The Augustana College Board of Trustees on Tuesday announced Dr. Andrea Talentino, provost of Nazareth College in Rochester, N.Y., as the next president of Augustana College, Rock Island.

She will be the ninth (and first female) president in the college’s 161-year history, effective July 1, 2022.

“We are proud to present Dr. Andrea Talentino as our next president,” John Murabito ’80, chair of the board who led the national search, said in a Tuesday release. “She will embrace the values, principles and beautiful traditions of Augustana, while fully understanding the challenges of private colleges in 2021.

“Dr. Talentino is a scholar, a teacher and mentor for students; an advocate for diversity, equity and inclusion; and an innovator and engaged citizen,” he said. “She is a person who can appreciate the beauty of Augustana, while managing the complexities. And a person who will continue to strive to make Augustana distinctive among private colleges in our country.”

Andrea Talentino speaks Tuesday to the Augustana campus community, for the first time, at the new Lindberg Center (photo by Jonathan Turner).

“I am so excited and honored to be here,” Talentino said Tuesday at a packed campus event in the new Peter J. Lindberg, M.D., Center for Health and Human Performance. “These last 48 hours have confirmed for me how special Augustana is; how close your community is, and how fortunate and honored I am to be part of it, and I look forward to working with all of you to continue to make Augustana great.”

Murabito spoke to the community in a pre-recorded video message, as he was traveling Tuesday in Connecticut.

“We expected great interest from great people,” he said of the presidential search, which drew 100-plus applicants. “We ended up being just totally blown away by the quality of the leaders this position attracted. This has everything to do with Augustana College’s standing as a leader among private colleges in this country, and especially in the Midwest.”

John Murabito, chair of Augustana’s Board of Trustees and the presidential search committee, gave a pre-recorded talk to the Tuesday announcement (photo by Jonathan Turner).

Before arriving at Nazareth in 2017, Dr. Talentino served as the dean of the College of Liberal Arts at Norwich University in Vermont. Prior to that, she was an associate dean at Drew University in New Jersey. She also held a faculty position at Tulane University and did a postdoc at Princeton University.

“Augustana’s mission and vision reflect what I most care about,” Talentino said. “I’ve focused on creating an inclusive, holistic, challenging, integrated student experience that offers a real transformational opportunity. Any institution can have internships, study abroad, opportunities for research, but it’s how you put them together, how you create natural connections and meaning between all of them that makes the difference in what’s outstanding and what is ‘just fine,’ and Augustana is committed to being outstanding.”

Talentino earned a bachelor’s degree in political science at Yale University, then completed a master’s and doctorate in political science from UCLA. While serving as dean at Norwich, she earned an MBA with a concentration in organizational leadership.

“Everything I’ve ever done is about being a teacher, even when I’m in administration,” Talentino said. “An institution is not going to move forward if you’re not also developing the people, and the people aren’t going to be motivated and excited if you’re not moving the institution forward.”

Talentino, 53, is a Yale graduate with a master’s and doctorate in political science from UCLA and an MBA from Norwich University in Vermont.

Recommended unanimously to the board

Talentino was recommended unanimously to the Board of Trustees by Augie’s 13-member presidential search committee, which included trustees, faculty, alumni and a student representative. Beginning in February 2021, committee members worked with an executive search firm, Academic Search, to identify exceptionally qualified candidates.

The search committee reviewed materials from more than 100 candidates and conducted 50 interviews — some in-person, some virtually.

Talentino has a proven record for innovation, something Augie is known for, Murabito said.

“Our leader also has to be strategic and have the ability to put strategy into action,” he said. “Dr. Talentino has demonstrated these qualities. Her commitment to initiatives focused on diversity, equity and inclusion also matched what the search committee knew was a necessary quality in our next president. This was really critical.”

She has a deep desire to create an environment where students feel supported and stretched, to reach goals that are just beyond the horizon, Murabito said.

“We felt sure she has a desire to embrace the values, the principles and the beautiful traditions of our institution,” he said. “Dr. Talentino is a person who will commit herself to connecting with the Augustana community, including our alumni around the world.”

Steve Bahls, seen speaking Tuesday, Dec. 7, has been Augustana president since 2003 and will retire July 1, 2022.

Talentino succeeds Steve Bahls, who announced his retirement last January. He’s served as Augustana’s president since 2003, strengthening the college’s financial position by helping to raise $300 million and more than doubling the endowment. Nearly $120 million has been invested in campus construction/renovation since 2003 to support new academic programs, athletics and the arts. His strategic plans aimed to advance campus diversity and equitable access.

“We are indeed making history today, because presidential announcements at Augustana College don’t happen often,” Bahls said Tuesday. “I’m feeling today the same type of excitement that I felt 19 years ago. Being president of Augustana College is an honor beyond words. It has been my life’s calling and I look forward to the next six months.”

Steve Bahls has helped raise $300 million for the college, more than doubling its endowment (photo by Jonathan Turner).

“I am more convinced than ever, after meeting the next president, that the best days are yet to come,” he said. “I am confident that Dr. Talentino is the ideal person to take Augustana into the future. I know this in large part because the search committee worked tirelessly to find the best candidate to lead Augustana College as president.”  

First talk to the community

Talentino, 53, said she was drawn to Augie because of its mission – “to prepare students for lives of leadership and service in a diverse and changing world.”

“I really care about being at a values-driven organization,” she said. “I care about being in a place that’s thinking about the development of the whole individual, and conscious about its role in preparing people to make society better.”

Higher education aims to support good citizens, who contribute to society and care for their country, Talentino said.

Talentino speaking at Augustana Tuesday, Dec. 7, after being introduced as the private college’s ninth president (photo by Jonathan Turner).

“We do live in a diverse and changing world, and we see more and more that the circumstances of that change are very unsettling,” she said. “That’s why I believe Augustana College is more important now than ever, because its essential purpose is to push students to think deeply, question their beliefs, be open to different perspectives and prepare to lead in ways big and small.”

Talentino said precious few institutions show a willingness to truly ask, “How do we lead in a way that drives social justice, diversity and meaning?” That’s been a motivation for Augustana for decades, she noted. “Who wouldn’t want to be part of this?”

The college genuinely values different cultures and perspectives, the next president said, noting both of her children are adopted – a 14-year-old boy from Vietnam and a 10-year-old Black girl from Newark, N.J.

When deciding to adopt, Talentino and her husband said they wanted their kids to look as unlike them as possible. “I want our family to represent how I understand the world – in all its diversity and difference,” she said. “That interest has been reinforced by my international experience, where I’ve seen time and time again how commitment to others matters.”

Talentino noted there have been times her personal security around the world was dependent on the kindness of strangers – in Senegal, Bosnia, and Cameroon.

“In every case, people I didn’t know helped me. They didn’t stop to comment on the color of my skin or the language I spoke,” she said. “In our busy world, we sometimes forget the value of connection and the reality that we all depend on each other. I don’t think that is forgotten here.”

Talentino speaking at the Lindberg Center, Dec. 7, 2021 (photo by Jonathan Turner).

Her family is “a reflection of what’s important to us,” Talentino said later. “When we came out here for a quick visit, we were here about three hours and that’s something my kids really picked up on. They were really appreciative of the diversity in the area. We went to Rock Island High School; I loved the fact that there were so many different languages and different people.”

“We’ve traveled all over the world, and they want a place that reflects different views, different cultures, different perspectives, different types of people,” she said.

Student extracurriculars are not “extra”

Nazareth College (founded in 1924) — a religiously independent campus in a suburb of Rochester, N.Y. — challenges and supports about 2,200 undergrads and 700 graduate students, according to its website. Nazareth is recognized nationally for its Fulbright global student scholars and commitment to civic engagement.

At Augustana (founded in 1860), there are 2,500 undergraduates and among its programs is Augie Choice, which transforms students into global citizens, thinkers and doers with a $2,000 grant to explore the world, complete an internship or conduct research with a professor.

Augustana College in Rock Island (with its iconic Old Main) has 2,500 undergraduate students.

Another thing Talentino especially loves about Augie is that extracurriculars aren’t “extra,” but central to college life. “Discovery can’t happen without exploration. Transformation can’t happen without being tested. And most of all, new ideas can’t come without experimentation.

“That’s what I value and want to build and enable for students, faculty and staff,” she said, calling Augustana “an innovative and bold community.”

“Everything students on campus do – they should be growing, learning and changing,” she said, noting that happens everywhere – whether or not it’s in a classroom. “Students are growing in every experience they have.”

Talentino wants to build on the college’s commitment to diversity, equity and inclusion, since so much of society is built on inequities. “That means asking hard questions and realizing uncomfortable truths,” she said. “It means recognizing we need to change our minds and habits. It means we are responsible for making inclusion happen.”

Some of the large crowd that came out to greet the new president Tuesday, Dec. 7, in the Lindberg Center lobby (photo by Jonathan Turner).

A crucial part of Augie’s mission is to advance social justice, she said, making sure that the college is accessible and welcoming to students of all types.

Reaction from student on search committee

Lauren Hall, a senior from Rock Island, majoring in history and secondary education, was part of the presidential search, which she called “a really cool process.”

“For me personally, from the student perspective, I liked the things she said she would do for students,” Hall said of Talentino. “She gave a very distinctive answer, and I think the students are gonna love her when they get to meet her.”

She was impressed by her deep understanding and knowledge of Augie, and her commitment to diversity, equity and inclusion.

Augustana president Steve Bahls, his wife Jane (left) and Andrea Talentino at the close of Tuesday’s ceremony (photo by Jonathan Turner).

“She definitely wants her students to have a voice,” Hall said. “With her being a woman, I think that’s going to draw a lot of attention as well.” Hall is thrilled to have the college’s first female president.

“It’s awesome; it’s good representation for little girls at home, and good for me,” she said. “I love it.”

While just about 30 percent of U.S. colleges and universities are led by women, the two main private colleges in the Q-C will be. Amy C. Novak became St. Ambrose University’s 14th president (and second female) this past August.