The Wartburg College Board of Regents introduced Rebecca Neiduski, dean of the School of Health Sciences at Elon University in Elon, N.C., as the 18th president of Wartburg College effective July 1, 2022.
“Dr. Neiduski rose to the top of a very competitive group of candidates, and we are thrilled her path has led her to Wartburg,” said Mike McCoy, chair of the Wartburg Board of Regents. “We all were impressed by her ability to embrace Wartburg’s mission and vision and be a relationship builder. She has the depth of experience and the leadership ability to lead Wartburg into the future.”
Neiduski is the first female president in the institution’s 170-year history. She was unanimously recommended to the Board of Regents by the 14-person search committee, which included faculty, staff, student and board representation. The committee partnered with WittKeiffer, an executive search firm, to ensure a strong, diverse pool of candidates.
She succeeds Darrel Colson, who announced his retirement in September. He has served as Wartburg’s president since 2009 during which time he has led the college through the execution of a strategic plan, “Living Our Learning; Claiming Our Calling; Transforming Tomorrow.” In support of that plan, the college community generously gave to the “Transforming Tomorrow” comprehensive campaign, which raised more than $89 million, including $34 million for scholarships.
Prior to Neiduski’s work at Elon, she was the chair and program director for the Department of Occupational Therapy at Concordia University Wisconsin and an associate professor of occupational therapy with tenure at Maryville University in St. Louis. Now, she’s excited to return to a college much like the one where she got her start.
“My entire career has been built on the values of Wartburg’s mission statement. Throughout my career, I have challenged and nurtured others to reach their greatest potential and provided leadership and service at universities, in the classroom, and around the world,” she said. “Being raised as a Lutheran, by Lutheran school teachers, instilled in me a deep commitment to the integration of faith and learning.”
Neiduski, who grew up in Chicago, earned a bachelor’s degree in movement and sport science from Purdue University and a master’s degree in occupational therapy from Washington University in St. Louis. She later earned a Doctor of Philosophy in education from St. Louis University.
At Elon, a top 100 national university with a student body of about 7,100 students, Neiduski has led efforts to establish the first undergraduate majors in the School of Health Sciences and an accelerated pathways program that dovetails undergraduate and graduate curricula and allows students to graduate with a bachelor’s and master’s degree in less time.
“Accelerated pathways programs are financially advantageous for students and their families and create a distinct opportunity to infuse the liberal arts throughout both undergraduate and graduate coursework,” Neiduski said. “The overarching goal is to educate the whole person; to prepare graduates who are ready to approach their lives and work with the ability to think broadly, critically, and intentionally.”
This type of strategic thinking will be important as Neiduski steps into the president’s office just months after the Board of Regents approved the college’s new five-year strategic plan: “Our Brightest Day: Realizing Purpose, Leading Change.” As part of Elon’s leadership team, Neiduski helped execute its most recent strategic plan and served as co-chair of one of the plan’s working groups. She also guided the creation of the “School of Health Sciences Five-Year Strategic Plan,” which led to the establishment and initial accreditation of the Department of Nursing during the pandemic.
“Shared governance is vital to the successful creation and execution of a strategic plan,” she said. “Engaging all stakeholders throughout the process allows us to listen to and learn from one another, carefully considering the implications of strategic initiatives for all units on campus and within the broader community.”
In addition to her administrative tasks, Neiduski advanced diversity, equity and inclusion efforts within the School of Health Sciences by empowering the establishment of committees responsible for engaging students, faculty and staff in monthly educational events on topics ranging from building an inclusive syllabus to the impact of implicit bias in health care. She also championed efforts to change hiring and admissions practices that successfully increased the diversity of applicant pools, admitted students and hired faculty and staff and is excited to continue that work at Wartburg.
“Our new strategic plan includes two powerful words: dialogue and development. These concepts underlie the shared responsibility of pursuing inclusive excellence on a college campus. Dialogue indicates a willingness to consider ideas and identities that are different than our own with curiosity and humility,” Neiduski said. “Development is the sustained commitment to growth and change.”
Neiduski also sits on the board of directors for the Guatemala Healing Hands Foundation, where she has provided leadership and substantive contributions through education; provision of specialized surgery and therapy; and community outreach.
She and her husband, Mike, a development officer for Pheasants Forever and Quail Forever, have three dogs: Mack, Kohl and Plexi.
“Mike and I are thrilled to return home to the Midwest; to the people, values and culture that we hold dear. We are excited to become part of the Wartburg family and Waverly community,” she said.