Cleveland Business Connects

For immediate release (October 6, 2017) Media Contact: Judy Abelman Email: Phone: 440.725.8861...

On July 1 Lori Varlotta celebrates her one-year anniversary as the first female president of Hiram College. The native of Pittsburgh had spent the previous 11 years at California State University, Sacramento, most recently serving as senior vice president for planning, enrollment management and student affairs.

Q: Is there anything you would like our corporate audience to know right off the bat about a liberal arts college such as Hiram?

A: Liberal arts education, like the type offered at Hiram, is the gold standard in providing both theoretical training and hands-on experience. At small colleges like Hiram students get personal attention from each and every faculty member as they partner with them on research studies, enroll in a study trip or participate in an internship experience. The multifaceted learning that occurs here helps students develop competency in their chosen major and acquire the soft skills that make them valuable employees and interesting people.

Q: How have you been accepted as the first woman among 22 Hiram presidents?

A: I have been well accepted by the entire community. I must say, however, that women alumni in their 80s and 90s have been the most vocal about welcoming me and telling me how happy they are to see a woman at the helm. I am touched by their remarks because they are the real pioneers … women who went away to school 60 and 70 years ago, most of whom then went on to impressive careers at a time when such study and such work was not commonplace.

Q: One year in, what has been your greatest challenge?

A: January and February. Need I say more, given last winter’s weather? Although I am from this part of the country, this past year’s winter was much harsher than I have experienced in some time, especially after living in California for so long.

Q: Do you have a short list of current priorities? 

A: 1) Building a strategic enrollment plan;
2) Ensuring that every student participates in at least one high-impact experiential activity—internships, study abroad, guided research and/or field work — since these are the very experiences that help students acquire deep insights and chart career paths; 3) Positioning Hiram as a leader in educating talented and compassionate health providers; 4) Securing external funds to bolster the studies conducted at our two field stations. Our students’ hands-on work with the kinds of projects, experiments, and projects that occur in these two places is very unique and very powerful; 5) Encouraging students to engage in thoughtful reflection that helps them integrate their thoughts, actions, values; trite as it may sound: to live the life worth living.

Q: Fundraising seems to be one of your strong suits, going back to your 11 years at Sacramento State. What type of headway have you made on that front?

A: We have had a great year in fundraising, largely thanks to our generous alumni and board members. Shortly into the new calendar year, we brought on a million dollar gift from Mr. Stan Proctor, a Cleveland businessman who was a beloved member of the board of trustees who believed in the teaching mission of Hiram College. Thanks to his gift, and many others like it, Hiram will continue to transform the lives of students — and those who teach them — for many years to come.

Q: Hiram’s biomedical humanities major is ranked second in the country. What makes the program so special?

A: The biomedical humanities major at Hiram College is undergirded by a basic assumption that medicine is both an art and a science. The major, therefore, is not only heavy in the sciences but it also has numerous courses in the humanities at its very core. We believe that this combination ensures that the aspiring health professionals we send forth into the world are not only scientifically and technically competent but that they are educated to be compassionate, thoughtful, and culturally sensitive. Who does not want a health provider who is as highly knowledgable as he/she is deeply compassionate?

Q: How are Hiram and NEOMED (Northeast Ohio Medical University) working together to address the shortage of primary care physicians?

A: Hiram College and NEOMED have established a partnership that seeks to address the growing shortage of primary care clinicians and other health professionals in our region. We have a long history of collaboration, as evidenced by NEOMED’s support in the founding of Hiram’s Center for Literature and Medicine in 1990. We utilize our mutual interest in preparing practitioners for compassionate caregiving by capitalizing on Hiram’s distinctive biomedical humanities curriculum, as well as new academic concentrations focusing on cultural, psychological, and sociological characteristics known to affect health and wellness. Students participate in engaged learning within community, research, and clinical settings, connecting them to the populations they will later serve as practitioners.

Q: What other relationships do you have with Northeast Ohio schools, particularly community colleges?

A: Hiram has established partnerships with three Cleveland-area community colleges — Lorain, Lakeland and Tri-C East. Put simply, these programs allow students who have completed an associate’s degree to take courses for a bachelor’s degree right on their same “home” community college campus. To make the program convenient for these students, Hiram sends professors out to the three colleges to teach courses in preselected majors, such as accounting and financial management, environmental studies, business management, entrepreneurship or marketing. Students can take the courses they need and finish a Hiram bachelor’s degree in two years — without even leaving the community college site.

Q: What is unique about your two field stations?

A: The James H. Barrow Field Station, a 360-acre property less than two miles from campus, was established in 1967 to supplement Hiram’s classroom activities with hands-on learning experiences that transpire in a beautiful nature preserve. It is an active research facility that engages undergraduates in the kind of biological, environmental studies, water, bird and amphibian research that exists at very few colleges or universities anywhere. In addition to functioning as one of the most pristine outdoor “college classrooms,” the James H. Barrow Field Station also serves as a wonderful resource to the general public. We have groomed nature trails that make for a fun, healthy, and free family outing, and a visitor center with live turtle and frog displays constructed by our students. A day at the field station is definitely worth the drive from Cleveland. Much farther away is our Northwoods Field Station, located in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. Built by a group of Hiram students and faculty in the 1970s, this rustic camp is in the Hiawatha National Forest. It is just minutes from Lake Superior — on another piece of beautiful property that has few distractions (some may say few “amenities or technologies”). Northwoods is the ideal location to get to know a small group of new friends or get reacquainted with old ones. Leave your computer and even your iPhone at home on this trip.

Q: Could you explain “Hiram Connect?”

A: In short, Hiram Connect is a the college’s structured way of connecting classroom learning to experiential opportunities, such as internships, study-away, and guided research. Hiram Connect formalizes, institutionalizes, and bolsters Hiram’s long-time tradition of ensuring that learning occurs on and beyond — sometimes far beyond — the campus. Hiram Connect will not only help students translate theory to practice but it will help them think about the lives they want to live, the careers they want to chart, and callings they want to pursue. As part of Hiram Connect, each and every Hiram student will complete at least one major experiential activity (again, an internship, study-away or guided research project) and engage in a structured reflection that requires them to answer five important questions: 1) How has this experience helped you better understand key concepts related to your major? (Disciplinary); 2) Is there anything about this experience that raises questions that classes in your major cannot help you answer? (Interdisciplinary); 3) How has this experience helped you think about the job you aspire to hold and the ultimate vocation or calling you hope to pursue? (Career and Vocation Exploration and Differentiation); 4) How has this experience helped you ponder the person you are now and the one you want to become? [Sub questions: Has it prompted you to change a previously held idea? Enhance or diminish a value you hold dear? Reduce a stereotype you thought had credibility?] (Identity formation); 5) How has this experience prompted you to contribute to the world around you? (Service or Advocacy)

Q: You’re now much closer to your hometown of Pittsburgh. How often do you get back?

A: I get back more often than I did when I was living in California but not nearly as much as my mom, dad, and 10 nieces and nephews would like. Still, it is a real treat to make most of the major holidays and some birthdays and picnics in between. When I cannot make it there, my young nieces and nephews love visiting me at Hiram. The campus is like a park to them. They can run around the grassy quad and up and down a few of the hills and feel like “big kids.”

Q: The Browns have a storied history at Hiram. Dare we ask, are you a Steelers fan, and, if so, how does that go over with the locales?

A: Who could possible grow up in the Steel City, in the 70s and 80s and not have an undying allegiance for the home team? Come on, everyone in those days wished they lived in Pittsburgh during the Steelers dynasty years. Almost all my friends, boys and girls alike, had posters of Franco Harris, Terry Bradshaw, and the Steel Curtain’s own Mean Joe Greene, LC Greenwood, Ernie Holmes, and Dwight White all over their rooms. On the Pirates’ field we loved Manny Sanguillen, Willie Stargell, and so many others. My brothers and I cried for days when Roberto Clemente’s plane went down. He was a hero to young folks, especially kids like us from strongly ethnic families. Though I will always be loyal to my hometown teams, I have a lot of respect for the Browns franchise and the committed fans who continue to root for their own team, even when they are struggling through difficult seasons. Fan loyalty in cities like Pittsburgh and Cleveland speak volumes about the kind of folks who live and settle here. And speaking about history and ties to the team, Hiram College has a strong allegiance to the Browns, who used the campus as its training camp from 1952-1974. Many of your readers might not know this interesting piece of trivia: Steve Belichick, father of former Browns Coach, Bill Belichick, served as head football coach and head basketball coach at Hiram College from 1946 to 1949.

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