Kenyon welcomed its 20th president in almost 200 years — Julie Kornfeld — to campus this month with open arms and a sense of excitement.
“We’ve just felt so warmly embraced,” Kornfeld said of herself and her husband, Fred Silverman, during an Oct. 3 reception at the Gund Commons Ballroom. “Every person has been just so warm and so welcoming, and it reinforces to us that this was the right place to be at the right time in our lives.”
Speaking to more than 150 faculty and staff, she expressed gratitude at the opportunity to be part of such a special community and highlighted the “incredible commitment and passion for this place” that has been evident in everyone she encounters.
“I have a lot to learn from all of you,” she said. “So my focus over the next couple of months and weeks and days is to be with you, to listen, to learn. You all have done incredible work here. This is a really powerful community and I think in collaboration we can really do wonderful things together.”
It was a busy first week for Kornfeld, who started Oct. 1 after being named to the post in June.
She engaged with the campus community even before officially starting on the job, attending numerous activities during Homecoming, celebrating with students and alumni and meeting with volunteers and donors.
With a full schedule during her opening days, Kornfeld met with senior staff and other campus leaders. Along the way, she swung by an archaeological dig on campus, donned a hard hat as she checked out construction on the South Quad and at Bexley Hall, and shook hands with staff during visits to campus maintenance buildings.
But for many, the official introduction to Kornfeld — an epidemiologist who previously served as vice provost for academic programs at Columbia University — took place at a variety of receptions.
Jeff Bowman, provost who served as acting president during Kenyon’s presidential transition, introduced the new president at the event in Gund Commons, calling attention to Kornfeld’s distinguished record as a researcher.
“She has spent her career looking at complex global health problems from multiple angles — scientific, behavioral, cultural, political, historical — in order to make the world a healthier place,” he said. “And, as you’d all expect, she has a vivid appreciation of the transformational power of liberal education.”
Leah R. Dickens, associate professor of psychology, said she enjoyed chatting with the new president.
“I loved that she already knew about the Halloween dog parade — she is going to fit in just perfectly at Kenyon!” she said.
Jalene Fox, faculty resources specialist, said it was a pleasure to meet Kornfeld and that she appreciates the energy she and her spouse have brought to campus.
“She was warm and engaging and funny as she greeted so many of us,” Fox said.
If Kornfeld’s first week proved anything, though, it may be that the list of qualities Kenyon considered essential as it searched for a new president — collaborative spirit, courage, optimism — may have omitted one important item: a selfie stick.
Since joining the College, Kornfeld has received a crash course in self-portraits as she met with enthusiastic students and other stakeholders eager to welcome her and capture the moment. So while cookies and water were on hand as students lined up near Middle Path to chat with Kornfeld during an outdoor reception, even more popular were handshakes and selfies with the new president, who welcomed them in purple-tinted sunglasses.
“I think she’s a great addition to Kenyon,” said Grace Neuger ’24, a member of the women’s soccer team who attended the meet-and-greet and looks forward to future conversations with Kornfeld. “I want to get a master’s in public health. I would like to talk with her about her field.”
Conversation topics at the student reception ranged from hometowns and extracurriculars to Milo — Kornfeld’s pandemic puppy — and “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel,” one of her favorite shows.
“I’m really excited that we’re first-years and she’s starting her first year,” Simone Martel ’27 said after meeting Kornfeld.
Women’s soccer player Alex Sokolik ’24 attended the reception but said she previously ran into the new president along Middle Path and enjoyed the informal interaction.
“I was starstruck,” she said. “I think it’s awesome how personable she is. And her dog is adorable!”
The inauguration of President Julie Kornfeld will take place on Saturday, April 13. More details to come.