WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. — Thunderous applause and a standing ovation greeted Lorraine Sterritt Friday as she was announced as the new president of Salem Academy and College.
Sterritt, 54, is a former dean of administration at Harvard College. She will be 20 th president, and third woman, to lead the school that was founded 242 years ago by the Moravian Church. She will replace Susan Pauly, Salem’s current president, who announced in September that she was going to retire June 30. Sterritt will move from Belmont, Mass., with her husband, Bert Lain, who teaches Latin and Greek at Harvard. She starts at Salem July 1.
“I look forward to sharing with you in that quest to bring women’s education to its fullest fruition,” she said to a room full of students, faculty and staff at Elberson Fine Arts Center on Salem’s campus.
The announcement Friday was the culmination of the work of a presidential search committee that started soon after Pauly announced her retirement. The committee had 18 members consisting of students, trustees, faculty, administrators and staff from Salem Academy and Salem College. Salem hired Coleman Lew & Associates, a search firm from Charlotte, to assist.
Coleman Lew sent out nearly 1,000 copies of the job description and narrowed applicants to a recommended list of 12. The search committee chose eight candidates with whom to have off-site interviews, said Beth Rader, the chairwoman of the search committee.
Then in April, three finalists, including Sterritt, visited the campus.
Charles Blixt, the chairman of the board of trustees at Salem, said that Sterritt impressed everyone she encountered with her passion for women’s educations. Her values matched up nicely with the school’s mission, he said.
“Dr. Sterritt knows that she is coming to an exceptional school,” Blixt said in introducing her Friday.
Sterritt has spent nearly 30 years in education, beginning at Chatham Hall, an all-girls college preparatory boarding school in Chatham, Va. She served as director of the school and also taught French and Latin. After Chatham, she taught French literature at Princeton University, Harvard University, the University of Pennsylvania and Stanford University.
She held administrative positions at those same schools. Sterritt served as dean of administration at Harvard until last year, when she left to go on sabbatical.
From 2010 to 2013, she led the planning and execution of programs for undergraduate education, student life, administration and finance at Harvard College. She also was a member of the faculty of Arts and Sciences at Harvard University.
Sterritt was born and raised in Newry, a small town in Ireland and moved to the United States in 1985 after earning her bachelor’s degree and her master’s degree of arts in French at The Queen’s University of Belfast in Northern Ireland.
She will take over a school that is the oldest educational institution for women in the country. Salem College is a four-year liberal arts school for women with an enrollment of nearly 1,200 students, including men who are 23 and older and take undergraduate courses at the Fleer Center for Adult Education. However, only female students are allowed to live on campus.
Salem Academy is a college preparatory school for girls in grades 9-12. More than half of the 150 girls enrolled are boarding students.
Evelyn Bradley, a junior at Salem College and the Student Government Association president for 2014-15, said she was impressed by Sterritt’s interest in the students.
“She is genuinely and wholeheartedly dedicated to the betterment of our institution,” she said.
What really stood out for her, Bradley said, was that Sterritt asked what she could do for the students.
Gary Ljungquist, a professor of modern languages at Salem and a member of the search committee, said he already liked Sterritt from what he saw on paper but was really taken with her when he met her in person.
“She has a kind of warmth and genuineness, which are great qualities to have in a president,” he said. “She is a scholar. She understands teaching and the challenges of this job. She gets the possibilities of Salem College to blossom.”
Lauren Rogers, a teacher of Latin and ESL as well as a home counselor at Salem Academy, said what struck her about Sterritt was her experiences at Chatham Hall.
“She can speak to secondary and post-secondary education,” she said.
Sara Ellis, a first-year student at Salem College, said she is looking forward to Sterritt becoming president.
“If I had any advice, it would be to listen to the students,” she said.