New Becker president focuses on continuity

BY Grant Welker

Photo/Grant Welker
Photo/Grant Welker
Becker trustees never conducted a broader search for president, wanting to promote Crimmin and give the college continuity.

One often-cited 2013 report by the Federal Reserve says less than one in three college graduates work in a job related to their major of study.

Worcester's Becker College is working to address that, instituting a five-class program giving students what the college calls an agile mindset – teaching the intangibles it says graduates should learn for professional success anywhere, such as empathy, an entrepreneurial outlook and managing transitions.

This fall's sophomore class is the first cohort at Becker to take each agile mindset course. Leading the charge toward what Becker calls futureproofing its students among fast changes in today's labor market is new President Nancy Crimmin.

“This is certainly in our DNA,” Crimmin said of Becker's signature program.

Crimmin, who was made interim president in May and the president permanently in October, is leading Becker at a time of quickening change on the small campus in Worcester and at a second site in Leicester.

A new three-year college plan is in the works. In May, Becker gave out its first master's degrees, in mental health counseling. Next fall, a new master in fine arts in interactive media will be held for the first time, as well an exploratory program allowing freshmen to test-drive 10 different majors in just two semesters.

In January, Becker will open the $7.3-million Colleen C. Barrett Center for Global Innovation and Entrepreneurship, which will enable it to bring back to campus a signature accomplishment, the school's partnership with MassDiGI, the Massachusetts Digital Games Institute, now located in downtown Worcester.

John Deitrick, an English professor who's been at Becker since 1965, called Crimmin as capable of leading the college as any of the presidents he's worked under before her despite having not been a president before.

“She has absolutely won over the academic community, there's no doubt about that,” Deitrick said. “She's won over the whole Becker community.”

Crimmin, a 53-year-old originally from Canton, has spent her whole career in higher education, including 20 years at Assumption College. Her time at Assumption included a stint as a residential director and a promotion to dean of campus life.

Crimmin joined Becker in 2012 as vice president for student affairs and was promoted last year to senior vice president and chief academic and student affairs officer. She was first made interim president after Robert Johnson left to become the chancellor at UMass Dartmouth. In October, the board of trustees gave her the title permanently without conducting a broader candidate search.

Trustees wanted continuity, said Arthur DiGeronimo, the board chairman. He credited Crimmin with a strong sense for the wants and needs of the student body, and he said she was intimately involved with shaping the agile mindset program.

“No one knows it better than she does,” DiGeronimo said. Recalling the trustees' thought process, he added: “Let's complete what we've started on the direction we've taken under Dr. Johnson's leadership. Nancy was the best to keep that going.”

Crimmin has a bachelor in psychology from Stonehill College in Easton, a master in counseling and student personnel services from Springfield College and a doctorate in educational leadership from Johnson & Wales University in Rhode Island.

She lives with her husband, Bill, on campus. They have two sons, Patrick, 21, and Jonathan, 20.

Crimmin is the first woman to lead the school in almost a century, according to Becker. The last was Mary Becker, who became president when her husband, E.C.A. Becker, died.

“I really see her as the students' president,” said Professor Paul Cotnoir, the director of the college's 600-student design program.

“We see Nancy as someone who can take the changes that Robert Johnson started and really run with them in a comprehensive way,” Cotnoir added.

Crimmin wants to improve the school's retention rate, which has risen to 73 percent, and its graduation rate, which is just 30 percent.

“We absolutely need to increase our graduation rate,” Crimmin said.

The college – which costs $53,858 for residents and $40,558 for commuters this school year – is sensitive to prices for students, aiming to be at the low end of its competitors.

“It is a concern,” Crimmin said. “We need to be making sure that we're proving that value.”

While Crimmin works toward those goals, she enjoys a strong support from faculty and staff, said Deitrick, the professor who is also the faculty union president.

Deitrick hailed Crimmin's ability to transition from a student affairs background into a larger role.

“She asks a lot of questions and listens carefully to what people are saying,” he said.

Crimmin takes over the presidency at a time when Becker has been making strides.

When Johnson was hired in 2010, the school had recently lost its former president, chief financial officer and accounting firm, and financials were more precarious. But since then, SAT scores for incoming students, enrollment and the school's endowment have all spiked. The school has become more selective, and has made a name for itself with MassDiGI.

“We are doing things at Becker now,” Deitrick said, “that I didn't dream that we'd be doing when I got here.”

CORRECTION: A previous version of this story misspelled Becker College President Nancy Crimmin's name in an introductory paragraph for the chart entitled "Continuing success."