With a mother and cousin who graduated from Scripps College, Lori Bettison-Varga is far from unfamiliar with the women’s college, where she was appointed as the new president on Mar. 28.
“My mother embedded in us a sense of leadership and empowerment that I believe stems directly from her experience at Scripps,” said Bettison-Varga. “She is thrilled and beside herself about this.”
Bettison-Varga’s new position will take effect on July 1, when she will succeed long-time Claremont administrator and professor, President Frederick “Fritz” Weis, who has led the college for nearly two years after the abrupt departure of long-time president Nancy Bekavac.
Bettison-Varga is currently the provost and dean of faculty at Whitman College, a small liberal-arts college in Walla Walla, Wash. Prior to that she was a geology professor at the College of Wooster, in Wooster, Ohio, from 1992 to 2007. She also served as the chair of the Department of Geology and as an associate dean for research and grants at Wooster. From 1990 to 1992 she was a visiting geology professor at Pomona College. Bettison-Varga holds a Ph.D. and M.S. in Geology from UC Davis.
In addition to her experience in teaching and research, Bettison-Varga was president of the Council on Undergraduate Research from 2006 to 2007 and led several national conference programs on undergraduate research.
Bettison-Varga spoke to the Scripps community at an on-campus reception held on Mar. 30.
“I deeply respect Scripps College,” she said. “I pledge myself to improve the global and national recognition of this institution. We’ve got a lot of work to do in the next four years.”
Bettison-Varga said she supports Scripps’s liberal-arts education, emphasis on women’s leadership, the Core program (a multiple-semester humanities requirement for incoming students), the senior-thesis requirement, and the college’s interdisciplinary focus in the humanities.
Bettison-Varga said the most important aspect of the presidential transition is to develop a greater understanding of the issues and goals on which the current administration is working.
“I will be spending a lot of time talking and listening to the various campus folk in a variety of venues,” Bettison-Varga said.
As a scientist, Bettison-Varga is also an advocate for strong science programs and for women in science. To encourage more women to pursue the sciences, Bettison-Varga proposed meetings with the Dean of Faculty to seek science scholarships and programs that are designated for women. Furthermore, she believes that bringing women scientists to campus will make students realize the options available to women.
Admissions counselor and recent Scripps graduate Ashley Peters SC ’08 said that Bettison-Varga’s background will further Scripps’s goal to foster female leadership in the sciences.
“It is particularly exciting that she is a woman who has been an accomplished scientist and a mother, who will serve as an amazing role model on campus,” said Peters.
As part of her initiative to be engaged on campus, Bettison-Varga expects to hold regular meetings with student leadership and the general student body.
“I want people to feel like they can tell me and help me understand what the concerns [of the student body] are,” she said.
Bettison-Varga and her family, including her husband, two children, and mother, will be moving into the Revelle House on the Scripps campus, which currently holds the Office of Alumnae Relations. Bettison-Varga said that her presence on campus will enable her to frequently interact with members of the campus community.
“Living on campus really opens the doors to our home and broadens the scope of the community,” she said.
Bettison-Varga’s appointment as president culminates a two-year search process. This year, four candidates were brought to campus for extensive interviews. The search committee, which was composed of a group of faculty, students, administrators, and trustees, then nominated two finalists for the Board of Trustees. The Board made the final decision to elect Bettison-Varga with input from the search committee and others.