Success & Impact
Five decades after surviving a year as a prisoner of war during the Vietnam War, the St. Joe’s graduate and former head of the Office of Veterans Services is being recognized for a lifetime of giving back.
Success & Impact
Prior to her career in higher education, Mary H. Van Brunt ‘93 (MBA) spent 12 years honing her financial and accounting skills in banking, securities and pharmaceuticals. This corporate upbringing is what she credits with making her a highly effective leader in the higher ed space. Van Brunt was most recently provost and vice president for academic affairs at Gwynedd University, and will become Spring Hill's first female president in January 2023.
Recently, Van Brunt sat down with SJU News to detail her journey to the presidency and pass along sage advice for up and coming Hawks.
I really enjoyed working in the banking industry, especially focusing on corporate and real estate lending and financial analysis. Once I finished my MBA in accounting from Saint Joseph’s, I passed the Certified Management Accountant exam and then moved into the pharmaceutical and securities industries as a senior accountant. I taught an Advanced Accounting class as an adjunct shortly thereafter at both Alvernia and Lehigh Universities and fell in love with teaching. I taught a few more accounting classes and knew that I had found my passion. I pursued my doctorate in economics at Lehigh University while I was working at the bank and then moved into my first full-time faculty position at Cabrini University.
The real-world experience was instrumental in engaging the students about complex financial and economic concepts and getting them excited about potential careers in finance. So for me, it seemed like a very natural transition and I was also able to utilize my financial and accounting skills in my subsequent administrative positions.
I “grew up” in corporate America and it has definitely influenced my leadership style. I have always maintained a sense of urgency, innovation and strong customer service focus, which has resulted in new and innovative academic programs to meet the needs of students. Although higher education in general tends to move at a slower pace, I have continued to maintain the urgency and speed needed to be nimble and responsive to the continuous changes in the higher education industry.
I am very proud to be able to help move the needle to increase the percentage of female college presidents. I have spent my entire career in male-dominated fields and have found that strong female leaders tend to build strong relationships and teams, are detail-oriented and are very good at multitasking to move institutions forward. I also believe that female presidents are positive role models for our female college students and demonstrate that it is possible to have a family and a successful career all at once. I have two daughters who have chosen male- dominated fields themselves and are doing amazing jobs!
When I moved into higher education, I intentionally looked for Catholic institutions and colleges where I could really get to know my students and make an impact. I worked at Cabrini University, sponsored by the Missionary Sisters of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, for 17 years, and then at Gwynedd Mercy University, sponsored by the Sisters of Mercy, for the past four years.
Both of these Catholic institutions’ missions are focused on social justice and are very much aligned with the Jesuit tradition of cura personalis — care for the whole person. My time at St. Joe’s was my first experience with a Jesuit institution and I experienced academic excellence as well as the education of the heart, mind and spirit. When the opportunity to become president at Spring Hill College became available, I was immediately drawn to be a part of Jesuit higher education again. I credit my wonderful graduate experience at St. Joe’s for introducing me to the Jesuit mission.
My time at St. Joe’s was my first experience with a Jesuit institution and I experienced academic excellence as well as the education of the heart, mind and spirit.
Spring Hill College is experiencing many of the same challenges that many small, faith-based liberal arts colleges are facing: enrollment impacted by the pandemic, and the value of higher education and cost being challenged. However, there are so many opportunities at SHC to grow enrollment with innovative programs and partnerships, to strengthen alumni and community relationships, and to continue to live the mission of cura personalis. I have been so impressed with the entire campus community and their eagerness to embrace opportunities for Spring Hill College to thrive. I am also looking forward to working with the Association of Jesuit Colleges and Universities, and have already received support from many of those presidents.
Every job is a building block and will give you important skills and experiences that will help you navigate new jobs and careers. Don’t be in a rush to get to the top — there is so much to learn along the way.
Never settle into complacency and commit to becoming a lifelong learner. Continue to pursue advanced degrees and professional certificates and, most importantly, don’t be afraid to follow your dreams and your passions. When you love what you do, it never feels like work!