Pareena Lawrence has been named as the new president of Hollins University, a private women’s college based in Roanoke, Virginia. The University of Delhi graduate, who came to the U.S. in 1989 to earn her Ph.D. in economics from Purdue University, is the first minority woman to serve as president in the university’s 175-year history. She will assume the leadership role in July 2017, succeeding retiring president Nancy Oliver Gray.
Hollins University is one of the oldest women’s universities in the U.S. It has an undergraduate and graduate population of about 800 students. Addressing faculty and students on the day she was named president, Lawrence spoke of her roots and growing up in a household of modest means in Northern India. As a teenager, she was given the opportunity to attend an all-girls high school. “It had a transformational impact on me,” said Lawrence. “I grew in self-confidence, found my voice, developed grit and determination, and learned how to set goals and achieve them.”
She was heavily recruited by the school and turned down other institutions to make Hollins her home. Current president Nancy Oliver Gray is retiring after serving in the role for 12 years. Lawrence takes office in July 2017, she is currently the provost and chief academic officer of Augustana College. Lawrence has a proven track record of doing big things, and she’s hoping to do even more at Hollins.
On a college campus, a sweatshirt gift from the student body was as good as gold for new Hollins President Pareena Lawrence at her introduction Tuesday night. The Indian-born educator has focused on liberal arts, women’s education and international development her entire life.
“As I put all these pieces together it just felt like I’d come full circle and it was time to go lead a women’s only Liberal Arts college,” Lawrence said. Women’s-only education was recently thrust into the national spotlight following the happenings at nearby Sweet Briar College. Lawrence sees this as a prime opportunity for Hollins to thrive across the globe.