Courtesy of Cornell University

Mary Loeffelholz's new role as the Dean of the School of Continuing Education went into effect on March 1.

March 21, 2023

Mary Loeffelholz, New Dean of the School of Continuing Education, Shares Vision

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With new leadership comes a newfound commitment to serving students from nontraditional backgrounds. Mary Loeffelholz, a former professor from Northeastern University and the University of Illinois at Urbana Champaign, said she hopes to bolster the academic offerings for students seeking an education through the School of Continuing Education.

Loeffelholz’s new role as the Dean of the School of Continuing Education went into effect on March 1. She was voted in by The Cornell Board of Trustees Executive Committee on Dec. 8, succeeding SCE Interim Dean Charles W. Jermy, Jr. Before joining the Cornell community, Loeffelholz spent her time at Northeastern University as a professor of English and a former dean of the College of Professional Studies.

Loeffelholz grew up in Iowa City and attended Stanford University to study English. She went to graduate school at Yale University and got her first academic job at the University of Illinois at Urbana Champaign as an assistant professor in English, women’s studies and the Unit for Criticism and Interpretive Theory.

Loeffelholz said she is drawn towards academic administration as a way to look across disciplines to address shared challenges. 

“These things energize me every day, to see how many people from different perspectives on campus are looking at similar issues,” Loeffelholz said.

SCE appealed to Loeffelholz specifically because of the new degree program for working adults. The program is a part-time bachelors program in collaboration with eCornell, Cornell’s online education programs, providing pathways for nontraditional students to earn degrees through Cornell education. 

“[At Northeastern University] I’d seen what [nontraditional] degrees could do and thought we could have some of the same sort of success here at Cornell,” Loeffelholz said.

This degree program is intended for people who are not normally represented in the Cornell community, specifically veterans seeking the opportunity to gain academic credit. 

Loeffholewitz believes that the program is also an opportunity for indigenous people, who may otherwise not attend a university like Cornell because of the desire to stay with their families. 

“People living in rural areas are often underserved in college admissions and don’t attend universities that match their capacities,” Loeffholwitz said. “The data shows that Cornell, given its kind of unique status in the Ivy League as both a land grant institution and an urban institution in upstate New York, seems just incredibly well positioned to do work with those sorts of students.”

Through winter and summer sessions, the SCE aims to extend opportunities to Cornell students and other populations who would otherwise not be able to experience Cornell learning and campus life. 

“One of the things we’re seeing in the United States and globally is how separate in many ways urban and rural life has become. It’s reflected in political polarization, which is mostly predicted by urban and rural identity,” Loeffelholz said. “In my lifetime, the world’s population transitioned over to provide ways of helping people from different walks of life. All of the people with this new degree can now understand their own experience and gain the tools to understand the structural and historical factors that have brought the world to the way it is.” 

Loeffelholz top priorities are developing this new degree program and having new students feel excited to be a part of the Cornell community.

“One of the things that the search committee told me they wanted from this degree is that they want the students to identify with Cornell, to feel that they are Cornellians,” Loeffelholz said.