Suzanne Rivera will serve as the first female and Latina president in Macalester's 146-year history. Credit: Photo courtesy of Macalester College

ST. PAUL — Suzanne Rivera, a university administrator from Ohio, will take over this summer as president of Macalester College, becoming the first woman and first Latina to lead the nationally known St. Paul liberal arts school.

Currently a vice president at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, Rivera, 50, won praise as a strategic thinker with the ability to inspire those around her.

Her story includes growing up in an immigrant family that needed public assistance to get by, according to an interview she made last fall with Ohio-based tech investor Ari Lewis. Rivera grew up in New York and Massachusetts. 

She spoke in favor of policies to increase the number of immigrant students and faculty in that same interview. 

“I believe strongly that immigrants make America great,” she said. “I think we need to create immigration policies that allow U.S. universities to attract talent from all over the world, and then make it easy for our graduates and foreign faculty to get on a path to citizenship so they can put down roots and contribute to the economic development of the country.”

Arriving at Brown University in Rhode Island in the mid-1980s, she was one of only a “very few Latina students in the entering class,” she said in a video produced by Macalester. “I was on financial aid, I had a work study job, I had to turn over my earnings from my summer work, and it was very difficult to make ends meet.” 

Higher education, she added, “changed the trajectory of my life and opened up a new path for my entire family.”

After graduating from Brown in 1991 with a bachelor’s degree in American Civilization, Rivera went on to get a master’s degree in social welfare at the University of California, Berkeley, in 1993 and a doctorate in public administration at the University of Texas at Dallas in 2008. 

She started teaching classes in medical ethics and research that same year at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center. In 2010, she joined Case Western as an assistant professor of bioethics and pediatrics. Rivera took on a role as Case Western’s vice president for research and technology management four years later. 

At Case Western, she was also involved with a task force against sexual harassment and gender discrimination as well as the university’s Latino Alliance. 

Rivera will be Macalester’s 17th president, replacing retiring president Brian Rosenberg.

“This is a community where curious people thrive, where individuality is celebrated, and where the purpose of education is to equip students with tools to make an impact on the wider world,” Rivera said in a statement.

Jerry Crawford, Macalester’s board of trustees chair, said the college was looking for an optimistic leader with “a deep appreciation of the liberal arts.” 

“The fact that she was Latinx and a woman were positives,” he said. “We hope she can inspire others to follow suit,” he said.

Joey Peters is a reporter for Sahan Journal. He has been a journalist for 15 years. Before joining Sahan Journal, he worked for close to a decade in New Mexico, where his reporting prompted the resignation...