Meet 7 women leading US News’ top liberal arts colleges

Daily Briefing

Meet 7 women leading US News’ top liberal arts colleges

This story is Part Two in our series about woman leaders in higher ed. Read Part One here: Meet 7 women leading top-ranked US colleges.

Among the top 10 liberal arts colleges in the United States (as ranked by the U.S. News & World Report), seven are led by women.

That’s a much higher share of female presidents than you see when looking across all U.S. colleges, where women represent 30% of presidents, according to a 2016 report from the American Council on Education (ACE). ACE also found that only 5% of college presidents are women of color and 78% of today’s women presidents are serving their first presidency.

Here’s a snapshot of the seven women who lead U.S. News‘ top-ranked liberal arts colleges, including where and what they studied and their presidential priorities.


Maud Mandel, Williams College

© Williams College

Alma Mater: Oberlin College

Major: English

Mandel began her tenure as the 18th president of Williams on July 1, 2018. Prior to her presidency, Mandel was the dean of history and Judaic studies at Brown University, where she prioritized diversity and inclusion, boosted retention of underrepresented students in STEM, and helped establish the university’s First-Generation College and Low-Income Student Center (Williams College site, accessed 7/26).


Carolyn Martin, Amherst College

© 2016 Amherst College

Alma Mater: College of William and Mary

Major: English

Martin is the first woman and openly gay president at Amherst. Before she became president, Martin served as a provost at Cornell University, where she implemented a financial aid initiative that replaced need-based loans with grants for all undergraduate students from families with incomes under $75,000 (Amherst College Flickr album, accessed 7/27).


Valerie Smith, Swarthmore College

© 2018 Swarthmore College

Alma Mater: Bates College

Major: English

Smith has served as Swarthmore’s president since 2015. Her key priorities as president include attracting more low-income and first-generation students, innovating the curriculum, and strengthening relationships between the college and the region (Swarthmore College site, accessed 7/27).


Paula Johnson, Wellesley College

© 2016 Wellesley College

Alma Mater: Harvard University

Major: Bachelor of Arts

Johnson is the 14th president of Wellesley. Before Wellesley, Johnson worked to uncover gender biases in biomedical research and healthcare. Her 2013 TED Talk, “His and Hers… healthcare,” which tackled sex differences in treating disease, was named one of the “10 talks by women that everyone should watch” (Wellesley College site, accessed 7/27).


Laurie L. Patton, Middlebury College

© Middlebury College

Alma Mater: Harvard University

Major: Bachelor of Arts

Patton, Middlebury’s 17th president, is the first woman to lead the university in its 218-year history. In her first years as president, Patton launched initiatives to strengthen the relationships between the institution’s campuses, raised more than $35 million in financial aid scholarships, and introduced several programs on inclusivity (Middlebury College site, accessed 7/27).


G. Gabrielle Starr, Pomona College

© 2018 Pomona College

Alma Mater: Emory University

Major: Women’s Studies

Starr took office as Pomona’s 10th president in July 2017. Starr previously served as the dean for New York University‘s College of Arts and Sciences. As the dean, Starr launched a partnership with New York City’s largest community college to create a STEM pipeline and co-founded a cross-university prison education program (Pomona College site, accessed 7/27).


Carol Quillen, Davidson College

© 2017 Davidson College

Alma Mater: University of Chicago

Major: American history

Quillen has served as Davidson’s president since 2011. Her priorities include reimagining the liberal arts experience and fostering student-and-faculty research collaborations. She previously served as the vice president for international and interdisciplinary initiatives at Rice University (Davidson College Flickr album, accessed 7/27).

(U.S. News & World Report rankings, accessed 7/26; Brown University press release, 3/13; Williams College site, accessed 7/26; Gold Boutilier, Amherst Magazine, 2011; Amherst College site, accessed 7/26; Swarthmore College site, accessed 7/26; Wellesley College site, accessed 7/26; Middlebury College site, accessed 7/26; Pomona College site, accessed 7/26; Davidson College site, accessed 7/26)

Another good place to find your next president? Student affairs