Cal Lutheran’s first female president

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Contributed: Cal Lutheran Media Relations

President Lori Varlotta, Cal Lutheran's first female president, said she is eager to tackle issues of diversity, equity and inclusion in a Lutheran context.

Sam Hostetter, Reporter

California Lutheran University welcomed an important new staff member to campus this September. 

President Lori Varlotta, Cal Lutheran’s first female president, comes from Hiram University in rural Ohio, where she served in her first role as University President for six years. 

At Hiram University, Varlotta was also known for being “the first female president in history,” said Senior Vice President and Dean of Students at Hiram University Liz Okuma

“President Varlotta was a change agent. We did a number and provided or moved forward a number of initiatives under her leadership,” Okuma said. “We brought on new majors and new minors. We brought on new athletic teams. We brought on the initiative of ‘Tech and Trek,’ so every student gets an Apple device as well as a pair of hiking boots.” 

Although Varlotta is beginning her Cal Lutheran career virtually, she said she is still working hard to connect with the student body.

“I’m spending time on campus,” Varlotta said. “I’ve set up some hikes and I’m really pleased that a few students have signed up to do some hikes with me up to the cross and up to the [CLU] rocks and then just to bring me around campus to show me their favorite spots.”

Less than one year ago, in October 2019, former President Chris Kimball announced he would be stepping down.

Rona Koe, assistant director of The Writing Center and member of the Presidential Search Committee, said there were 107 applicants for the position.

On Sunday, April 24, the Board of Regents announced in an email that three individuals from the pool of candidates were selected to move on to the final round of scheduled interviews.

“I think that President Varlotta not only said she was passionate about certain things, but she had a lot of experience to back it up,” Koe said. 

Looking toward the future, Varlotta said she is ready to tackle topics such as diversity, equity and inclusion. 

“There are a lot of initiatives that President Varlotta started, worked on, [and] managed as our president and the thing that she is noted for the most is coming to campus and having a new atmosphere of change,” Okuma said.

Varlotta was nominated by a colleague at Hiram for the open position at Cal Lutheran and said when she looked further into the institution, she saw a unique and promising opportunity.

Varlotta said part of her role will consist of integrating diversity, equity and inclusion with Cal Lutheran’s identity as a Lutheran university.

“While I am not a Lutheran, I am a very strong believer in the divine and in God the almighty, and I really want to integrate the best parts of the Cal Lutheran mission and the values of the [Evangelical Lutheran Church in America],” Varlotta said. “The [Church] has a wonderful set of values that excitinglyfrom my perspective–align very well with [diversity, equity and inclusion] issues. So how can we bring Lutheran values like grace and generosity and inclusivity to the forefront of the way we are talking about and defining and setting goals around [diversity, equity and inclusion]?”

On Tuesday, Sept. 1, Varlotta began her new position at Cal Lutheran, as former Cal Lutheran President Chris Kimball stepped down on Monday, Aug. 31. Varlotta welcomed the Cal Lutheran community at the Opening Convocation ceremony, which was held virtually this year.