New University of Redlands President Krista L. Newkirk said the school’s commitment to innovation inspired her to make the move from South Carolina to Southern California.
“This wasn’t a position I was looking at or even considering a move to California, but I was encouraged by a search firm to look at perspectives,” said Newkirk. “I was struck by how great the opportunities were from the programs the University of Redlands offered, the train depot, the Forever Yours campaign, the merger with the theology seminary in Marin and a lot was the curriculum for students.
“The Johnson Center provides such an innovative approach to education. I thought there was a foundation here that we could build upon to take the university to new heights. And after meeting the people here, I was sure this was the right decision for me. I saw tremendous talent. It is such a warm and engaging community of people who are not stuck in their ways and are innovative.”
Newkirk grew up on a cattle ranch in Missouri before attending the University of Missouri’s Honor College. After two years, she transferred to the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, where she graduated in the top 5 percent of her class with a bachelor of arts in English and a minor in philosophy. She went on to earn her juris doctor degree from the Marshall-Wythe School of Law at the College of William & Mary in Williamsburg, Va.
She worked for several years as an attorney in both private practice and at a Fortune 300 company before joining the Office of Legal Affairs at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte in 2003. In 2012, Newkirk became the chief of staff at UNC Charlotte. In 2016, she became president of Converse College in South Carolina.
Under her leadership, Converse enhanced its financial, academic and cultural strength. Her accomplishments at Converse include developing an innovative strategic plan, launching Converse’s first doctoral degree program, expanding its master’s degree offerings, opening an extension campus, celebrating the 50th anniversary of Converse’s enrollment of African American students in a year-long celebration, establishing a campus Unity in Diversity Committee, which developed a targeted strategic plan, which in part implemented a restorative justice model for incidents of discrimination, and expanding athletics.
Newkirk’s goals for Redlands include expanding opportunities and maintaining an innovative approach to education.
“I’m taking some time to listen and learn about the community,” she said. “I’ve had a lot of meetings with staff and students to understand Redlands because the community is fundamental to the success of the university. You want to build on the strengths that are there and make sure any plans are the right plans while expanding interests. We are looking at opportunities for continuing studies.
“We have fantastic certificate programs and are looking at how we can better partner with local businesses to expand the education of their workforce to give people additional skills and a boost in their careers. We have exciting new programs at the Marin campus and opportunities with our School of Business. We are also beginning to map out how to combine social justice with business platforms. It is exciting. A lot is in the works.”
Newkirk spoke to the Redlands City Council during its meeting on Aug. 3 about how the Friends of Redlands’ Growth Management Initiative would harm the proposed University Village development plans. Newkirk urged the City Council to forgo a special election this year. The City Council voted to place the initiative on voter ballots during the general municipal election in 2022.
“The university had just learned about plans for the village, and it was in the process of selecting a developer,” said Newkirk. “It was at that stage when the growth initiative came to our attention. We showed the community plans that hadn’t even been shared with the full campus yet during the City Council meeting. Right now, we are working on a compromise with some of the initiative leaders. I don’t think it was intended for the initiative to have a negative impact on the university. It was a miscommunication.”
The university is planning to build a 30-acre transit-integrated neighborhood envisioned as a new town-gown village center that includes diverse housing types, retail and restaurant destinations, a boutique hotel, an entrepreneurial office and work-live spaces that would benefit all Redlands residents. Proposed buildings are no higher than four stories.
“We are continuing to work with leaders while also engaging with our developer to finalize an agreement,” said Newkirk. “Once we get through that stage, then we can move forward. We are also waiting for the city plan. A number of things are in the works that will drive final construction plans.”
Newkirk said, like most, the pandemic was hard on the university.
“We have had to make difficult decisions, but we approved a three-year healthy budget that includes new opportunities for diversity and enrollment growth,” she said. “The summer semester was open to the public and undergraduates. We have a new accelerated master of business administration certificate, new non-profit and project management certificates, which are helpful for the community. But we did make tough decisions that were responsible for dealing with deficits. Now, we are taking time to look at growth.”
Newkirk highlighted a couple of programs she believes makes the university unique.
“The Redlands Promise is for any student with a 3.5 GPA or higher,” she said. “In 2022, these students will only pay $22,000 in tuition or less. It puts us at the same level as a state university. Our smaller class size gives students a greater chance to conduct undergraduate research, and our study abroad programs are affordable. We want to make sure we are responsive to families impacted by the pandemic and remain affordable. Our Redlands Strong promise is we assure students will graduate on time. Delayed graduation has a serious impact on students. If they graduate on time, they spend 40 percent less and can begin a career sooner. That means they can start to compound earnings, which puts them on the right track. In our program, we map out what students need to do to graduate on time, and if something happens to prevent that, the rest of the tuition cost is on us.”
Newkirk is simply glad to be at Redlands and looks forward to the new year.
“It’s move-in day today, exciting!” she said.