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Nichols College

Learn. Lead. Succeed

A Legacy of Leadership and Inspiration

This week, President Susan West Engelkemeyer’s legacy at Nichols College was cemented when the Board of Trustees announced that the Institute for Women’s Leadership would be named for the college’s 7th president.

In honor of Engelkemeyer’s retirement, trustees contributed $400,000 to the endowment for the Institute, which is just one of the many ways Engelkemeyer has left her mark on the college. Here is a list of some of her many accomplishments during her storied tenure.  

Student success

Engelkemeyer came to the college in 2011 with a vision of student success.

“The first thing I knew we had to do was improve quality,” Engelkemeyer said.

So, Engelkemeyer set her sights on improving student outcomes and enrollment by raising the school’s admissions standards.

“I remember talking to the President’s Council and the Board of Trustees and saying, ‘it will hurt worse before it feels better’,” she said, remarking on a conversation early in her tenure.

Engelkemeyer said there was a dip in enrollment after that first year, but “within two years we were on our march toward 1,200 total students.” In fact, in 2014 the college reached its record number for enrollment with 1,213 total students.

Along with record enrollment numbers, Nichols also started to see marked improvements in student outcomes. Student retention under Engelkemeyer has improved by 30 percent from when she first started, and graduation rates have grown by 50 percent. 

“I’m always confident that if you focus on quality, it will pay off in the long term,” she said.

Engelkemeyer also wanted to be sure students from different financial backgrounds were given the chance to succeed. To do this, Engelkemeyer nearly quadrupled the number of endowed scholarships available for students, including one she established herself.

“Some of our students could not find a financial path to graduation and I could not stand to see that. I knew we had to do more, we had to be sure our students could find a path to graduation,” she said.

Institute for Women’s Leadership

Engelkemeyer also helped create the Institute for Women’s Leadership for students and community members in 2014. Engelkemeyer was inspired to create the Institute after reading an article about the gender wage gap and how the issue is apparent as soon as women enter the workforce.

The Institute delivers career education opportunities for women in business, including wage negotiation workshops to help close the gap when young professionals start their careers.

The IWL and Prof. Jean Beaupre also produces the Massachusetts Women’s Leadership Index every two years, which assesses and monitors the status of women in power. The report helps to show where the state still needs to improve when it comes to female representation in leadership.

“You can’t change something unless it sees the light of day,” Engelkemeyer said.

A more competitive campus

Engelkemeyer’s legacy is also reflected in the beautiful campus we all see today. Engelkemeyer has focused on making the campus a place people want to come to, and this has been one of her missions since the first day she visited.

“The campus looked good, but it looked tired and not as competitive,” Engelkemeyer said.

This mission has resulted in several beautification projects at Nichols College, including building the Fels Student Center and the Academic Building, as well as significant improvements to the athletic facilities and Lombard Dining Hall, and a focus on great landscaping.

“I think we made a lot of changes and improvements that makes this a much more competitive and beautiful campus,” Engelkemeyer said. “It always was beautiful but it’s even more attractive now.”

Funding a dream

All of these achievements and accomplishments do not come without financial responsibility, though. And this is where Engelkemeyer’s determined business savvy really shined.

“For a lot of this, I knew we had to have more funding, so we put a focus on fundraising,” Engelkemeyer said.

Engelkemeyer oversaw Nichols College’s largest fundraising effort in its 200-year history: The Bicentennial Campaign. The campaign was a tremendous success, with fundraising exceeding its original goal of $45 million in 2017 – triple the size of any previous campaign at the college – and eventually raising over $66 million overall. 

These contributions helped grow the college’s endowment, which increased from about $5 million to over $40 million during Engelkemeyer’s tenure, as well as funding several of the campus beautification projects that make Nichols the place people know today.

“They say you should always leave a place better than you found it,” Engelkemeyer said. “I think I can say that.”

To make a gift to the Insitute for Women’s Leadership at Nichols College in honor of President Engelkemeyer, visit our Donate page.