New president makes history as first woman to lead Eureka College

By Holly Eitenmiller For Chronicle Media

Eureka College President Dr. Jamel Santa Cruze Wright is the first woman, as well as the first African American, to lead the college. (Photo courtesy of Eureka College)

Three years. That’s how long it took Dr. Jamel Santa Cruze Wright to earn the trust and respect of her collogues at Eureka College and become the college’s 27th president.

“Dr. Wright has exhibited the leadership necessary to lead Eureka College,” Bill King, chairman of the Eureka College Board of Trustees said at a July 11 press conference announcing Wright’s appointment.

“She made the position her own over the past 12 months, working to improve the College while reaching out to build relationships with new partners.  Her vision and approach to the future will make Eureka College a better place, and her appointment aligns with the College’s mission and vision for success,” King said.

Wright was serving as interim president since summer 2016 following in the footsteps of J. David Arnold who had announced his retirement in November 2015.

Wright began at Eureka College as a special assistant to the president in July 2014. A native of St. Louis, Mo., Wright is a graduate of what is now Missouri Western State University in St. Joseph, holds a master’s degree and a Ph.D. in communication from the University of Kansas, and has nearly two decades of experience in higher education as an administrator and full-time faculty member.

After arriving ‘Neath the Elms, — a term that dates to the Civil War, when recruits gathered beneath the elms where the Eureka College Campus currently stands — Wright quickly garnered admiration for her ability to make improvements and develop powerful partnerships.

Established by radical Christian abolitionists in 1855, Eureka College was first in Illinois and third in the nation to admit men and women on an equal basis. Wright’s appointment was announced July 11. (Photo courtesy of Eureka College)

With Wright’s direction, the college established a partnership with Quest Charter Academy in Peoria, Ill. that will emphasize programming for first-generation college students. Wright, herself, is the first in her family to attend college.

Wright worked to create a partnership with The Ronald Reagan Presidential Foundation and Institute which offers students the chance to participate in national leadership and internship programs.

As interim president, a position she earned in November 2015, Wright introduced The Uniquely Eureka Advantage, a program which provides incoming students a four-year tuition freeze, an experiential learning award, and the chance to study abroad.

Additionally, Wright improved the college’s academic and athletic facilities, including enhancements to Vennum-Binkley Hall, the installation of an artificial turf field and lighting system at McKinzie Field, and plans for a renovated Wellness Center at the Reagan Athletic Complex.

Wright is considered by Eureka College officials to have “presided over one of the most successful accreditation processes in the history of the college.”

Faculty president Prabhu Venkataraman, who served on the search committee, said Wright’s transparency and willingness to listen to and accept feedback, then make revisions, are the impetus for her appointment as president.

“I am thrilled and deeply honored to be appointed as president and continue leading this extraordinary and uniquely transformational liberal arts institution,” Wright said. “We accomplished several noteworthy things this past year, and I am grateful to have such an amazing and supportive campus community to help build on and ensure our success in the years to come.”

Wright is the first female president of Eureka College. She also is the first African American president of the institution.

Founded in 1855 by abolitionists of the radical, ecumenical Christian movement, Eureka College was first in Illinois and third in the nation to admit men and women on an equal basis.

The college hosts around 700 students, 55 percent of which are female.  Among its notable alumni are: Rough Rider and final governor of the Oklahoma Territory, Frank Frantz; 10thgovernor of Nebraska, William A. Poynter; and 40th United States President Ronald Reagan.




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