Shortly after Dr. Pamela M. Jolicoeur arrived at Concordia in 2004, she described what she hoped to accomplish as the college’s 10th president: to help the college distinguish itself as an innovative leader in higher education, well-positioned to meet the challenges of the future. She worked relentlessly toward that end until her death June 9, 2010, at the age of 65.
Six years in the story of Concordia College is brief. But every presidency marks a new chapter in institutional history. Jolicoeur embraced the college’s gifts and traditions and enhanced them with her own vision.
“She claimed her place among us immediately, affirmed our mission and added her own exegesis,” says Dr. Paul Dovre, interim president, who had a good rapport with the late president and understands where she wanted to take the college.
“Refreshment was Pam’s gift to us. She saw the sacred within us. For her, leadership was a team sport. She reached out to every member in search of our gifts and out of respect for our sacredness.”
There are her tangible accomplishments, of course. She helped to complete a $100 million capital campaign, which included the expansion of the Knutson Campus Center. She established the vision for new initiatives in the sciences and the Offutt School of Business. She enhanced Concordia’s leadership in global education.
She challenged Concordia to give every student a transformative experience. On her watch, the student academic profile improved, a new core curriculum was established and the college’s leadership team restructured.
Perhaps the greatest gift she left behind is when she asked Concordia to shrug off its mantle of “militant modesty.” From day one, Jolicoeur held up a mirror to the college and challenged everyone to tell Concordia’s story more boldly than it had ever been told. She encouraged faculty, administrators, students and alumni to embrace what they did well and take it to the next level of excellence. She never stopped asking them to think about what moving into the 21st century meant for the college.
“She tapped into our hopes and desires for what Concordia could be,” says Dr. Mark Krejci, provost and dean of the college. “She brought with her a spirit that, no matter what the challenges may be, we could overcome them.”
Jolicoeur’s leadership instilled confidence as the college faced daunting realities: declines in the high school population of the states from which it traditionally draws students; greater competition from area public and private colleges; and a difficult global economy. She refused to see the challenges as impossible hurdles and, instead, used them as opportunities to strategically push the college forward.
“She did it in such a way that Concordia is not different. It’s just more focused,” says Dr. Roger Gilbertson ‘59, a former member of the Board of Regents who was a member of her search committee.
The vision for the Offutt School of Business is one example of how she positioned the college for future success in a competitive environment. She didn’t ask college leaders to expand the business program. She asked them to create a one-of-a-kind undergraduate business school that would remain true to the college’s mission and develop business leaders who influence the affairs of the world.
“She wanted to do things that would make a difference, that would prepare students for a more global environment,” says Tracey Moorhead, senior associate to the president.
For Concordia, Jolicoeur’s background made her a perfect fit for the job – the blend of a life steeped in faith and an academic scholar devoted to Lutheran higher education.
“She came equipped for this job,” says Moorhead. “We received a gift. There’s no doubt about that.”
Jolicoeur was raised in California’s San Fernando Valley. As a child, she attended Catholic schools and a Catholic girls’ summer camp – experiences that inspired her to enter the Sisters of Social Service after graduating from high school. She was a member of that community of vowed women for six years.
She earned her undergraduate degree from Santa Clara (Calif.) University and her doctorate in sociology from Purdue University in West Lafayette, Ind.
Her first academic job was at California Lutheran University in Thousand Oaks where she started as a member of the sociology faculty. There she began exploring what it meant to be Lutheran and adopted her Lutheran identity. Over 32 years, she moved up through the ranks. For eight years she served as its provost and dean, responsible for academic affairs, academic services, admissions, information systems and services, athletics, institutional planning and research.
“Somebody with that drive had to be an extraordinary leader,” Gilbertson says. “Someone with her record of achievement had a high probability of succeeding here.”
Pushing Others to Excel
Throughout her professional and academic career, Jolicoeur took great pride in recognizing the potential in people and pushing them to excel beyond their expectations, whether it was the students in her sociology classes or her colleagues in teaching and administration. She listened carefully, a skill that Dr. René Clausen, conductor of The Concordia Choir, calls the mark of all extraordinary leaders.
“She was confident enough to listen to everyone at her table,” he says. “She’d make the strong decisions she had to make, but they were always well-informed.”
Ever the teacher, she also used questions to prompt others to expand their thinking.
Some of Krejci’s favorite memories include meetings where she peppered him with questions. She expected people to be thorough when they presented ideas to her and Krejci prided himself on having responses to most of her queries. Ever the scholar, Jolicoeur often came up with the zinger that left even the provost speechless.
“I’d find myself time and time again saying, ‘Oh, that’s a great question. Why didn’t I think of that?’” Krejci says.
Dr. Linda Johnson, history professor, observed Jolicoeur’s attention to detail when the two women traveled to Washington, D.C., to meet with the head of Phi Beta Kappa, the nation’s preeminent honor society for the liberal arts. The two rehearsed the conversation ahead of time - brainstorming directions the talk could take and what their responses would be. In the end, none of the scenarios took place, Johnson says. The experience reflected both Jolicoeur’s insistence on strategy and her capacity for highlighting the strengths of the college.
“She broadened our thinking. She modeled leadership in a way that will continue to bear fruit for the college,” Johnson says. “She saw real strengths here that we never saw in ourselves.”
Jolicoeur carried those observations far beyond the boundaries of the campus. She believed the college did global education well. Concordia Language Villages and study-abroad programs like the May Seminar and semester-long experiences had been established decades before her arrival. But she brought the emphasis to a new level of prestige and visibility.
Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings invited her to be one of a select group of American college presidents who participated in a summit on international education. She also was one of 30 college leaders who participated in an international conference in Istanbul that looked for ways to strengthen exchanges between American and Muslim majority colleges and universities. Conference participants also shared ideas on how to establish and sustain successful independent institutions.
“Those experiences were significant to this college,” Moorhead says. “She was about bringing attention to Concordia’s strengths and her national and international appearances made a difference.”
Connecting With People
Part of Jolicoeur’s success came from her ability and interest in connecting with people. She could converse with Nobel Peace Prize Laureate Dr. Muhammad Yunus and the CEOs of major health care organizations. She was just as at ease enjoying a Boca burger with choir members barbecuing on Olin Hill.
Her true charm, however, appeared in one-on-one, informal interactions. After her death, dozens of Concordia friends and alumni recounted occasions when the college president went out of her way to make them feel comfortable and a valued part of the Concordia family.
Kendra (Mewhorter) Mohn ‘95 remembers bringing her family to Concordia to celebrate Homecoming a few years back. Her kids wore maroon and gold sweaters that their grandmother had made for them. At one point during the day, the family bumped into Jolicoeur who complimented them on the sweaters. Mohn explained that they had hoped to take a photo of the crew on campus but had forgotten their camera. Jolicoeur not only offered her camera but invited them into the president’s residence while she got it. Later, she e-mailed them the photos.
“Aside from being a great president, she was a genuine, humble person,” Mohn says. “She will be missed.”
Heidi (Rust) Erdahl ’82 will never forget the sadness she felt when dropping off her daughter during Orientation week in the fall of 2006. After attending the sending-off service for parents, Erdahl was tearful. Jolicoeur saw her and shared memories of when she had to leave her own daughter, Jessica, at college.
“I fondly remember her warm, loving reassurance spoken to me in a sisterly way, encouraging me to look forward to those special letters and phone calls that would come soon and that would be precious,” Erdahl says. “She was so right.”
Students, too, cherished her willingness to engage with them. Erik George ’11, Bloomington, Minn., president of the student body, worked with Jolicoeur last spring as he prepared to deliver a speech to the Board of Regents. She suggested George rehearse with a metronome to perfect his timing and slow his rate of speech.
“I’ll never forget that,” he says. “While we the students didn’t know her at a deep level, we had a great fondness for her.”
Clausen recalls when Jolicoeur accompanied the choir on tour early in her presidency. She visited with students while they ate before an afternoon concert in a Phoenix church. Later, several of the choir’s women mentioned to Clausen that Jolicoeur was a wonderful role model.
“If you have that, you have a lot,” he says. “She was comfortable with herself and that always made those in her circle more comfortable.”
Jolicoeur’s warmth and intellect were apparent to Gilbertson the first time he met her in person. She wasn’t yet a presidential candidate, but had been asked by Concordia’s search committee to share her thoughts on leadership in Lutheran higher education. Meeting her at the Fargo airport, Gilbertson was slightly surprised when a petite Jolicoeur introduced herself. Her slight stature didn’t appear to match the authority she presented on the phone.
After a three-hour dinner, he drove home thinking, “Wow. I just met the future president of Concordia College,” he says. “She was nothing short of remarkable, a rare combination of character and competency.”
Dovre has mentioned often in public gatherings, including an on-campus memorial service after the academic year began, that it is hard to think of anything in which Jolicoeur didn’t excel. The only thing he could come up with was her discomfort in leading the Cobber cheer at football games. “She could do everything well,” he says, “except give less than her best.”
And because of that, her footprints now set the trail for future leadership to follow.
“She brought us all to a point where we’re ready to soar,” says Moorhead. “We’re at the edge of the cliff, ready to catch the updraft. And nobody’s going to keep that from happening.”
Remembering Dr. Pamela M. Jolicoeur
The late president had a gift for connecting with people, whether it was assisting with worship, welcoming home Roxana Saberi ‘97, a journalist who had been imprisoned in Iran, or conversing with Dr. Muhammad Yunus, the 2006 Nobel Peace Prize Laureate who spoke on campus for the 20th annual Nobel Peace Prize Forum in 2008. She also worked closely with the longtime chair of the Board of Regents, Ronald Offutt.
In 2007 President Pamela M. Jolicoeur helped to celebrate the most successful fundraising effort in the college’s history with president emeritus Paul J. Dovre‘58 and campaign co-chairs Ronald Offutt ‘64 and Richard Solberg ‘68.
Jolicoeur honored Dr. Peter Schultz, assistant professor of art, with the Olin J. Storvick Endowed Chair of Classical Studies in 2008.
Students admired and enjoyed interacting with the president whether it was at Commencement (above), the beanie toss (below), the painting of the Christmas Concert mural or a football game.
The President Pamela M. Jolicoeur Memorial Scholarship was established in her memory.