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Take 5 with Salem Academy and College President Summer McGee

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Salem Academy and College President Summer McGee

As Salem Academy and College celebrates its 250th anniversary, we catch up with Summer McGee, who became the institution’s 22nd president on July 1.

Before her arrival, McGee was the founding dean of the School of Health Sciences at University of New Haven in Connecticut.

Salem Academy and College announced in early 2021 a plan to refocus its entire academic program on health leadership.

The Wheatfield, Ind., native was New Haven’s founding chairwoman of the Department of Health Sciences and has worked at The Center of for Practical Bioethics, the University of Kansas School of Medicine, The American Journal of Bioethics, the University of Albany in New York and Loyola University Chicago Stritch School of Medicine.

McGee earned her bachelor's degree in philosophy and bioethics from Indiana University Bloomington and a doctorate in health policy and management from the Bloomberg School of Public Health at The Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore.

She is married to Glenn McGee – who joined the Salem staff in October as dean of admissions and professor of health sciences – and has three step-children.

1. How does Winston-Salem compare other places you’ve lived?

I think Winston-Salem is one of the most creative and innovative places I that have ever lived. It is a fantastic college town.

It has such a vibrancy in the community, and I’ve just been incredibly impressed with everyone I’ve met, local restaurants, the arts scene; it’s just a really phenomenal place.

2. What was it like taking the helm of the academy and college during a pandemic?

I think anyone assuming a new presidency is met with challenges, but a new presidency on top of a pandemic is certainly a herculean challenge. But I am very fortunate that we have an incredible team at Salem, people who are incredibly dedicated to the institution.

We have had a lot to learn, reopening our campus after not being open for almost a year during the pandemic, and so it was phenomenal opportunity to really get to know the institution very well, very quickly so that we could be prepared for our reopening and our students’ return to campus.

I think “drinking from the firehose” doesn’t quite cover it. I think it’s more like ‘drinking from a tsunami,’ in terms of getting up to speed and being prepared, but Salem has done a really remarkable job, and I’m really proud of what we’ve been able to accomplish so far this year.

3. When your selection as president was announced, the chairwoman of the search committee said you were “uniquely qualified to help lead Salem Academy and College into the next 250 years.” How do you respond to an introduction like that?

I think that what drew me to Salem Academy and College wat that this is an institution that is currently in the process of transforming itself.

I have always been, in my career, someone who has come in and been a program builder, been someone who started a new College of Health Sciences at my previous institution, and so the incredible opportunity and challenge of taking this incredibly historic institution and really rebuilding and reimagining it, from the ground up, is something I think that I both am prepared for, but also I really see as consistent with what I’ve done in my career.

Of course, my health background, given the college’s focus – pivoting to focus on health leadership – was another great draw and a reason why I chose to come to Salem Academy and College.

There were many reasons, but I just think that the timing was right for me to come and to help lead Salem through this incredible transformation that it’s going through.

4. What’s your proudest accomplishment so far?

There’s so many to choose from. I am incredibly proud at how we reopened our campus last fall, we navigated the COVID-19 pandemic with almost no cases and we were able to recreate and restart our incredibly vibrant community. I think that was a really important accomplishment.

Of course, we’re celebrating our 250th anniversary, and so we have had some really incredible celebrations and milestones.

And I’m also incredibly proud that we have had some real fundraising success. We have been able to have multiple donors who have given their largest lifetime gifts ever and are really invested in Salem’s future.

There’s a lot to be proud of, but I’m really incredibly proud of how our community pulled back together to keep our students healthy and safe while we’re also celebrating this incredible anniversary.

5. What’s one thing you’ve learned about single-sex education that you didn’t know before you arrived?

I think one of the things that has so surprised me and impressed me about an institution like Salem is the incredible diversity of students that we have on our campus.

There is such a richness of student expression in terms of gender identity, in terms of geography, in terms of racial identity, and that was really something that was such a wonderful surprise to learn.

And that’s not unique to Salem; that is what the women’s colleges of today are. They are a safe space for students of all backgrounds and a wide range of experiences to come together and to build a really rich and welcoming community.

That was something that was really, really wonderful to experience for the first time, not having taught or led a women’s college before, and to learn that that’s really kind of the ethos of what women’s colleges are about.


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