Dear Sterling Community,
Last week, President Matthew Derr shared his plan to step down from his role as of October 31. Matthew continued the legacy of his two predecessors and served nearly ten years as president. He has led our academic community with vision and passion for which the College will be eternally grateful. Through his good work at Sterling, he has inspired many to consider what is possible in higher education and how it can be a force that strengthens the human relationship with the natural world. Matthew has expanded the College’s aspirations while also honoring its legacy and character.
We are thankful for Matthew’s thoughtfulness regarding this decision, which has been careful and intentional. Sterling is well-prepared for this moment. The College has adopted a bold strategic initiative, is in a strong financial position, and has experienced multiple years of operational surpluses through stable enrollment and mission-aligned philanthropy. In the last year we have celebrated the first commencement of the Wendell Berry Farming Program, seen a collaborative and agile response to the pandemic, appointed an exceptional leadership team, and now have an increased capacity for diversity, equity, and inclusion work.
In a letter to students and employees this morning, Matthew shared, “I am honored to have served Sterling College and sincerely grateful for all those who have worked and learned alongside me. We have accomplished so much in our time together.”
This fall, Sterling will be reflecting on and celebrating the collective successes we have achieved during Matthew’s tenure, which includes the College’s completion of the largest comprehensive campaign in its history, aptly named Nourish the Roots. In his time, more than $20 million in philanthropy has been generated from mission-aligned donors. This record breaking fundraising is four times what was raised in the previous ten year period and enabled capital improvements, new programming such as the Wendell Berry Farming Program, the establishment of the Rian Fried Center for Sustainable Agriculture & Food Systems, andーmost importantlyーincreased affordability and access for those students inspired to make deep and lasting change that improves the health of ecological and human communities and bridges the divide between the two.
In addition to improved access to the pertinent education that Sterling offers, a 24% increase in enrollment over the last decade is credited to the addition of degree programs, minors, and faculty, and expanded access to the College’s Global Field Studies program.
“Matthew’s charismatic and inspiring leadership has attracted the talent to Sterling to execute and expand on his vision for how a rural college is innovating to prepare a generation to address the existential threat of the climate crisis,” said fellow trustee Allison Hooper.
Beginning this winter, Matthew will be working on a forthcoming book and consulting on projects that fulfill his ongoing commitment to ecological thinking and action. Starting on January 1, Matthew—an avid birder—will be pursuing the American Birding Association Big Year challenge to record as many native bird sightings in the United States and Canada in 2022 as possible. Matthew’s partner, Julian Sharp, aspires to complete his Unitarian Universalist ordination, to resume teaching, and continue his civil rights work with the Living Legacy Project.
The Board of Trustees has a deep commitment to Sterling, its mission, and the paramount responsibility to make the identification of the College’s 12th president its highest priority in the months ahead. The trustees will have the support of a newly formed Presidential Transition Team and have named Lori Collins-Hall, appointed as Sterling’s Senior Vice President and Chief Operating Officer in March, as interim president.
Lori Collins-Hall has spent twenty-five years in higher education as a scholar-practitioner, engaging students in transformative learning opportunities and high-impact community engagement, including community-based service-learning, coalition building, and work-based education. Prior to her roles in administration, Lori was a tenured faculty member, department chair, and assessment coordinator. As a Teagle Scholar she did extensive work examining pedagogical models of experiential learning and assessment, with particular attention to small liberal arts schools. Sterling is fortunate to have her expertise.
“I have known Lori for many years during her decades of service. Through her vast range of experience as a faculty member, vice president of academic affairs, and chief operations officer she has a track record of success through collaborative leadership. Lori is deeply committed to the College’s mission and is extremely well prepared to lead Sterling, working constructively with the board, senior leadership team, faculty, staff, and students,” offered Rick Detweiler, Sterling trustee and past-treasurer.
More information about the presidential search committee composition, selection process, timeline, and how community members can engage will be shared by the Board of Trustees as soon as that information is available.
Thank you for your ongoing and steadfast support of Sterling and please join us in wishing Matthew and Julian the very best.
Pete Chehayl – Alumnx Parent ‘06 – Chair of the Board of Trustees