Kurt M. Landgraf has managed 66,000 employees as chief operating officer at DuPont, headed an international educational nonprofit and helped shape educational policy as a member of the New Jersey Commission on Higher Education.
Landgraf, 69, sees those experiences as key to his approach as the next president of Washington College on Maryland's Eastern Shore. The college's Board of Visitors and Governors announced his appointment on Friday — one day after outgoing President Sheila Bair said she would resign to spend more time with her family. Landgraf will take the reins July 1.
"This is exactly what I was hoping to do with the rest of my career," he said.
On Monday, his first day in Chestertown as president-elect, Landgraf met with Bair, whose two years as president were spent championing several student debt-reduction programs. He called those initiatives a "phenomenal foundation," and said he hopes to further emphasize a "student-centric" approach by channeling resources to the provost and faculty to address students' needs.
"The fundamental idea is to give them as many opportunities where they can grow as human beings and be prepared as they can be for their next steps in life," Landgraf said.
The small, private college with an enrollment of less than 1,500 faces no shortage of challenges. Applications from international students have decreased due to evolving U.S. immigration policies, and economic and labor trends have hurt liberal arts institutions, he said.
Still, Washington College's 12-to-1 student-to-faculty ratio allows it to prepare each student for success, he said.
"We need to offer them educational growth opportunities that will help them to grow intellectually and emotionally," he said.
Landgraf distinguished himself as "an exceptional and highly qualified candidate" among 400 hopefuls during the national search for a college president in 2015, the college's board said in the announcement of his appointment.
Following two decades in various executive roles at E. I. du Pont de Nemours and Co., he became president of Educational Testing Service, or ETS, a nonprofit educational testing and academic assessment organization.
Walt MacDonald, who became president of ETS after Landgraf, said his predecessor's business sense, ethical compass and devotion to educational equity will serve the college well.
"He's terrific," MacDonald said. "He will be a great asset to that institution. The students will love him, and the faculty should too, because he respects their work."
Landgraf also served as vice chairman of New Jersey's Higher Education Commission, the state's governing board for colleges and universities, and president of the National Consortium for Graduate Degrees for Minorities in Engineering and Science. He is a member of the boards of directors for Corning Inc. and the Louisiana-Pacific Corp.
Rochelle Hendricks, New Jersey's secretary of education, called Landgraf a "superstar" whose leadership at ETS was "visionary and transformational." His time at DuPont gave him executive skills that will make him an exceptional college president, she said.
"He's a true collaborator," she said. "He works so well with diverse groups of people, making them feel included, valued and respected."
Bair's tenure as the university's president was focused on college access and affordability, a legacy Landgraf wants to sustain.
She created a program to match scholarship dollars to every dollar spent from a family's 529 or Education Savings Account and launched a scholarship program for low-income students. A program called "Fixedfor4" froze tuition costs for students during their four years at the college, and a "Dam the Debt" initiative awarded $659,000 in scholarships to graduating seniors to help pay off their federal student loans.
"I am very committed to maintaining emphasis on student debt reduction," he said.
The top concerns of students, faculty and staff include accessibility under the Americans with Disabilities Act, increasing environmental standards at the university and improving residential life, according to Melat Kiros, president of the Student Government Association.
"I think Washington College students will be really excited about President-elect Landgraf's emphasis on the students and our college experience," said Kiros, a senior from Aurora, Colo., majoring in political science and economics.
"Interact with the students on a regular basis outside of normal college business," Kiros said.
Catalina Righter, who graduated last month and is the outgoing editor of the campus newspaper, The Elm, said those interactions are essential for a college president, especially on such a small campus.
"Students like to see a college president who is around campus, a face that's there, and someone who shows up to events, and makes one-on-one connections," Righter said.