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The Student News Site of St. Joseph's University

The Hawk News

The Student News Site of St. Joseph's University

The Hawk News

McConnell promises to work together to meet challenges

St. Joe’s inaugurated Cheryl A. McConnell, Ph.D., as the university’s 29th president Sept. 8 in a ceremony in Hagan Arena. PHOTO: MADELINE WILLIAMS ’26/THE HAWK

Cheryl A. McConnell, Ph.D., made university history Sept. 8 when she was officially inaugurated as the first lay woman president of St. Joe’s.

During her speech to approximately 350 people in Hagan Arena and others watching online, McConnell spoke about the time she went on a long, steep hike alone in the rain 15 years ago in Utah, relating it to her new journey as St. Joe’s president.

While her hike was rewarding, it wasn’t always easy, McConnell said during her speech.

“There was no one to share the journey. No one to share the joy, and no one to share the discussion about the next destination,” McConnell said. “But today, the important thing is that we have each other. Every single one of us in this room, those watching online, those that couldn’t make it today, we are working together to meet every challenge, to celebrate every joy. And I have felt that since the first moment I stepped on campus over four years ago.”

McConnell arrived at St. Joe’s in 2019 to serve as provost and senior vice president of academic affairs. In August 2022 McConnell became interim president after her predecessor Mark Reed, Ed.D., stepped down to become the 25th president of Loyola University of Chicago. In March 2023, the University’s Board of Trustees announced McConnell would become St. Joe’s 29th president.

Reed joined McConnell on stage at the inauguration ceremony, along with four other former St. Joe’s presidents: Kevin Gillespie, S.J. ’72; John W. Smithson ’68, ’82; Timothy R. Lannon, S.J.; and Nicholas S. Rashford, S.J.

As part of the ceremony, speakers from the higher education and Jesuit communities gave remarks, including Thomas B. Foley, president of the Association of Independent Colleges and Universities of Pennsylvania.

“I have absolutely no doubt that Cheryl will do great things for this university,” Foley said at the ceremony. “The fact is, with the accomplishments already in the book, Cheryl has given a new meaning to the phrase, ‘hitting the ground running.’”

McConnell has a 35-year career in Jesuit education, including becoming the dean of the College of Business, Influence and Information Analysis and the Helzberg School of Management at Rockhurst University. In her time at St. Joe’s, McConnell guided St. Joe’s through two mergers, the first with the University of the Sciences which was finalized in June 2022 and the second with the Pennsylvania College of Health Sciences, which is set to be finalized in January 2024.

University Student Senate Vice President Milton O’Brien ’25, who spoke at the ceremony on behalf of Student Senate President Alec Mettin ’24, said students are confident McConnell will “calmly guide the university to and through completion of her goals,” as witnessed during her time as provost and interim president.

“The students of Saint Joseph’s look forward to meeting with you, learning from you and saying alongside you that ‘The Hawk Will Never Die,’” O’Brien said.

Before leading the audience in a recitation of the university’s mantra at the end of her speech, McConnell described her guiding principle: “Always. Forward.” She recounted how that principle guided her even in Utah, on a steep hike in the rain, made all the more difficult after she had twisted her ankle.

Cheryl A. McConnell, Ph.D., leads the processional after her inauguration as president. PHOTO: MADELINE WILLIAMS ’26/THE HAWK

“As I sat in the rain, it was hard to tell the difference between the tears that were running down my face, and the rain was falling from the sky. What I wanted, what I needed, were companions on the journey. Not unlike Ignatius,” McConnell said. “People who would have helped me plan better, people who knew how to use weather apps, people who would have told me for good that simplistic first aid kit in the hotel lobby and buy yourself an ankle brace just in case. And the people who would climb with me and always share the joy in achieving the crest.”

Foley said McConnell will be there to lift the university up when things don’t go as planned.

“They say there’s two types of people in the world: those who walk into a room and say, ‘Here I am,’ and those who walk into the room and say, ‘There you are.’ I think you know what kind of president you chose,” said Foley. “There you are, Cheryl.”

James M. Norris ’85, chair of the presidential search committee and chair of the University’s Board of Trustees, placed the presidential chain around McConnell’s neck.

“This chain bears names of all past leaders of St. Joseph’s, and it links you to all of those individuals who have preceded you as president of this great university,” Norris said.

After the chain was placed around her neck, McConnell smiled and said it was the best necklace she has ever had.

“I think that having the responsibility of being a president is the most challenging and complex position I’ve ever held in my life, and it is also the most satisfying and wonderful position,” McConnell said.

After Thomas Betterly ’24 sang the alma mater, Hawkapella, the all-gender student acapella group, sang as faculty and delegates proceeded out of the arena. McConnell led the faculty processional with tears in her eyes and a smile on her face.

Cheryl A. McConnell, Ph.D., addresses the audience at the inauguration as the 29th president of St. Joe’s. PHOTO: BEN VANELLI ’25/THE HAWK
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