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Susan M. Donovan, Ph.D.
President, Bellarmine University
Family: Husband Bill; daughters Meghan and Caitlin
Area of town: Highlands

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It’s hard to get Susan Donovan away from college. For much of her life, she has lived either on-campus or within walking distance to a college. She tells people she grew up in a small town — Woodbine, Iowa — and likes things close. Even her exercise routine centers around college since she walks each day to Bellarmine University, around campus, and then back home again. Her travels in recent years have also been college-related: visiting Amsterdam, where one of her daughters studied, and Portugal, since her husband is a Latin American historian.

How has your life been different than what you expected?
I wasn’t going to go to college. I’m a first-generation college student. I ended up going to college because I wasn’t good at shorthand and typing. I followed my sister to college and had a mentor who pulled me aside and said, “Did it ever occur to you that you might want to stay in higher ed?” I did an internship at Florida State in my senior year and decided I wanted to be a dean of students.

What drew you to higher education as a career?
I loved college from day one. I loved the college environment because I really hadn’t been exposed to it. It was so novel. I just didn’t realize you could get paid to do that. Also, knowing how college had expanded my horizons and to see the transformation and be a part of that for others.

What are the advantages of your job?
The students. I have a hard time staying away from students. The faculty, and the cultural, intellectual, and social opportunities.

What are the challenges of working in higher ed?
There is a lot of negative press on higher ed these days. I think it’s a great environment, but the concern about affordability and accessibility is one of the challenges.

Do you have a favorite college memory?
I took a trip across Iowa with my college friends during undergrad. It was for fun. I remember we went on a houseboat on the river and stayed at their families’ homes. Since that time, as president, my inauguration (in 2017) was a very moving time. I didn’t realize how emotional all of that would be. It was a lot of love and attention and support. I didn’t realize how important the occasion was for me and the institution.

What professional goals do you have?
To leave Bellarmine a better place than when I got there. To make it better known. I think it’s a great place, and I don’t think I have to change it, but it’s sort of a best kept secret. I’d like to change that.

What personal goals do you have?
Getting both of my daughters through college. I think all of my personal goals are professional right now. I’d like to get to know Kentucky better. We haven’t really done day trips, so there is a lot to see in Kentucky that I haven’t seen.

Are you an introvert or an extrovert?
I’m actually an introvert, so I’m probably in the wrong occupation. It’s always been part of my profession to meet and talk to people, but I can max out on that eventually. My first position was director of residence life, and you have a lot of interactions with parents and faculty. I did have to get comfortable with that.

What word best describes you?
I think I’m patient.

Do you think patience goes along with your role?
I am calm and unflappable in most situations, which I think is why I stayed in the career I did. When you’re dean of students, you encounter almost everything. I always say to people when they say “College students need to get in the real world,” real world things do happen in college. Parents die. Students die. Life events still happen at a very challenging developmental time.

Congratulate Susan and the other winners in person at our 2019 Most Admired Woman event at The Olmsted on June 25. Purchase your tickets here.

P.S. Visit the Entrepreneurship Resource Expo at Bellarmine University on June 11.

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