The presidential torch has been passed, and on April 1, Hodges University welcomed Dr. Donald Wortham as its new president. As one of four finalists for the position, Wortham’s vast experience in higher education made him the top choice for Hodges’ Board of Trustees.
Wortham attended Northwestern University in Evanston, Illinois, saying, “I originally considered becoming a doctor but began contemplating the idea of becoming a minister, so I went on to earn my bachelor’s degree in religious studies,”
This interest in the spiritual aspects of life led him to enroll at the University of Chicago to pursue a Master of Divinity. After a year of study, and through the encouragement and support of his professors, he found himself on a path leading to a career in higher education.
In 1993, he enrolled in the educational psychology Ph.D. program at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. It was during this time that he received his first experience working in higher education. Taking a sabbatical from graduate school, he accepted a position with UNext, an educational startup company dedicated to online learning, saying, “UNext was at the forefront of the first Internet revolution that incorporated digital courses online.”
As the company’s executive director for three years, he helped co-develop a problem-based learning MBA curriculum with Stanford, Columbia and the University of Chicago.
Since graduating, Wortham has spent the last seven years at The College of St. Scholastica in Duluth, Minnesota, which serves 4,400 students, many of who are enrolled in online courses. At Scholastica, he previously held a dean-level appointment and most recently served as vice president for strategic initiatives.
Excited about his new role, Wortham explained, “In my search, I was looking for an institution that has opportunity to grow and prosper. I was incredibly impressed by the intellect and passion of people here at Hodges.”
Due to the economic environment and ever-changing world of higher education, Wortham has noticed a change in what students want out of an education, and it is the type of education that Hodges can provide.
“Students nowadays are focused on outcomes. Hodges is the type of institution that works for students who are ready to give serious thought to what they want to do in life, as well as those who have already decided but need the extra help,” he said.
With higher education facing many difficult issues at this time, Wortham identified two in which all institutions must address: the value equation and the changing world and economy.
“Higher education’s mission is to help students become the people they are intended to be; to achieve their purpose in life…This is the core value proposition of colleges and universities. Too often today, higher education is transactional, but students are demanding more; they deserve a transformational experience,” he explained. “Historically, this has occurred within a two-or four-year window, when students would put their lives on hold and go to college. However, the world and the economy have changed, and many, if not most, students simply cannot afford this path.
We must look at ways that Hodges can provide opportunities to those in the working world and help them to make that transformational change.”
In regards to Hodges’ role in the Southwest Florida community, Wortham considers the university to be a viable option for students looking for an affordable education with programs that link to the “world of work,” as well as an institution that is a product of the community and is cared for by the people of Southwest Florida. Hodges is also economically, racially and culturally diverse.
Preparing to take Hodges to the next level, his early goals for the university include evaluating Hodges’ programs to ensure they are meeting the needs of the region; making sure the students achieve transformational outcomes; and establishing a clearer vision for the institution to communicate to the community.