A newsmaker you should know: Leader's term saw a number of large changes at Seton Hill

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When Seton Hill University began a nationwide search for a new college president in 1987, JoAnne Boyle never imagined herself applying for the job.

"I love teaching, and nothing has brought me greater joy," said Mrs. Boyle, who was chair of the English department on the Greensburg campus at the time.

However, a faculty member recommended her for the job, many others encouraged her, so she went through the selection process -- but recalled she was still "surprised" to be the one chosen to fill the shoes of former president Eileen Farrell.

Now, 25 years later, Seton Hill has gone through an incredible transformation from a small women's undergraduate college to a coeducational university with an enrollment of more than 2,500 students --all under Mrs. Boyle's administration. Still, the educator has decided to step down, effective June 30.

"When I first became president, I followed an extraordinary line of presidents, including Eileen Farrell, a business person and alumna who initiated a very good set of business practices at the university," she said.

Admitting that she basically learned her new position on the job, she said she received a lot of faculty support and worked with some gifted people.

"The faculty knew I came from their ranks and that I would be their champion," she said.

As the university's longest serving president, Mrs. Boyle saw a number of significant changes over the years, starting with a major shift from an all-women's college with a dwindling enrollment to a coeducational university.

"Although I initially resisted going coed, I saw how successful our brother college, Saint Vincent's [in nearby Unity], became after it went coed, and realized that -- if we were to remain a viable institution of learning -- we had to take important steps to secure our future," she said.

In 1988, Seton Hill opened a school of fine arts and began enrolling men into the fine arts curriculum. The change was such as success, men were regularly admitted to other programs. As a result, from 1988 to now, undergraduate enrollment has more than quadrupled.

Another major change under her tenure was the university's significant investment in mobile technology, which included giving each student and faculty member an iPad and adding a campuswide wireless and technological infrastructure.

"We also invested in an internal program that provides laboratory and technical assistance to faculty to enable them to harness this new technology in the classroom and help students learn in new ways not available to them before," she said.

In the past several years, the university also began focusing on the needs of the region as a way to develop its curriculum and asked the community what it could do to respond to their needs. One area of concern focused on health care, which resulted in the addition of a site on campus for LECOM, the Lake Erie College of Osteopathic Medicine.

Besides the benefits of having a medical school on campus. agreements between LECOM and the university enable undergraduate students in the field of science with three years of study to become first-year medical students at LECOM in their fourth year.

The university also implemented a physician assistant studies program, which has become one of the strongest in the country, and saw a 25 percent increase in health sciences enrollment.

Mrs. Boyle was also at the forefront of leaders who recognized the value of a university to the economic stabilization and growth of downtown areas. Under her aegis, the university built a new performing arts center in the heart of Greensburg, located between the renovated rail station and the Palace Theatre. The new center offers a menu of music, dance, theater and musical theater events each year that has helped spur a $120 million economic impact on the city. All this has occurred while the university has experienced 14 years of balanced budgets and operating surpluses.

"Containing costs and providing students with generous financial aid awards have been hallmarks of president Boyle's administration," said Michele Moore Ridge, chair of the Seton Hill University Board of Trustees.

Besides having "a really wonderful day" and a half spent with the Dalai Lama, who visited Seton Hill 10 years ago, Mrs. Boyle said the highlights of her presidency come when she reads about or hears from alumni who have gone on to do significant things in academics, athletics or other areas of professionalism.

"After 25 years on the job, Seton Hill is the strongest it's ever been financially, has a record enrollment, has launched new projects and has built several new facilities with a couple more to come," she said. "The university is strong and ready to grow under new leadership, and I thought now would be a good time for me to step down as president."

education - neigh_east - neigh_westmoreland

Dave Zuchowski, freelance writer: suburbanliving@post-gazette.com.


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