Joanne Berger-Sweeney Elected 22nd President of Trinity College

Accomplished Teacher, Scholar, Neuroscientist Will Lead Trinity toward Bicentennial

Joanne Berger-Sweeney, Ph.D., on Tuesday, March 25, was named the 22nd president of Trinity College following a unanimous vote by the College’s Board of Trustees. An accomplished teacher, scholar, neuroscientist, and administrator, Berger-Sweeney currently holds the position of dean of the School of Arts and Sciences at Tufts University in Medford, Mass., where she serves as chief officer for Tufts’ largest school, with more than 5,000 students.

Berger-Sweeney, who holds a Ph.D. in neurotoxicology from the Johns Hopkins School of Public Health, has served as dean of the School of Arts and Sciences at Tufts since 2010. There she created the vision and set the strategic direction for the school. Berger-Sweeney came to Tufts from Wellesley College, where she served for 19 years as a faculty member and associate dean.

Berger-Sweeney is the first African American and first woman to be elected president of Trinity. She will succeed James F. Jones, Jr. as president on July 1, 2014, following his retirement after 10 years of distinguished service.

“Trinity College is an institution that honors its traditions and embraces its future, and with the selection of Joanne Berger-Sweeney, we have found the right leader to renew our commitment to the value and delivery of an excellent liberal arts education,” said Paul E. Raether ’68, chair of the Trinity Board of Trustees. “Dr. Berger-Sweeney has devoted her career to the education of students who are smart, eager to work with faculty and ready to engage in many and varied ways across campus life—with this experience, she is a natural fit for Trinity and Trinity for her.”

Cornelia Parsons Thornburgh ’80, chair of the search committee and chair-elect of the Board of Trustees, added, “Trinity is a forward-looking institution that excels in liberal arts and sciences, and both are areas of excellence for Dr. Berger-Sweeney, who rose to the top of our highly competitive candidate pool. She impressed us with her strong academic credentials, curricular innovations, collaborative nature and enthusiasm for the Hartford community. She is well versed in the procedures and culture of our mutual NESCAC college league. At Tufts, she has proven herself in areas that coincide closely with, and are important to, Trinity: proximity to a city, a strong athletic tradition, budget and program coordination, an historical Greek tradition, and a deep appreciation for a liberal arts education. I strongly believe that her vision of Trinity College as an ‘elite liberal arts college with an urban pulse’ is one that will guide us, inspire us, and lead us on a path to distinction and greatness.” 

Thornburgh will become chair of the Board of Trustees simultaneously with Berger-Sweeney’s assumption of the presidency on July 1, 2014.

Berger-Sweeney said of her selection as president, “I am honored and humbled to be joining the Trinity community at such an important time for the College and for American higher education. Trinity’s long and proud liberal arts tradition is rooted in preparing students to think critically and broadly, to live examined and purposeful lives—work that I believe is of vital importance for the future of our nation. I am pleased to be a part of both Trinity’s tradition and its future, both of which are rooted so deeply in its home city of Hartford. I have felt at home on this campus since my first visit. And with the strong alumni and alumnae support base, I look forward to the successes the faculty, staff, students and I will achieve together.”

As dean of the School of Arts and Sciences at Tufts, Berger-Sweeney managed a broad set of responsibilities, including oversight of undergraduate admissions, athletics, undergraduate and graduate students, the graduate school, communications, and academic and administrative deans. As dean, she launched several undergraduate and graduate academic programs and a Center for the Study of Race and Democracy; initiated an interdisciplinary cluster hiring program for faculty; collaboratively developed guiding principles for the school; initiated a summer bridge program for liberal arts students transitioning from underserved high schools to Tufts; and advanced fundraising initiatives for the school, among other accomplishments. 

Before Tufts, Berger-Sweeney was a member of the Wellesley College faculty, which she joined in 1991 as an assistant professor in the Department of Biological Sciences, and rose through the ranks to become the Allene Lummis Russell Professor in Neuroscience. Her teaching and research career at Wellesley spanned 13 years prior to being named associate dean in 2004. As associate dean, she oversaw 20 academic departments and programs in addition to her teaching and research.

She received her undergraduate degree in psychobiology from Wellesley College, an M.P.H. in environmental health sciences from the University of California, Berkeley, and a Ph.D. in neurotoxicology from the Johns Hopkins School of Public Health. She completed her postdoctoral training at the National Institute of Health (INSERM) in Paris, France.

Berger-Sweeney is the recipient of numerous awards and honors, including the prestigious National Science Foundation Young Investigator Award and a Lifetime Mentoring Award from the Society for Neuroscience (2006). She is a Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science and chairs the professional development committee of the Society for Neuroscience. She is on the Board of Directors for AFS Intercultural Programs/USA and is trustee and chair of the academic affairs committee for Framingham State University.

Berger-Sweeney and her husband, Urs V. Berger, Ph.D., also a neuroscientist, are the parents of two children: Clara, age 17, and Tommy, age 13.

Berger-Sweeney was selected from an extremely well-qualified applicant pool following an extensive national search conducted by a 14-member committee composed of students, faculty, staff, alumni and trustees. The search committee was advised by Storbeck/Pimentel & Associates, a nationally recognized firm that has conducted more than 1,800 high-level searches during the past 20 years.