Luther community members share initial impressions of President Jenifer K. Ward


Photo courtesy of Photo Bureau

President Jenifer K. Ward speaks with members of the community at a “Campus Coffee Break” meet and greet this summer.

Following a unanimous vote from Luther College’s Presidential Search Committee and a subsequent unanimous election by the Board of Regents in March 2019, Dr. Jenifer K. Ward became the 11th president of Luther College. The 2019 fall semester marks the beginning of her first full academic year at Luther. Staff, faculty, and students weighed in with their thoughts and feelings about Ward’s initial moves in the presidency.

Associate Professor of Chemistry Claude Mertzenich says he finds Ward engaging and that his initial impressions of her personality and goals for Luther’s immediate future have been positive. 

“[She] seems to have a communication style that resonates for sure with me, and I get the impression [that it resonates] with the other faculty,” Mertzenich said. “President Ward has a vision and an excitement about Luther that is really helping all of us move forward.” 

Instructor in Chemistry Alisa Winsauer says that Ward is looking for ways to unite faculty and staff at Luther College in order to promote natural and cohesive communication across campus offices and academic departments .

“We’ve traditionally had very separate meetings, so she is working on ways we can more effectively share information and meet in larger groups and other considerations like that,“ Winsauer said.

Philip Royer (‘22) hopes that Ward will grant more time and attention to the arts on Luther’s campus and be more active within the Luther community.

“I hope that [President Ward] looks at the arts department a little more because the last president just kind of looked over it, so I hope that she’ll look into it and see the value in it,” Royer said. “I also hope that she’ll interact with the students more, that way we can actually get to know who our president is.”

Since her election to the presidency, Ward has become well-known among students for her active presence on Twitter. She has also engaged students in person by meeting with campus groups, attending sporting events, musical performances, and speaking at events like Sophomores at the Commons and the opening of the “RACE: Are We So Different?” exhibition. 

Many individuals on campus look forward to what President Ward has planned for the future of Luther College. Students and staff were eager to share their hopes for these next few years.

Mertzenich said one of the most important factors in selecting President Ward was ensuring the financial success of the college in order to maintain Luther’s facilities and help academic programs to remain strong and appealing to potential students, alumni, and donors.

“Concern number one for me was the advancement office and making sure that the college brings in appropriate money to maintain infrastructure [and] to grow programs,” Mertzenich said. “Fortunately or unfortunately . . . as president of the college, their role is that of bringing in money and donations. I think that should be a very significant priority.”

Mertzenich believes that the chemistry department would benefit from some changes, such as adding an endowed chair for the department and resolving various other challenges that require further administrative attention.

“From my humble seat in the chemistry department, we have some certain infrastructure issues that need to be taken care of, and I would hope that she pays attention to that,” Mertzenich said.

Though not all demands may be met, it is clear that Luther College students, staff, and faculty have expectations for President Ward and look forward to seeing how she will change the institution in the near future.

Madeline Wilkins (‘22) says she wants Ward to work  towards positive change at Luther and enable previously established commitments towards improvements on campus to continue.

“I hope she pushes for continuing improvements that are being set in motion right now, not just stopping them,” Wilkins said. “I’m thinking like systematic things like continuing the good work that student organizations are doing and sustainability.”

Ward’s inauguration ceremony and investiture will take place on Saturday, Nov. 2 at 11:00 a.m. in the Center for Faith and Life. Following the inauguration, a jazz celebration with guest pianist and Ward’s mother, Betty Ward, will take place that evening in Marty’s at 7:30 p.m.

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