Since he started his new job on February 1, 2006, Randolph-Macon's fifteenth President hasn't spent much time in his Peele Hall office. Instead, Robert R. Lindgren has been busy making the rounds on campus and earning a reputation as "The Students' President."
Within four months, Lindgren met with nearly every fraternity and sorority on campus, invited all 12 First Year Experience classes to his home for dessert, congratulated outstanding scholars after Honors Convocation, celebrated with students and families at the college’s first post-Baccalaureate reception, and shook the hand of every graduating senior as they collected their diplomas during Commencement.
“The students were very welcoming. They made it easy for me to jump right into campus life and ask lots of questions,” Lindgren said. “This was one of the many advantages to starting in February. I was able to hit the ground running, in real time, and learn about the campus community without the pressure of making immediate changes.”
Having overseen presidential transitions at other institutions, Lindgren understands the importance of connecting quickly to a campus culture and getting to know people. And he hasn’t wasted any time doing so. It is quickly becoming commonplace to see Lindgren, with briefcase in hand or children in tow, stopping to introduce himself to students and chat awhile.
Lindgren’s warm and outgoing approach is scoring major points. Megan Silva ’06 recalls how in March, the women’s basketball team got an unexpected visitor during one of their last practices before heading to the NCAA Tournament.
“The new president of the college just stopped in and introduced himself. I couldn’t believe it,” said Silva. “He had just started his new job and he took the time to come see us and wish us well. It meant so much to us.”
Lindgren was also at Columbia Uni-ver-sity in New York City to watch Silva be honored with the Honda Award as the outstanding Divi-sion III athlete in the nation. When asked about his attendance, Lindgren replied, “I would go any-where to see one of our students win a national award.” Lindgren also is getting to know the faculty and staff, much to their approval. “My experi-ence with Bob is that he is personable, thorough in preparation and execution, and anxious to help the college be its very best,” said Bill Franz, interim dean of the college and longtime professor of physics. “I am thrilled to be part of his team because I see the possibility that our college will grow in exciting new ways.”
The campus is not the only place where Lindgren is making R-MC connections. Instead of waiting for alumni and parents to come to him, he has taken the first steps by venturing out to meet them. He has introduced himself to the R-MC family at a series of receptions throughout Virginia, Maryland and Washington, D.C. (See page 25 for more on these receptions.) Recep-tions that Lindgren promises will continue long after he has become a familiar face.
Carolyn Garofalo, the mother of Mark ’03 and Matthew, a rising R-MC senior, attended the reception in Tysons Corner in Northern Virginia. “I think it is terrific that he is so willing to talk to parents. He could have arrived and stayed in his office but instead he has been proactive in an impressive way. R-MC is well known and has done great things for my kids, but I believe President Lindgren will make a difference by helping to make a bigger name for the college.”
Making a difference is what Lindgren is all about. However, at one time he expected to make his mark in the courtroom, not on a college campus.
When he was a young boy, he thought he had his future mapped out. “I wanted to be a lawyer and live in Florida where it was a lot warmer,” the Michigan native laughs.
Lindgren made it to the University of Florida but a trip abroad altered his original aspirations, sending him on a lifelong journey into higher education that has been nothing but rewarding.
“After graduating from the University of Florida in 1976, I went to Brasenose College at Oxford University in England,” he said. “An international experience is always trans-formational and it was especially so for me. When I came back to attend law school, my world view had changed and my original plan wasn’t as attractive.”
It was at this time that Lindgren actually started
thinking about working towards becoming a college president. “I came to understand that higher education is a great vocation. It is important because it is such a great escalator for our society. It was a calling for me because I felt and continue to feel a tremendous sense of service to it.”
Lindgren has served his calling well. He earned a law degree while at the same time serving as the assistant to the president of the University of Florida. He was soon promoted to assistant dean of the College of Law and then to vice president and chief development officer. Later he was the architect of Florida’s first university-wide campaign. In 1994, Lindgren accepted the position of vice president for Development and Alumni Relations at The Johns Hopkins Institutions in Baltimore, Maryland. While there, he directed back- to-back fundraising campaigns that generated nearly $3.5 billion.
It is this mix of executive, development, and relationship building expertise that attracted the Randolph-Macon College Board of Trustees. “Robert Lindgren is a proven leader who brings a wealth of knowledge and experience that will greatly benefit the college,” said Harold Starke, board member and chair of the Presidential Search Committee. “He is not only a personable and engaging individual, but one of the highest integrity. We are fortunate to have him at the helm.”
Coming to Randolph-Macon from institutions like University of Florida and Johns Hopkins may seem like an odd turn for Lindgren. But to him, it makes perfect sense. Even while serving seven college presidents, he never lost sight of his bigger goal of one day becoming a president himself.
However, his perspective shifted as he came to understand how a place like Randolph-Macon could make a seismic difference in the development of a student, a difference that cannot easily be replicated at a large university.
“My admiration for the quality of the educational experience afforded to students at Randolph-Macon is what drew me here,” he confided. “Quite frankly, the quality of educational experience here, and at liberal arts and sciences colleges like Randolph-Macon, is the best there is in the country and in the world. I believe so because every student here has the opportunity to engage with faculty who care deeply about their growth as students and as people. The opportunities for students to learn outside of the classroom are equally incredible.
“I tell students by the time they leave Randolph-Macon, they will have written enough papers to fill a Winston Churchill-sized volume,” he said. “Not only that, but each of the pages in that volume will have been critiqued by a full professor. This writing experi-ence is simply not available to most students anywhere else.”
Lindgren is already having success suppor-ting the academic environment. He recently celebrated a $300,000 renewal grant from the Andrew Mellon Foundation that will help fund Randolph-Macon’s innovative First Year Experience program. In this program, two professors from different subject areas collaborate to create a two-semester colloquium that gives students a cross-disciplinary view of the same subject.
“Foundation officials are really excited about the FYE,” said Lindgren. “They told me our program is one of the most innovative they have seen.”
Lindgren is also looking forward to an up-coming capital campaign that will be aimed at helping to ensure that future generations can benefit from the interaction and connections between students and faculty—a hallmark of the college.
Additionally, Lindgren has the happy challenge of welcoming what likely will be Randolph-Macon’s biggest first year class in college history. More than 400 freshmen are expec-ted to matriculate during Labor Day weekend.
“We are working diligently, fervently, thoughtfully and with great commotion,” Lindgren chuckled. “We are thrilled to have this high level of interest and I am looking very for-ward to welcoming these students and their families into the Randolph-Macon family.”
Lindgren’s first semester was a whirlwind of shaking hands, meeting and greeting, and learning the lay of the land. But it in one respect, it ended all too quickly. After attending dozens of commencements, this new president had the pleasure of awarding members of the class of 2006 their diplomas. “One of the benefits of working in higher education is that it gives you a better outlook on the world. Watching students and celebrating their achievements, you realize that this next generation is very talented and that they will indeed carry on successfully. Each will achieve in their own way. That’s why we are here. To help them find their way.”
After the ceremony, Lindgren couldn’t let the students go. “I had to go to the fountain and share in the joy and anticipation of the day with the graduates and their families. I guess I had to have that closure. I wasn’t saying goodbye, however. Actually, I was saying ‘Au revoir—until I see you again.’ It is my hope that the connections forged here at Randolph-Macon will keep students coming back to their alma mater for years to come.”