By Makayla Gay
‘Esse quam videri’: to be rather than to seem. Krista L. Newkirk has embodied her favored motto since the year and a half she’s taken office as president of Converse College, a women’s liberal arts college in Spartanburg. She not only seems the part of composed, thoughtful new leader of Converse but she also is an enthusiastic supporter of student success and leadership.
Newkirk is positioning Converse to be an integral part of Spartanburg and the greater Upstate’s economy. Newkirk works with the Spartanburg’s Chamber of Commerce as a member of the task force for development and retention as part of the One Spartanburg Project. The project aligns local businesses and colleges to help the Upstate grow the workforce the area needs and to make sure our students have a pipeline into the jobs they want.
“This region is losing its educated citizens as fast as we are producing them. We need those citizens with four-year degrees in order to make sure that we can grow the area and develop the research and technology that we need,” says Newkirk.
Milliken, one of the largest employers in the area, has been one of the local companies to sit down with Newkirk to see how the company can get engaged on campus. In return, Converse will reevaluate its circuliam to fit employer’s needs. After a tour of the interior design department and a talk to the chemistry professor, Milliken came away with a plan to be more engaged in the classroom, host on-campus career fairs and provide more internships.
Aside from Converse’s creed of voice, value, vision, Newkirk is searching for new ways to provide value to a student’s educational experience. Converse has been accepted to join the University Center of Greenville, with sights to expand the masters programs with degrees in Master of Family Therapy and Master of Arts in Teaching.
Newkirk is seeking to install more applicable skills within the curriculum through a competency skills badging program to show the skills learned in writing, project management and collaboration that employers look for.
Despite Converse’s broad reaches in education, the institution still remains true to its core value: providing exceptional education to women.
“What drew me to Converse was the mission. I’ve been long been interested in the advancement of women,” says Newkirk.
A long standing advocate for women, Newkirk served as editor-in-chief of William & Mary Journal of Women and the Law while working toward her law degree. She grew up with her own struggles for equality throughout her career in law and higher education. Converse’s role in growing women as leaders naturally called to Newkirk.
“Women here are not encouraged to lead but expected to lead and to ask questions. It’s a different environment than a large coed or small coed institution. It gives young people confidence in an important time of their life,” says Newkirk.
Even though the women who graduate from women’s colleges make up less than one percent of all women graduating from colleges, there’s a disproportionate amount of benefits. In Congress, 10 percent of women graduated from a women’s college and more than 20 percent of business leaders graduated from a women’s college.
“People live up to the expectations that are put upon them,” says Newkirk, “When we set the expectation that they will become leaders…that expectation goes with them and changes how they interact with the world.”
After all, student success is the legacy Newkirk hopes to leave. Years and years from now, as students pass through historic Wilson Hall, and see Krista Newkirk’s portrait, she hopes they’ll see a legacy of upstanding values and leadership.