Helen F. Giles-Gee didn't know the historical significance of her appointment as president of the University of the Sciences until she read the news release announcing her appointment Monday.
Giles-Gee, president of Keene State College in New Hampshire, becomes the first female leader of the science-oriented university in its 191-year history. She is also the university's first president of color, school officials said.
"It's not an issue with me," said Giles-Gee, a graduate of the University of Pennsylvania, who also formerly was provost of Rowan University in New Jersey. "I've done it so many times. I'm from Alabama."
Giles-Gee has worked in higher education for more than 30 years, the last seven as president of the 5,800-student Keene, the only public liberal arts college in New Hampshire.
She will become the 22nd president of the University of the Sciences on July 16, school officials said. She will be on campus Thursday and Friday to meet with staff and community.
University of the Sciences has about 3,000 undergraduate and graduate students; annual undergraduate tuition/room and board is about $43,000.
Board Chairman Marvin Samson, who has served as interim president since September, called Giles-Gee a "proven leader who understands the need for students and faculty members to be exposed to different disciplines, to appreciate knowledge in a broad context, and to value the benefits of diversity."
University of the Sciences, which is private, declined to release her salary or length of contract.
She replaces Philip P. Gerbino who retired last August after 16 years at the helm.
Giles-Gee was one of 55 candidates and four finalists for the job.
Samson said she would be charged with offering the best education possible while trying to contain costs: "We're no different than any other institution of higher education. Cost is an issue."
The university in the past has had presidents who have grown up in the system, including Gerbino who graduated from the school with a pharmacy degree and served on the faculty before rising to the presidency. Giles-Gee represents a major change, Samson said.
"Having someone like Helen come in will really make a big difference here," he said. "Someone with new ideas, new approach, new perspective is something we really need here."
At Keene, Giles-Gee developed a strategic plan and initiated a collegewide honors program, among other projects. Keene experienced double-digit increases in applications under her leadership. Last year, it graduated its largest class in history.
Giles-Gee said her first priority as president will be to listen to staff, alumni, students, and community members.
"I want to get to know them," she said. "They've already developed a strategic plan, so I will work with them on their goals. I'm really there to polish their apple."
Before Keene, Giles-Gee was provost and education professor at Rowan from 2001 until early 2005. She said she then stepped down as provost for personal reasons and continued as a professor for a few months before leaving for the presidency at Keene.
She previously had been dean of the School of Professional Studies at State University of New York at Cortland, associate vice chancellor for academic affairs at the University System of Maryland, and executive assistant to the president at Towson State University.
Giles-Gee also taught biology at Cheyney University, an historically black school in Pennsylvania's state system.
Giles-Gee has one daughter, Lauren, who attends college in New Hampshire.
She has a bachelor's in psychobiology, a master's in science education, and a doctorate in measurement, evaluation, and techniques of experimental research, all from the University of Pennsylvania. She also has a degree in zoology from Rutgers.
She also took pregraduate classes in the 1970s at the University of the Sciences, then known as Philadelphia College of Pharmacy and Science.
"I was going into the program at Rutgers, and I wanted additional sciences," she said. "Because of the strong reputation they had, I decided to take my courses there."