By Sherry Bithell
Hirshman joins the University after serving as president of San Diego State University (SDSU) since 2011. Under President Hirshman’s leadership, SDSU implemented an integrated budget and financial strategy; raised more than $800 million in private philanthropy for scholarships and new initiatives and programs; and established and endowed its Honors College.
However, this will not be Hirshman’s first time in Baltimore. Prior to his tenure at SDSU, Hirshman served as provost and senior vice president for Academic Affairs at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County (UMBC). Previously, Hirshman was chief research officer at the George Washington University and chaired the Department of Psychology there and at the University of Colorado at Denver.
Hirshman and his wife, Jeri, have been married for nearly 28 years. Jeri is a registered nurse who enjoys participating in local and national film festivals. Their daughter, Wendy, graduated from Muhlenberg College and is now married and living in Northern Virginia. Their son, Nathan, is a student at the Duke University School of Medicine.
To help introduce Hirshman to the broader Stevenson community—alumni, students, faculty, staff, and friends—Ventures magazine reached out to learn more about him, his vision, and ways the University will benefit from his extensive higher education experience.
Q&A With Dr. Hirshman, Ph.D.
Ventures (V): You’re coming from serving as president at a research institution with an enrollment of 33,000-plus students and previously, you were the provost at UMBC, a public university with just under 14,000 students. Stevenson is a more traditional liberal arts institution with an enrollment of 4,100 students. What perspectives do you anticipate bringing to your new role here?
Elliot Hirshman (EH): Let me share two. First is that I focus on all aspects of student development, from personal to professional. If we focus on what Stevenson has to offer each of our students, we can help them achieve their greatest aspirations. Second, I embrace Stevenson’s spirit of collaboration. Everyone at the University helps students excel. All members of the community come together to support students’ holistic development.
V: How do you define a liberal arts education?
EH: I see a liberal arts education as a wonderful opportunity to help students prepare for their lives. Not just their careers, although that is important, but it also helps them develop habits of mind, in terms of written and oral communications, as well as quantitative and qualitative reasoning. When we help our students develop these abilities, we are educating students who will not only contribute to the economy through successful careers but will also help their communities as thought and change leaders.
V: What do you think makes Stevenson distinctive from similar liberal arts institutions?
EH: There’s no question that Stevenson has taken the right approach by integrating a classical liberal arts education with career preparation. The University prepares students for today’s economy while supporting the best traditions of American higher education. This is what students and their families look for when it comes to being prepared for the modern and emerging global workforce.
V: What do you anticipate your first steps will be as you begin your presidency?
EH: The first and most important thing is for me to listen broadly and learn about the campus and the aspirations and goals of the community. Of course, there are always issues that require immediate attention, and I will work collaboratively with members of the community to address these issues.
V: Freeman A. Hrabowski, III, President of UMBC, commented that you care deeply about students. What are some ways in which Stevenson students will see this firsthand?
EH: Freeman is very gracious to say this and I appreciate it! Students will see a lot of me. I enjoy having lunch with students, hearing their perspectives, and attending athletic and cultural events on campus. Also, I have deep respect for students and I always try to be direct with them in addressing their questions and concerns about campus issues.
V: How do you feel about returning to the Baltimore area?
EH: I’m excited. It is, of course, an opportunity to reconnect with colleagues and friends. There’s a saying, “No person ever steps in the same river twice, for it's not the same river and they are not the same person.” I fully believe this, so I’m excited about new opportunities given changes since I’ve been here.
V: What’s something that people would be surprised to know about you?
EH: In some regards, the ubiquity offered by the internet makes it hard for there to be many surprises. One, however, is that my wife and I are supporters of animals in that we think of them as family members. People will see that I’m very interested in animal welfare. Another thing that people might not know is that I was a student-athlete in high school. I played defensive back for the football team and ran track, so I understand some of the challenges our student-athletes face.
V: What’s the last book you’ve read?
EH: Sol Price: Retail Revolutionary and Social Innovator. Price was the person who came up with the concept of big box stores such as Sam’s Club and Costco. For example, back in the early ‘50s, he was looking at retail stores and thought, what would happen if we only sold 200 products in a grocery store and sold them in bulk? These simple ideas had enormous implications, providing opportunities for much broader distribution of high-quality product. It’s a great example of how a simple set of ideas can change an organization and affect people’s lives.
V: Are there any final comments to the SU community as you begin your tenure as president?
EH: When I was interviewing, Stevenson’s heritage of community, its tradition as a caring community, was very attractive to me. There is so much great work happening here—the integration of career preparation with liberal arts, cultural and artistic events, athletics—that I want to nurture and support. I see Stevenson as a wonderful, diverse community, one where people are friendly, supportive, and really care about each other. I look forward to joining the community.
For more information on President Hirshman's professional, academic, and personal background, click here.