New College President Donal O'Shea enjoyed an inauguration like no other, a colorful ceremony replete with dozens of professors and dignitaries in academic regalia during the February event.
As the institution's fifth chief executive, O'Shea preaches the liberal arts sermon with a fervent yet amiable demeanor.
In a meeting last week with the Bradenton Herald Editorial Board, O'Shea displayed why he is a great fit for the liberal arts college. As the smallest member of the state university system with only 850 students and known as Florida's "honors college for the liberal arts," New College enjoys a reputation as one of the best schools in the nation and beyond.
Again this year, New College placed third in the Princeton Review rankings of "Best Value Public Colleges in America." And tuition is only $6,060 annually for Florida residents.
Plus, with a student-to-faculty ratio of 10-1, New College offers exceptional access to professors and, as a result, an unparalleled education; 70 percent of graduates seek advanced degrees and an extraordinary number win Fulbright scholarships to pursue studies overseas. Out of the 181 Florida students who earned Fulbrights over the past decade, 52 honorees were New College students.
The school is a bit quirky in that students map out their own curriculum with professors; receive narrative evaluations instead of letter grades; and graduate in colorful ceremonies marked by costumes instead of caps and gowns.
New College nurtures creativity -- and thus excellence.
O'Shea intends to spread the gospel about New College everywhere to promote the school's sterling accomplishments and overcome a "lack of awareness." At the same time, he plans to boost out-of-state enrollment.
Part of his challenge will be to educate those who are unaware of the advantages of a liberal arts college. O'Shea recalled an encounter with a Florida legislator who denigrated such schools as graduating students unprepared for real-world careers.
That misconception grows out of the current singular focus on STEM degrees -- in science, technology, engineering and math.
New College offers plenty of STEM opportunities, with course work in physics, astronomy, biology, zoology, physiology, marine science, chemistry, calculus, statistics and mathematics, the latter being O'Shea's specialty with a Ph.D. He also plans to expand STEM programs.
Legislators like the one O'Shea met need a reality check.
Before coming to Florida, the 60-year-old O'Shea served as dean of faculty and vice president of academic affairs at Mount Holyoke, a women's private liberal arts college in Massachusetts.
His most compellinggoal focuses on thisregion's "vibrant educational institutions" and expanding the collaboration among State College of Florida,the University of SouthFlorida Sarasota-Manatee, Ringling College of Art and Design, and New College, which are all in closeproximity. Eckerd Collegefigures into the mix as well.
At an early June retreat, representatives of those schools will discuss ways to open access so students from one can attend classes at another at no charge.
That would be a terrific advantage not only for students, but for workforce and economic development. Young people would gravitate here knowing these opportunities exist.
O'Shea also proposes partnerships on some services to create efficiencies, such as purchasing, payroll and police.
As engaging as he is, O'Shea has enjoyed an enthusiastic welcome to this community since arriving last July.
We share that spirit andfully expect him to elevatethe school's status globally.