McDaniel College in Westminster celebrated the inauguration of President Julia Jasken this week with a series of activities on campus, including performances, academic symposiums and a community movie night and fireworks. The official installation ceremony is set for 3:30 p.m., today, ending with Jasken ringing the Old Main Bell and a reception in Memorial Plaza.
She is McDaniel’s 10th president and the second woman to lead the college in its 153-year history. A native of Minnesota, Jasken earned a bachelor’s degree from the College of Saint Benedict, a master’s degree from Northern Illinois University and a doctorate from Michigan Technological University.
Jasken is no stranger to McDaniel. She began working at the college in 2003 as an English professor and spent five years as the college’s executive vice president and provost. As provost she led McDaniel’s Return to the Hill Task Force that prepared the college for students returning to campus following pandemic shutdowns in spring 2020.
As a champion of liberal arts and McDaniel’s student-centered mission, Jasken emphasizes experiential learning, alumni connections, diversity, equity and inclusion initiatives, according to a news release from the school.
About 1,800 undergraduate and more than 1,300 graduate students attend McDaniel, with more than 40% identifying as racial or ethnic minorities, and 40% as first-generation college students. In McDaniel’s 2025 class, more than 45% of students identify as people of color and represent 11 countries of origin.
You have served as McDaniel’s president for about 10 months, what has the experience been like for you?
I am grateful to be part of this institution. These past few months as president have really been focused on community. We welcomed back our staff over the summer, who were working virtually during the pandemic, and introduced several new members of the senior leadership team to the college.
I have also been meeting with members of the Westminster community to discuss how we can both strengthen existing partnerships and grow new ones. Our community has been involved in launching a new strategic planning process, which will shape the future of the institution over the next five years. Now that the threat of COVID has started to diminish, it has been great to get out on the road to meet with our engaged alumni living across the United States.
How did your nearly two-decade tenure at McDaniel prepare you to lead the college?
McDaniel is a special place, and I have been fortunate to have had the opportunity to be a part of this community. After earning my Ph.D. in 2003, I drove from the Midwest to Westminster with my husband, our newborn son, and our border collie, Molly, and came to teach as an English professor at McDaniel. During my time here at McDaniel, I have really benefited from having the opportunity to work from many different sides of the college and I have learned so much from each of these experiences. Although I did not expect to move into administration when I started at McDaniel, I think the wide-ranging experiences as both a faculty member and administrator have prepared me well for this position.
You led McDaniel’s Return to the Hill Task Force to prepare for students returning to campus after pandemic shutdowns. How did that go, and what was it like taking over as leader amid the COVID-19 pandemic?
Leading the college’s Return to the Hill efforts while I was provost allowed me to begin in my new role as president with the background of all that the college was able to achieve during this time frame, including record enrollment with our largest-ever undergraduate classes. Over this time period, I have been repeatedly struck by the creativity, perseverance and commitment of our faculty, staff and students. Throughout the pandemic, the safety and well-being of our campus community was at the forefront of every decision that was made, and we also worked hard to maintain the close-knit community for which McDaniel is known. I am particularly proud of the way our entire campus community came together.
Your predecessor has said it takes a decade as president to fully accomplish and realize goals in a college setting. What is your 10-year plan for McDaniel?
This is really an exciting time at McDaniel. This fall, we launched our strategic planning process, and we are working to get input from our entire campus community. The strategic plan will really shape the direction, priorities and investments for the college moving forward. Student achievement and professional success are our two biggest priorities in the coming years.
I also look forward to having the opportunity to build and expand upon many of the initiatives that I have helped establish during my time at McDaniel and to further develop and cultivate community partnerships, as well as lead the fundraising efforts needed to support new program development, particularly at the graduate level.
What are some efforts that can be undertaken to help improve the relationship between the City of Westminster and McDaniel?
Carroll County Daily Headlines
Through the establishment of the college’s signature program, the McDaniel Commitment, I have seen our partnerships with the city and county continue to grow over the past few years. During my time at McDaniel, I’ve shared my passion for community engagement, and I believe that the ability for our students to have significant out-of-class learning opportunities as part of their McDaniel experience is truly a game-changer. I am excited to be able to further cultivate these community partnerships.
Are there any specific programs in the curriculum that you believe McDaniel needs to address or programs you want to bring back to the college?
We have now fully incorporated the four components of the McDaniel Commitment as a guarantee for all students during their time at the college. These elements — My Place, My Design, My Experience, and My Career — are embedded within the college’s general education curriculum and a team of mentors helps students develop a completely tailored program of courses and opportunities to prepare them for personal and professional success.
Alumni mentorship is an important component of the McDaniel Commitment, and we are continuing to look for ways to connect our alumni with this effort. Our Center for Experience and Opportunity is also continuously looking to build partnerships with local businesses and organizations who would be interested in hiring McDaniel students for internships, jobs or volunteer opportunities as part of the McDaniel Commitment. We are also looking forward to building new programs at the graduate level.
Under your leadership, McDaniel held its first ever Black History Month convocation last month. Why do you think it’s important to address equity, diversity and inclusion issues as president and what are some other ways you can accomplish that in the future, ie. programs, initiatives?
An important priority for the college that I continue to oversee in my role as president is our cross-divisional efforts related to diversity, equity and inclusion on campus. I remain dedicated to doing all that I can to ensure that McDaniel is a welcoming, equitable and inclusive environment for students and employees alike.
In the fall, we named Richard M. Smith, associate professor of sociology and a 2000 alumnus of the college, as our inaugural associate provost for equity and belonging, and we remain committed to diversifying our workforce and increasing DEI training. We are looking forward to connecting students with diverse community leaders, BIPOC-owned [Black, Indigenous, People of Color] businesses, and members of the social justice community. We are also looking forward to building more DEI-related partnerships with the city.