Marisa Kelly Named President of Suffolk University

Marisa Kelly, who has lifted Suffolk University to new levels of excellence through her leadership as acting president, has been elected the University’s 11th president by the Board of Trustees, the University announced today.

Kelly has been a force for positive change at Suffolk, which is experiencing strong forward momentum under her leadership. Her selection follows broad community input and an extensive search that attracted numerous highly qualified and experienced domestic and international candidates.

First as provost starting in 2014, then as acting president over the past 20 months, Kelly has focused the University on strategic initiatives that are elevating its academic quality and programs, enhancing its reputation and global reach, dramatically boosting fundraising results and advancing enrollment efforts.

“Marisa Kelly is a gifted leader with a passion for this institution and its mission,” said Bob Lamb, chair of the Suffolk University Board of Trustees. “Now more than ever, Suffolk’s critical mission to empower students to achieve their hopes and dreams requires a special steward–someone who believes in the potential of our students and the dedication of our faculty and staff in supporting them.

We are fortunate to have found that person in Marisa Kelly. She is a strong advocate for this great University and the difference it makes in the lives of our students, faculty, staff and alumni. She is the chief architect behind the great progress that we are making together, which is realized through the efforts and commitment of the entire University community. She has proven that she is the right leader to build on the legacy of this great institution and ensure Suffolk’s long-term success.”

Kelly has been a resolute and outspoken voice for Suffolk’s longstanding commitment to inclusivity. As a result, those values are increasingly seen as a hallmark of a Suffolk education. She has been a champion for students and the support they need for success—from academic instruction to advising; counseling, health and wellness; career development; and international student services. And she is engaging and re-engaging members of the Suffolk alumni community in the life of the University.

“I believe deeply in this institution because Suffolk is a place where the combination of personal attention that we give to our students and the access to real-world experience that our location affords is absolutely transformational. That combination is really synonymous with Suffolk University,” said Kelly. “It is a great honor to be leading an institution where the faculty and staff see the promise in each student, and I am proud to be part of a community that is so focused on that mission.”

Kelly’s accomplishments extend across the University and include:

Fundraising success: Suffolk has produced its best fundraising year in more than a decade, shattering goals along the way. The University recently secured the two single-largest alumni gifts in its history, including a $10 million gift that will fund scholarships for Massachusetts students with significant financial need.

  • Academic excellence: She has been a strong supporter of innovative initiatives that respond to or anticipate market demand, such as the Sawyer Business School’s business analytics programs, the College of Arts & Sciences’ Center for Urban Ecology and Sustainability and the Law School’s accelerated JD degree.
  • Enrollment improvements: As external credit rating analysts have recently noted, Suffolk is seeing early indicators of enrollment success despite some strong demographic headwinds affecting universities across the country. Undergraduate, graduate and law applications and campus visits have increased for the incoming fall class. Attendance at the season’s first admitted-students event soared 160 percent compared to a year ago.
  • Governance leadership: Kelly has partnered with Board Chair Lamb and trustees, along with senior leadership, faculty, staff and alumni leadership, in the University’s shared goal of becoming a recognized national leader in best practices in higher education leadership.
  • Sound financial management: Suffolk continues to be praised for consistently strong financial management that produces yearly operating surpluses and fuels endowment growth. A recent Boston Business Journal review of the 25 wealthiest Massachusetts colleges and universities found that Suffolk University had the greatest percentage increase in its endowment in the most recently completed fiscal year.
  • An international focus: Suffolk already has one of the highest ratios of international students in the nation, and Kelly has heightened the focus on expanding Suffolk’s global reach. Under her leadership, Suffolk has invested in a partnership with INTO International that not only is attracting international students, but also is providing those students with pathways programs to ensure that they succeed on campus. 
  • Reputational excellence: Suffolk University is increasingly known for its academic excellence, which is being reflected in national rankings. U.S. News & World Report has ranked Suffolk among the “Best National Universities” for two years in a row, and the University moved up seven spots in the 2018 rankings.
  • Constructive partnerships: Suffolk has strong ties to Boston’s civic, business and educational institutions and leaders, and Kelly has worked to build even stronger relationships and partnerships that can benefit students and graduates along with the city and region.

Kelly has a distinguished record of collaborative academic leadership. Before joining Suffolk as provost in 2014, she served as provost at Ithaca College, dean and McQuinn Distinguished Chair of the College of Arts & Sciences at the University of St. Thomas, Minn., and spent 12 years as a faculty member and administrator at University of the Pacific in Stockton, Calif. She holds a PhD in Political Science from the University of Kansas, an MA in Political Theory from San Francisco State University and a BA in Government from California State University at Sacramento.

“It is a new day at Suffolk University,” said Lamb. “We are moving forward and building on the strong momentum generated over the last 20 months. I have no doubt that with President Marisa Kelly leading this vital University, Suffolk will succeed in delivering on its promises to future generations of students.”

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