A powerful motivator. A decisive leader. A driver of change. President Patricia Okker has spent the past eight months making these impressions on the New College of Florida community since her arrival on July 1.
She will be formally inaugurated at 4 p.m. Wednesday, with a procession from the Academic Center down Dort Promenade to College Hall, a ceremony outside College Hall, and a lemonade toast on the bayfront. As she prepares for the event, New College reflects on—and applauds—her leadership.
“What we appreciate so much in working with Dr. Okker is that she is a living embodiment of New College values. She treasures the contributions of students, staff and faculty in supporting a creative and collaborative learning community that allows for excellence in academics and extensive career exploration.
Because her love of New College is authentic, she is so very effective in conveying the excitement of New College to elected and appointed officials, alumni, donors, future students and the community. We trust Dr. Okker to know what to hold dear in New College tradition and what to change for New College to continue to grow and prosper.” —Mary Ruiz, chair of the New College of Florida Board of Trustees
“President Okker has proven to be an excellent leader of New College. From day one on the job, she has made an effort to listen to all campus voices and make informed decisions. She is incredibly strong and thoughtful, and I am grateful for her caring leadership of the student body. It is an honor to have played a part in her selection, and I am grateful to call her part of the New College family.” –Sofia Lombardi, president of the New College Student Alliance
“I am thrilled that President Okker is New College’s new president. Her rich experience in higher education, as well as her authenticity and keen sense of humor, bring a freshness to the position that inspires those who work with her. As a longtime member of the New College faculty, I could not be more pleased by Pat’s deep appreciation of our unique and high-quality academic program. I am equally pleased, however, by her recognition that our future success depends on a sharpened focus on performance and a strengthened sense of shared joy for all members of our community.
President Okker’s vision for New College as a national model for honors liberal arts and sciences career education promises to raise our profile in the state of Florida and nationally. Her strategic emphasis on data-driven decision making will increase student enrollment, enhance the diversity of our community, and improve outcomes for all our students. She has already made many positive impacts on our community. I am confident that New College is in very strong hands.” —Suzanne Sherman, Ph.D., provost and vice president for academic affairs, associate professor of chemistry
“It has been a pleasure getting to know Dr. Okker and a real privilege to work with her each day. She brings so much enthusiasm to the role of president that is simply infectious. From the perspective of my 30-plus-year career, her leadership skills are remarkable and I have learned a lot from her in these past several months. She is a very decisive leader and I am confident that she will be able to lead New College to the next level.” —Chris Kinsley, vice president for finance and administration
“President Okker is the right person at the right moment in New College’s history. Her passion for and conviction about the power of a liberal arts education is a powerful motivator. Her deep care for the well-being and success of our students drives her decision-making process. She says regularly that each and every one of us has a part to play in helping every student achieve their goals. And she demonstrates that in her actions as well as her words.
President Okker has a seemingly endless amount of energy, and is positive and decisive. She also has a great sense of humor and doesn’t take herself too seriously. All of those elements are a winning combination in my book. I’m confident that New College will soar under her leadership.” —MaryAnne Young, executive director of the New College Foundation
“I was privileged to observe the entire New College presidential selection process as one of the New College staff members assigned to assist the search committee. From my vantage point, I watched as the search committee cast a nationwide net, looking for the best qualified candidates from coast to coast.
The search was a thorough, transparent and rigorous six-month process. Amidst the very large number of qualified and gifted educators interested in leading New College, Dr. Okker stood out based on her experience, energy, past success and future vision. I believe the hard work of the search committee paid off with the best possible candidate selected to serve as the next New College president. The future of New College is extremely bright and I am grateful to be a part of it.” —David Fugett, general counsel
“In addition to having the support of a great chief of staff, what makes President Okker such a capable leader is her drive. Pat is driven and constantly pushing to improve New College. Beyond her intense focus on student success, Pat is driven to improve the New College experience for the entire campus community—students, faculty and staff. In the eight months Pat has been leading New College, she has shown great skill in driving change.
Her ability to ‘read the signs’ and process information quickly has allowed Pat to accelerate New College into emerging opportunities. Her willingness to let up on the gas has allowed the College to steer around potential potholes and over speedbumps. Her use of data and metrics to inform decisions demonstrates how Pat regularly checks the dashboard. Her push for feedback and ability to course-correct have given the campus a reason to call the ‘How’s my driving?’ number. Her focus on solutions instead of problems has freshened the campus environment like one of those pine tree air fresheners.
A few years from now, we’ll look back on the success New College has achieved and we’ll realize we found the right person for the right college at the right time. No one can do it by themselves, but President Okker has the capacity to get the campus cruising in the right direction.” —Brad Thiessen, chief of staff
“Pat Okker stood out among a highly qualified pool of candidates for president because she really seemed to ‘get’ New College and what makes it unique and special, yet she also brings a fresh outside perspective on how we can do some things better. She has a deep commitment to liberal arts education of the highest quality. She doesn’t want to change New College into something it’s not, but she recognizes the challenges we face in growing enrollment and demonstrating return on investment to the state of Florida, and she has clear plans to improve our performance in both areas.
She is a clear communicator and a good listener, and she has been open and forthcoming in her dealings with the faculty, staff and students. I am happy to have her here and hopeful that she will lead the College past our current challenges toward a better place.” —David Harvey, Ph.D., professor of history and international and area studies, chair of the faculty
About President Okker
Patricia Okker, Ph.D. was appointed president of New College of Florida on July 1, 2021. Dr. Okker’s teaching and scholarship focus on 19th-century American literature, particularly American periodicals and women’s writing.
She is the author of two books and one edited collection: Our Sister Editors: Sarah Josepha Hale and the Tradition of Nineteenth-Century American Women Editors, Social Stories: The Magazine Novel in Nineteenth-Century America, and Transnationalism and American Serial Fiction. In 2003, she was awarded a William T. Kemper Fellowship for Teaching Excellence.
Born and raised in New Jersey, Dr. Okker graduated from Allegheny College in Meadville, Pennsylvania, with a degree in English and a minor in religious studies. She earned her master’s degree in English from the University of Georgia, and her Ph.D., also in English, from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.
Prior to her arrival at New College, Dr. Okker spent 31 years at the University of Missouri, both as a faculty member in the Department of English and in a variety of leadership roles. From 2017 to 2021, she served as dean of the College of Arts and Science, where she led efforts that improved student retention rates, increased the diversity of faculty and leadership in the College, implemented a College-wide initiative around career education, and successfully completed the College’s largest fundraising campaign.
Dr. Okker was initially attracted to New College because of the reputation of our academic program, our unique approach to self-directed learning, and our innovative integration of academic and career education. Her presidential priorities include improving student outcomes; ensuring that New College is an inclusive and supportive community to learn, to work and to grow; and increasing the reputation of New College throughout the state, the nation and the world.
Dr. Okker lives with her husband, Dr. Richard Edging; her mother; and their golden retriever, Blu. Dr. Edging and Dr. Okker have two grown children, Kate and Jack. In her spare time, Dr. Okker enjoys running, weightlifting and powerlifting. She hopes to run her ninth consecutive Boston Marathon in April 2022.
For more information on the presidential inauguration, visit ncf.edu/inauguration.
Abby Weingarten is the senior editor in the Office of Communications & Marketing.