BY EMILY GRAHAM
Kathleen Harring, Ph.D., recently named Muhlenberg College’s first female president, said she developed some of the leadership and community values she practices now while growing up in Schuylkill County.
A 1976 Tri-Valley High School graduate, Harring said her education helped her learn skills and values that she still holds today.
“Growing up in the Hegins Valley area, it was a close community with individuals who knew one another and cared for one another,” Harring said. “At a small high school, all the teachers knew you and knew your family. And you could take part in a variety of activities that you might not have at a bigger school.”
mong many activities, one stood out in Harring’s memory as particularly interesting.
“I spent two years as the boys’ baseball team statistician,” Harring said. “When I first started here and told that story, the baseball coach at Muhlenberg asked if I wanted a second job.”
Harring said the opportunity to participate in diverse activities taught her a wider range of skills.
Along with the skills learned from school and activities, she attributes many of her values to her parents, Maynard and the late Lois Harring.
“I had my parents as role models for the value of serving your community and leading your community,” Harring said. “They set a high bar for me. I try to meet that high bar every day.”
The Rev. Carl D. Shankweiler, a member of the Tri-Valley school board, said he has known Harring since she was a child and has confidence in both her professional background and her upbringing.
“She has had a lot of experience in higher education to prepare her for this task,” Shankweiler said. “Her parents were wonderful examples as leading members of the Tri-Valley community.”
Harring said she uses that community value in her role as Muhlenberg College president.
“It truly is an honor being president at this institution and being the first woman president,” Harring said. “As someone who is aware of our history, our culture, our common sense of community, I am honored.”
At Muhlenberg since 1984
Harring earned her B.A. in psychology from Franklin and Marshall College and went on to earn her M.A. and Ph.D. in psychology at University of North Carolina Chapel Hill.
She began her career at Allentown-based Muhlenberg in 1984 as a faculty member and served in various administrative roles, including dean of institutional assessment and academic planning. In June 2019, Harring became interim president.
Harring, who enjoys traveling and participating in her local church ensemble, is married with one daughter, who currently lives in New York City.
Many of her goals as president involve implementing aspects of the college’s strategic plan. One initiative Harring said has already been put in motion is the introduction of new graduate programs.
While Muhlenberg has offered educational programs for adult students for the past 100 years, according to Harring, the fall 2020 semester is the first time the college has offered master’s level programs.
“I am very excited to have the opportunity to offer our transformative education to different types of students with these Master’s programs,” Harring said.
The two programs currently offered are a Master’s in applied analytics and a Master’s in organizational leadership.
Harring said she has also been working on enhancing the tie between academics and campus life.
“Also part of the strategic plan was to strengthen the connection between students’ academic and residential experiences,” Harring said.
Harring said this involves creating connections between the classroom, co-curricular activities, clubs and organizations and programs within dorm life.
“We are a residential, liberal arts college,” Harring said. “It’s not just about teaching and learning.”
This initiative is particularly relevant now, as Harring said they have worked to ensure all aspects of college life are available to students during the pandemic.
“We worked diligently over the summer to make sure we were offering the same strong experience to both residential and remote students,” Harring said.
With some students on campus and others remote, Harring said they have worked to offer virtual options for students to participate in research with faculty, clubs and organizations, and co-curricular activities.
Challenges and risks
Harring said a major challenge has been making decisions that best serve the college community during the pandemic. She said she has been fortunate to have a strong senior team to aid in the decision-making process.
“Being a college president at this time is a challenge,” Harring said. “There’s no playbook, no guide.”
For Harring, the most important part of leading an institution is striving to make a difference.
“When I think about how I got to this position, I think of the motivation to take risks and take responsibility,” Harring said. “You are never going to achieve if you don’t take certain risks.”
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