Hollins University names Pareena Lawrence as new president

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ROANOKE CO., Va. (WDBJ7) Hollins University has a new president to lead its campus. Pareena Lawrence was introduced Tuesday as the next president of Hollins University.

She was heavily recruited by the school and turned down other institutions to make Hollins her home. Current president Nancy Oliver Gray is retiring after serving in the role for 12 years.

Lawrence takes office in July 2017, she is currently the provost and chief academic officer of Augustana College. Lawrence has a proven track record of doing big things, and she's hoping to do even more at Hollins.

On a college campus, a sweatshirt gift from the student body was as good as gold for new Hollins President Pareena Lawrence at her introduction Tuesday night. The Indian-born educator has focused on liberal arts, women's education and international development her entire life.

"As I put all these pieces together it just felt like I'd come full circle and it was time to go lead a women's only Liberal Arts college," Lawrence said.

Women's-only education was recently thrust into the national spotlight following the happenings at nearby Sweet Briar College. Lawrence sees this as a prime opportunity for Hollins to thrive across the globe.

"Definitely, there is a need for women's education and helping women transform the world. So it's very clear to me that this is the place, the right time for me to be at Hollins," Lawrence said. "Of course I've got a lot to learn, a lot of listening to do as I get to know people here and develop a collective vision for the institution but I think there are a lot of opportunities for Hollins especially as we look across the globe."

Immediately after her introduction she was singing the school song, thrilling students to no end.

"She just gets it, as soon as she talked to us everything she wanted to know about Hollins was about the students," Hollins University Student Body President Tegan Harcrout said. "She loved the students, she was so excited she wanted to know about the traditions everything that made Hollins special is what she was thrilled about."

Lawrence will spend the time between now and this summer immersing herself on the campus as much as she can.

"Getting to know people, just being with the students, getting to understand them, understanding what makes this place so special. I know it is special but I really need to get the pulse of what is it," Lawrence said. "Getting to talk to the faculty and hearing about their dreams and aspirations, talking to the alumnae, the trustees and helping build a collective vision of where we want to go."

The Search Committee says it was a tall order replacing Nancy Gray. But in their eyes, Lawrence's dedication to the liberal arts and women's education makes her a perfect match.

"She has led the effort on strategic planning and innovated in programs that are designed to help link the liberal arts degree with good employment after college," Hollins University Board of Trustees Chairwoman Judy Lambeth said. "So we think that she speaks our language so to speak."

Lawrence spent her first official day as incoming president meeting with university leaders and with students, and Tuesday she told students there was one thing she had to do. That was a trip by the campus bookstore to get her family some Hollins swag.