Catching up with President Bettison-Varga
A lot can happen in five years. At Scripps, the College launched its largest-ever campaign and awarded the Ellen Browning Scripps Medal to former U.S. Representative Gabrielle “Gabby” Giffords ’93. Award-winning olive oil was produced from the campus’ trees, launching an annual community event. Scripps College Academy received the National Arts and Humanities Youth Program Award in a White House ceremony. All of these events and firsts took place under the leadership of the College’s eighth president, Lori Bettison-Varga.
In a recent interview with the president, Binti Harvey, Scripps’ chief marketing and communications officer, asks what’s on Bettison-Varga’s mind as she reflects on the last five years and contemplates the next five. The following is an excerpt from their conversation.
Binti Harvey: What accomplishments are you most proud of from your time at Scripps?
Lori Bettison-Varga: I’m very proud that we’ve continued to hire highly accomplished faculty members — their scholarship and dedication to teaching are the key to the College’s reputation for academic excellence. The institution was already on an upward trajectory, so establishing a new team to build on that legacy has been exciting. I’m proud we’re doing a better job of representing the institution authentically and raising our national profile. Our admission materials have been updated to reflect the essence of Scripps and are responsible, in part, for the continuing increase in applications and acceptances.
The completion of the faculty offices is a significant achievement for the campus in the More Scripps Campaign, signifying our focus on enhancing the environment for scholarship and learning. I’m also thrilled that, thanks to the generosity of our donors, we can [permalink href=15]begin construction of a long-awaited new residence hall[/permalink]!
I’m gratified by the transition of student affairs from a tradition of protecting students to a practice of empowering students, which I think always has been a part of the Scripps ethos. I’ve already seen positive results of our efforts to work through co-curricular activities to help students develop shared ownership and responsibility for the Scripps community we all cherish.
BH: Considering the higher education landscape, what do you think is the greatest challenge to Scripps’ future?
LBV: Many people cite the public’s lack of understanding of the value of a liberal arts education. But I think Scripps, The Claremont Colleges, and other highly recognized liberal arts colleges are in a safer place than others because our applications continue to climb. For us, the real challenge is access and affordability — that is, helping families from a broad range of socio-economic backgrounds come to the College. We’re working to increase the number of students from under-represented backgrounds by reaching out more extensively and introducing Scripps College to a population of students who may not think this is a place they should or could go. I want all qualified students to see Scripps as accessible so they can benefit from the wonderful experience we offer. We still have a great deal of work to do. And we will continue to work to keep cumulative loan debt at graduation under the national average.
BH: Looking ahead to the next five years, what initiatives are you most fired up about?
LBV: Definitely the LASPA center. I think it will provide our students, alums, and community even more opportunities to impact society in meaningful ways. The center will enable students to maintain connections with the institution after graduation in ways that help their careers and personal lives. I’m excited about getting questions like, “What are they doing next year?” and “How can I get involved?”
Also, along with faculty, I want to showcase our interdisciplinary Core program and the Humanities Institute as fundamental and critical to our students’ academic experiences. As we expand the humanities experience for the campus community, I’d like that work to broaden our sphere of influence by strengthening connections with alumnae and the external community.
I’m eager to start construction on the new residence hall and bring our students back to campus! The residential life experience is so fundamental to the Scripps experience.
I’m focused on continuing to build the national and international reputation of the College. I don’t think there’s a single institution out there that doesn’t have that as a lynchpin in their vision for the future. Although we’re in a competitive environment, we know what we are and we know what we have, and it is something that needs to be continually brought forward and recognized.
BH: Beyond specific initiatives, what are your highest hopes for Scripps 10 years from now?
LBV: That it continues to thrive. That it continues to be the dynamic institution and scholarly enclave it is today. That we continue to enhance networking between our alumnae and students. That we provide opportunities for our students to build on the academic excellence they have here. That we’re able to expand the number of faculty so we have more scholars to push the goals of the curriculum with a manageable workload. I could go on and on because I’ve got a long list! But I think it’s just more of all the things that Scripps does well. And to have that continued sense of an institution that’s healthy and thriving and a place people want to be.
BH: Is there anything else you would like to share with Scripps Magazine readers?
LBV: What people should know about being president is I mean it when I say it’s a real privilege and an honor to have this job. It’s incredibly, deeply rewarding. It is. It’s a huge responsibility, and I take it seriously.
Binti: And now, the lightning round. Give the first answer that comes to mind, Lori.
BH: What were the last three books you read or remember?
LBV: The Signature of All Things, by Elizabeth Gilbert, In the Garden of Beasts, by Erik Larson, and She’s Not There, by Jennifer Finney Boylan.
BH: What songs are on your most popular playlist right now?
LBV: Mumford and Sons. Love Mumford and Sons! Recently, anything by Heart since I just saw them in concert.
BH: What talent do you wish you had?
LBV: Anything musical. I would love to be able to play the piano. My mom tried to get me to play when I was a senior in high school; she got me lessons. I didn’t have the time.
BH: If I went to your house and looked in the refrigerator right now, what would I find?
LBV: Leftover chicken marsala that my husband, Bob, made. It was really good!
BH: Who would you love to meet or who are your heroes?
LBV: I’ve always wanted to meet Meryl Streep. She has such a talent for bringing strong women to life on screen. The people I’ve always admired most have been close to me, like my mom (Barbara Yunker Bettison ’54). She’s a strong, strong woman who raised four kids on her own. Good Scripps stock there.
BH: Where would you like to travel that you haven’t been — what’s on your bucket list?
LBV: I love to travel. Africa, Italy, Machu Pichu, New Zealand. That’s a diverse list!
BH: What’s your favorite spot on campus?
LBV: Revelle House right now because it feels like the perfect home for our family. It’s on campus and where we entertain, so many other people can enjoy it, too. There are so many beautiful spots, but the place I’m the most connected to is the place I live in, have a family life in, and share with the community.
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