s vision for Hiram’s future but not the entirety of it. In her first months on the job, she has developed a number of additional areas of focus. Most immediately, Varlotta wants to increase enrollment, and Hiram has the capacity already in place after going through building and renovation in the early 2000s.
“We can immediately accommodate more students,” she says. “Developing and implementing a stable and strategic enrollment plan is the College’s highest priority.”
Varlotta wants Hiram to hit the sweet spot when it comes to enrollment.
“We have to pinpoint what full capacity means for Hiram,” she says. “Then, we need to recruit and retain the right number and mix of students to fill that capacity. This means that Hiram will retain the small-college features that have long made Hiram special, but it will grow just enough to ensure that Hiram is strongly positioned for the next 160 years.”
Varlotta says Hiram needs to identify how to use recruitment resources and strategies for maximum effect.
“Do we want to enhance the current diversity that is here by attracting a student body that is even more diverse in terms of race, ethnicity, class and age?” she says. “Do we want to spread the word to more out-of-state students and international students? What are the right enrollment targets at the community colleges? Those are questions we have to answer as we formulate a comprehensive recruitment and enrollment strategy.”
More than anything, Varlotta wants to bring in students, faculty and staff who embody the spirit of Hiram.
“I have heard students, alumni and employees alike talk about the ‘Magic of Hiram,’” she says. “After just a short few months on campus, I am starting to see and feel it myself. This is a place where individual difference thrives amid a community that is cohesive in its caring, where members at all levels of the College treat each other with respect and take pride in fostering an environment that changes lives. Even when things get tough, this is a place that helps all of us be our best selves.”
To read more about President Vorlotta’s relationship with Hiram click here.