College presidents can come in all shapes and sizes, but these last two weeks illustrate institutional boards’ confidence in hiring academics with battle-tested experience in higher education. Those retiring are also stepping away from an illustrious career in higher education that’s lasted decades.
Cady Short-Thompson of Northern Kentucky University is returning to the university that kickstarted her career in faculty and administration, tasked with pulling it out of a budget deficit and enrollment hole. Wager College’s Angelo Araimo is stepping down from the institution where he’s experienced thirty years of academic and administrative success.
Agenia Walker Clark – Fisk University (Tenn.)
Fisk University, one of the most prestigious universities in Tennessee and the highest-ranked HBCUs in the nation, has found a new leader in the 2021 “Nashvillian of the Year.” Agenia Walker Clark is committing fully to a life in higher education after serving as CEO of the Girl Scouts of Middle Tennessee for the last 19 years.
Clark’s lifelong leadership experience across multiple sectors in Tennessee runs deep. She still currently sits on the Board of Trustees for Belmont University and the Board of Directors for FirstBank Financial Corporation. Previous to her position as CEO for the Girl Scouts, she served as the the vice president of human resources for the Tennessee Education Lottery Corporation, senior director of human resources at Vanderbilt University, and is a trustee emerita for the Haslam School of Business board at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, The Tennessean reports.
Berenecea Johnson Eanes – California State University, Los Angeles
The California State University (CSU) Board of Trustees has appointed Berenecea Johnson Eanes as president of its Los Angeles campus, marking her return to the CSU system. She will be the university’s ninth president and the first woman to lead the university.
Eanes served for CSU at its Fullerton campus from 2012 to 2019 as vice president of student affairs and member of the president’s cabinet. During her time there, she won the Wang Family Excellence Award for implementing a new strategic plan and assembling a task force to address student food and housing insecurity.
Social work is Eanes’ forte. Her experience in faculty and administration extends to multiple esteemed colleges, including Columbia University, Morehouse College and Hamilton College. She most recently began her tenure as a professor in the Department of Social Work at York College (N.Y.) in 2019. A year later, she became the college’s president, where she has been serving since.
Cady Short-Thompson – Northern Kentucky University
In Cady Short-Thompson’s nearly 30 years of service in higher education across three institutions and one nonprofit, she is returning to the institution that kickstarted her career, Western Kentucky University. She will begin her tenure this November to balance NKU’s budget in the next two years and bounce back NKU’s years-long loss of enrollment, WLWT reports.
Short-Thompson’s first stint at NKU as a professor and eventual department chair began in 1996, reports WLWT. She’s spent the last decade first serving as dean of communications at the University of Cincinnati for seven years before becoming provost at Hope College. Most recently, she served as the CEO and executive director at Breakthrough Cincinnati Inc., a tuition-free college preparatory program for high-need middle and high school students.
“I am ecstatic to return home to NKU, where my professional journey began, and to give back to the people and place that invested so fully in me,” said Short-Thompson, according to The Northerner.
Sophie Zdatny – Vermont State Colleges System
Vermont State Colleges System Chancellor Sophie Zdatny announced her plans to resign from duties at the end of the year, marking the latest blow to the system’s leadership and overall stability within the last six years.
Already serving the state colleges for six years, Zdatny was thrust into system leadership during the height of the pandemic after former Chancellor Jeb Spaulding resigned following his announcement to close campuses. However, Zdatny had different plans. In 2023, she oversaw the merger of three public institutions into the newly formed Vermont State University. The university is still in need of an interim president after Parwinder Grewal resigned before the university’s launch date due to protests surrounding his plans to consolidate the state’s libraries and athletic programs.
But after three years navigating the state through difficult cost cuts and extreme change, she believes now is the perfect time for the system to find a new leader to spark a new round of changes – and hopefully, improved stability.
“I feel like now is a perfect time to step away,” Zdatny said, according to Seven Days. “We’ve worked with the legislature to increase the base appropriation; we’ve launched the new university and got accreditation; we’ve got a really strong team in the chancellor’s office.”
Angelo Araimo – Wagner College (N.Y.)
After three decades of service at Wagner College, Angelo Araimo finally reached the precipice of institutional leadership. And this week, he’s calling it a career well done. Araimo announced he is retiring from the State Island college at the end of the current academic year.
While Araimo only served as president for three years after first becoming interim president in October 2021, his legacy is strengthened by his holistic contributions to the college in various positions. As vice president for advancement in 2013, Araimo led eight successful fundraising campaigns, including one that drew more than $1 million in donations in a single day, SI Live reports. As senior vice president responsible for admissions and advancement beginning in 2017, he reaped the rewards of a successful long-term strategy this year as president; this fall saw Wagner’s largest incoming class in five years.
Brooks Keel – Augusta University (Ga.)
Brooks Keel is concluding his eight years as president of Augusta University at the end of the academic year, and whoever comes next has some big shoes to fill.
Keel became the first president of the newly formed Augusta University in 2015 when Georgia Health Sciences University and Augusta State University merged. The institution has seen a 25% increase in enrollment under Keel’s tenure without ever experiencing a decline, Peach Belt Conference reports.