Former Chair of the Board of Trustees Dr. David Russell was named Interim President of Columbia College on January 7. Dr. Russell brings decades of experience in higher education and public service to the position. His commitment to steady leadership and communication will be critical as the college goes through this time of transition to select its 18th president. In the meantime, we asked Dr. Russell five questions to introduce him to our alumni community.
You’ve been on the job as Interim President for nearly four months (at the time of publication). What has surprised or impressed you about CC?
I continue to be so impressed by the devotion of our alumni, friends, staff and administration to Columbia College and everything it stands for — its traditions, its commitment to providing our students with a quality education, its proven ability to adapt to changing conditions. If you have ever talked to alumnae of Christian College about their experiences, you’ve felt the love. Oh, the stories they tell, the enthusiasm they have for the college! It is amazing.
You had a distinguished 22-year career in the military and you and your wife, Lee, are passionate about assisting military-related students earn their degrees. What’s one initiative you would like to see implemented to help that process?
Lee and I know that military spouses often put their own careers and educational plans on hold when their husbands or wives are reassigned or have to go on repeated deployments around the world. Their children also get caught up in the turbulence of military life. We have started a scholarship fund to help spouses (and their dependents!) finish CC degrees while their families are still with the military, and maybe even after they leave the military if they qualify and are on track to finish on time. We would like to see more done to provide these military spouses and children with financial options for finishing their college education.
How do you envision alumni making an even more significant impact on the institution in the coming years?
I have begun informal conversations with alumni who serve on both CC’s Board of Trustees and the Alumni Association Advisory Board. Soon we will encourage feedback from alums across the country. Personally, I’d like to see more well-endowed scholarships established to attract great students who seek a small liberal arts experience that will lead to satisfying and rewarding career opportunities. If we had more endowed chairs and professorships, we could grow our first-class faculty. We need more alumni to share their experiences with young students and recruit them to attend CC. Oh, and support for a new Alumni House/Student Welcome Center wouldn’t be so bad, either. Our alumni are uniquely positioned to lead these initiatives.
What is your vision for the college during your presidency?
To put it simply, I think the world needs more graduates who have experienced Columbia College. The college needs to grow its faculty and degree offerings on the main campus in Columbia. It should strengthen the resources available to grow Columbia College Global’s far-flung system of locations nationwide and enrollments, both in-seat and online. We can get there if we all pull in the same direction and with the same devotion that got us where we are today.
As the college begins the presidential search, what are some qualities you believe are crucial for the next Columbia College president?
The search for the 18th president of Columbia College will soon get underway. The Board will reach out to all constituencies of the college to solicit opinions about the qualities they seek in the next president. I vote for a proven leader who leads from the front and possesses exceptional people skills, who recognizes that CC has the resources and track record to lead innovation and change in higher education. CC deserves nothing less.
Favorite Food: Mama Lee’s homemade spaghetti and meat sauce (Hope for leftovers!)
Favorite movie(s): “Heat” — a golden oldie starring Al Pacino and Robert DeNiro; “Saving Private Ryan” starring Tom Hanks
Favorite local restaurant: Sophia’s, in southwest Columbia. Consistently great food, and Booth #11 has great sentimental meaning for us
A book you would recommend: There are so many! “The Wright Brothers,” an illuminating biography of the fathers of the Age of Aviation by David McCullough. If you’re a science fiction fan, try the classic “The Foundation Trilogy” by the brilliant mathematician Isaac Asimov. “Upheaval: Turning Points for Nations in Crisis” by Jared Diamond — mind-blowing.
Favorite musical artists: The incomparable Italian opera tenor, Andrea Bocelli, whose live Easter concert from the Cathedral Duomo di Milano last year at the height of the raging pandemic was one of the most stirring performances I have ever experienced.
Favorite place(s) to travel: In North America, touring and hiking Banff National Park in Canada. In Europe, it’s got to be romantic France. We also enjoyed a summer cruise down the Rhine, the Main and Danube rivers.