Columbia College chief works on school’s image

ashain@thestate.comApril 6, 2013 

— After spending 10 months on campus, Elizabeth Dinndorf will be inaugurated as the 18th president at Columbia College today.

The former bank executive and trustees chairwoman at the College of Saint Benedict in Minnesota has worked with community leaders and made several changes since arriving on campus in July.

She is trying to boost enrollment at the private women’s college with 800 fulltime students. The school has another 500 students – men and women – in evening and weekend master’s degree programs. Dinndorf spoke with The State on Friday:

Have your experiences at Columbia College met your expectations from when you were hired?

“When I was selected, I was excited because everything that I experienced prior to that was so wonderful. But to be down here and be the president since July has even exceeded my expectations. The campus community is wonderful. The students faculty and staff are such great and committed people. I have thoroughly enjoyed living in Columbia. It’s such a thriving metropolitan area. The people are terrific throughout the state of South Carolina. I have been able to travel quite a bit around the state to visit our friends and alumnae. The business and other community leaders in town have been so welcoming to me and have made so many introductions for me.”

What changes have you made?

“We have launched in a bold direction to combine our great liberal arts education and our focus on leadership and service with a four-year program focusing on career preparation that we’re going to deliver for every student who starts this fall. The faculty and staff have embraced it. And they’re moving very quickly. People often say it takes a long time to get things done in higher education. This college is very entrepreneurial, very responsive and they have moved so quickly to make all that a reality for our students. … Each (student) will have their own advising team, a personalized advising team, to coach and mentor them. They’ll have internship and other real-world job experiences throughout four years. They will have career coaching and professional development.”

What was the thought behind the new four-year Momentum Scholarship program that has its first class in the fall?

“This was a scholarship we wanted to put in place for students who academically accomplished. They’re engaged in their high school, in their community, in their church but perhaps they don’t test well on that one standardized test. And we don’t believe that a student who is that determined, motivated and so engaged should have their opportunity to go to college and get a substantial scholarship for college riding on one test. There are so many great people that have gone on to wonderful things that did not test well on that SAT test.”

What do people in the community say to you about Columbia College?

“It seems I can’t go anywhere without running into someone who has some connection to Columbia College. Their feedback is so very positive … But one thing I did hear is that some people did not know us, and we’re right here in the heart of the city. That’s why we launched our new (marketing) campaign. It was to make sure we have visibility within the professional communities so that employers know about the leadership development that we’re doing and the career focus. We’ve got the billboards and we’ve got our TV commercials talking about our momentum. We have not done (a campaign) like this in decades.”

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