Rockhurst University names Sandra Cassady as first female and lay president in its history


Courtesy of Rockhurst University

Sariana Barbarotta, Editor

Founded in 1910 as a Jesuit all-boys college, Rockhurst University is now making history by naming Sandra Cassady, Ph.D., as the next president. Cassady will be both the first female president, as well as the first lay president, or non-church official, in Rockhurst’s century of existence. She will succeed Fr. Thomas Curran as the fifteenth president as named by the Rockhurst University Board of Trustees, beginning July 1.

Cassady earned her Ph.D. from the University of Iowa in exercise science. She serves as the vice president for strategic initiatives and Dean of the College of Health and Human Services at St. Ambrose University in Davenport, IA, until her transition to Rockhurst this summer. Cassady has vast experience in Catholic higher education from her roles, and she has closely worked with administration, academics, and enrollment, among other areas of managing higher education.

Rockhurst began to accept women in the fall of 1969. Since then, the University has aimed to maintain and foster the value of progress. Rockhurst Student Senate president Nhukim Nguyen is enthusiastic for Rockhurst’s first female president.

“I am thrilled that Rockhurst University will be led by a female president. I believe Dr. Cassady will be a role model to current and future students because she illustrates how there are no limits to becoming confident and impactful a leader,” Nguyen said.

In addition to her educational experience, Cassady is involved with many organizations. She has served the Higher Learning Commission’s peer review corps, as well as the Institutional Actions Council. She also is a member of the Specialized Review Corps which deals with complex issues faced by higher education institutions.

Cassady shared her goals and values for her future with Rockhurst.

“The Catholic, Jesuit mission of Rockhurst University and its vision to create a more just world through inclusive, innovative and transformative education are what drew me to Rockhurst and are closely aligned with my own values and experience. I look forward to leading and partnering with the Rockhurst community and greater Kansas City community as we continue the work toward realizing this vision,” Cassady said, as recorded in a release from Rockhurst University.

Nguyen participated in the process of choosing Cassady as the next president. She served as the Student Representative on the Presidential Search Committee. Each of the three final candidates took part in a student, faculty, and staff session where these respective groups were able to meet and ask them questions.

“Ever since the first interview with the committee, Dr. Cassady was an incredibly memorable candidate because of her kindness, eagerness to learn, humbleness, and passion for serving others. I knew she would be a great president for Rockhurst because of how student and community-centered she is,” Nguyen said.

Current Rockhurst president, Curran, announced his departure in September of 2021. He plans to take a sabbatical, after which he anticipates his next assignment with the Society of Jesus. This will involve coordinating with Jesuit educational institutions to bring education to incarcerated individuals. Curran shared his thoughts on the transition and Cassady in a release from Rockhurst.

“Her desire to become a companion in our Jesuit way of proceeding, expressed in a faith that does justice, is humbling and gratifying. I look forward to welcoming and assisting her, as she becomes the new Director of the Work in the Society of Jesus, at Rockhurst University, so she is positioned for professional success and personal transformation in our Jesuit enterprise of higher education,” Curran said.

Nguyen also shared her confidence that Rockhurst University will be in good hands with Dr. Cassady and her thoughts on the transition between presidents.

“Every person at Rockhurst and in Kansas City will miss Father Curran because of the tremendous impact he had on everyone’s lives. I believe that Father Curran will leave an unforgettable legacy at Rockhurst, and he will provide a smooth transmission for Dr. Cassady,” Nguyen said. “We welcome Dr. Cassady with open arms, and we will send a warm farewell to Father Curran as he seeks his next adventure. I believe Dr. Cassady is a remarkable woman who will lead Rockhurst University with grace, innovation, and passion.”