Laura Skandera Trombley is President Emerita of two distinguished institutions: Pitzer College: A Member of the Claremont Consortium and The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens. A boundary-breaking scholar and public intellectual whose work in the humanities and higher education has sparked lively debates in the academic and non-profit communities, she has helped to redefine the role(s) of women in leadership roles. Dr. Trombley was the first female president of the Huntington Library and ushered in a new era of information technology, sustainability awareness, modern operations, and increased fundraising. She served as President of Pitzer College for thirteen years leaving with an admirable and enviable record of accomplishment. She is one of the most distinguished Mark Twain scholars in the world, and on August 5, 2017, the Mark Twain Circle of America presented her with the Louis J. Budd Award for excellence in scholarly achievement at the 8th International Conference on the State of the Mark Twain Studies, hosted by the Center for Mark Twain Studies at Elmira College.
Her talent for leadership came when she was still in her teens; she was the youngest first year student at Pepperdine University, just age 16, and she graduated Summa Cum Laude with her Master’s degree at age 22. Today Dr. Trombley is the first woman west of the Mississippi to Chair the J. William Fulbright Foreign Scholarship Board, appointed by President Obama in 2015; prior to this she was the first woman to hold the title of Vice President of Academic Affairs and Dean of the Faculty at Coe College.
An advocate for the humanities since her undergraduate days, Dr. Trombley has authored five books, ranging from sweeping explorations of poetry and meaning, to critical essays about Maxine Hong Kingston, to scrupulous analyses of Mark Twain’s literature and personal life. Her scholarly articles have been published in publications such as The Paris Review, Los Angeles Times, The Huffington Post, The Chronicle of Higher Education, Women in Higher Education, The Daily Beast, University Business, Educational Technology, and Matrix Magazine.
As a graduate student Trombley discovered the largest cache of Mark Twain letters to date (the discovery was highlighted in a featured essay in Los Angeles Times Magazine). The unprecedented treasure trove became her primary resource for her doctoral thesis and ultimately her first book, Mark Twain in the Company of Women, which Choice selected as one of the outstanding academic books of 1995. The discovery also solidified her reputation as a premier Twain scholar and encouraged her to continue her studies of the author. She would go on to co-write and edit Constructing Mark Twain: New Directions in Scholarship and appear in the 2002 Ken Burns documentary Mark Twain.
Over the years, Dr. Trombley has written extensively about the under representation of women and people of color in academia. In a piece published in The Chronicle of Higher Education in 2015, she reflected on her early Assistant Professor days at SUNY Potsdam: “I was the literature professor who . . . co-organized a town-hall meeting to protest the silencing of the female faculty and the lack of a women’s-studies major.” While President of Pitzer College, she created a Special Assistant to the President position to encourage women and people of color to consider administration as a career pathway. She has been a Keynote Speaker, Session Chair or participant in dozens of academic and professional gatherings. She has been a speaker at TEDxFulbright twice and regularly shares her insights into higher education, leadership, and the humanities for a variety of organizations, including the Association of Governing Boards (AGB), the Association of American Colleges and Universities, and the J. William Fulbright Foreign Scholarship Board.
From 2002 to 2015 Laura Trombley led some of the most transformative programs ever undertaken at Pitzer College, resulting in a drastic upturn in selectivity and dramatically improving the school’s rankings in the U.S. News and World Report from its 70th ranking to 32nd—a feat no other college has equaled. Dr. Trombley, who joined the Fulbright Senior Specialists roster in 2004, established Pitzer as the national leader in Fulbright Fellowships per 1,000 students for ten years. From 2010-2015 Fulbright was also the top producer of Fulbright award recipients among all liberal arts colleges in the United States. President Barack Obama appointed Trombley to the J. William Fulbright Foreign Scholarship Board in 2012. Two years later she was elected vice chair of the Board and for 2016 she was elected chair during the Fulbright’s 70th Anniversary year.
Another defining aspect of Dr. Trombley’s presidency at Pitzer was her dedication to sustainability and environmental studies. She directed the construction of eight LEED-certified mixed use residential buildings; now 48 percent of all Pitzer buildings are LEED-certified. Trombley also collaborated with environmentalist Robert Redford on two groundbreaking campus initiatives: the divestment of Pitzer’s endowment of fossil fuel stocks, and the creation of the Robert Redford Conservancy for Southern California Sustainability. Pitzer was the first higher education institution in Southern California to commit to such a divestment. Trombley founded three scholarships at Pitzer College: John Skandera Memorial Scholarship,Laura Skandera Trombley Endowed Scholarship, and Laura Skandera Trombley Humanities and Arts Endowed Research and Internship Fund.
At The Huntington, Dr. Trombley ushered in a new era of transparency, accountability, and increased revenues. In her first year, she raised 39.4 million dollars, a 10 million increase over the previous year and achieved record earned revenue amounts for Admissions, The Huntington Store and Dining. All combined earned revenue reached a total of $11.3 million, a 1.4 million increase over the previous year. She expanded open hours by 130%, allowing access for wider Los Angeles families to come and visit, and thus The Huntington established a new record of 40,000 member families and 725,759 visitors. She negotiated a new food vendor contract worth baseline 25 million over 10 years, and with her operational and construction background aiding her, she modified the existing plan for the final phase of the Chinese Garden, adding a restaurant, an outdoor entertainment space, and an art gallery, and completed fundraising for the 20-year project with gifts totaling 12 million dollars. She also planned and received a 2.5 million gift for a Director of Research home to be built on the grounds of The Huntington, their first LEED certified building.
She worked to establish internal sustainability and water conservation efforts; organized the first institutional sustainability summit; and signed an agreement with the University of California, Riverside to subsidize the hiring of two assistant professors who will do research full-time in The Huntington’s collections. She also hired the institution’s first Vice President of Information Technology and its first Vice President of Facilities. Trombley created the first institutional dashboard; instituted The Huntington Channel to archive videos and web casts for the public; and created the Out of the Vault Series, to heighten the Huntington’s profile in the southern California region. She made San Marino Day an annual event, extending an open invitation to all community residents, and made a $5,000 gift in her father’s name to honor San Marino educators. To honor Huntington staff, she created annual recognition awards. She negotiated a new agreement between The Huntington and USC for The Huntington-USC Institute on California and the West (ICW) and USC-Huntington Early Modern Studies Institute (EMSI); exhibited NASA’s JPL Orbit Pavilion to outstanding attendance and reviews; and secured a future exhibition of the Hamilton/Burr pistols. In fall 2016, the Jonathan and Karin Fielding Wing opened, a $10.3 million expansion to the Virginia Steele Scott Galleries of American Art designed by Frederick Fisher, along with a major contribution of the Fieldings’ collection.
Her expertise in her scholarly field of Mark Twain Studies is widely recognized and she positively destabilized the world of academia, with her decision to tackle the influence the women in Twain’s personal life had upon his evolving social and political views as well as his writing; indeed, she convincingly argues that Adventures of Huckleberry Finn would never have been written without his personal knowledge of women’s movements and his conversations with women professionals as well as his spouse Olivia. Dr. Trombley’s decision to research the history behind Mark Twain’s mysterious female assistant, Isabel Van Kleek Lyon, created a firestorm of interest in her work. Trombley spent sixteen years meticulously researching the complicated relationship between Isabel and Twain, uncovering the deliberately omitted facts and deconstructing Twain’s elaborate cover story about their relationship. She ultimately brought Isabel’s influence upon America’s favorite author to the forefront in Mark Twain’s Other Woman (2010), nominated by her publisher Knopf for a Pulitzer Prize.
Beyond her exploration of Twain’s history with women, Laura Trombley has, throughout her career, been proactive in promoting women’s studies and supporting young women in academia. In one of her earliest positions as assistant provost at SUNY Potsdam, she founded the Teaching, Continuing Appointment, and Tenure Program (T-CAP), and served as a member of the school’s Women’s Studies Council. Since then she has taught numerous classes about female writers at Pitzer College, Coe College, Universitaet Eichstaett, Pepperdine University, the University of Southern California, and SUNY Potsdam. Trombley has also published pieces in The Chronicle of Higher Education, Women in Higher Education and the Paris Review. Laura Trombley has participated in conferences, international panel presentations, and other events which spotlight women’s leadership. She most recently spoke at a women’s leadership conference at her alma mater Pepperdine University in March 2016. Trombley earned the New York State progress in Equity Award from American Association of University Women in 1996. In November 2015, she was honored with the C-Suite Quarterly Magazine (SCQ), Visionaries in Philanthropy, Art & Culture Award. She earned the Janet Z. Giele Award, 3rd Annual Conference on Women in Leadership: Work-Life Balance, sponsored by Pepperdine University also in 2015. In 2008 she was given the CEO Leadership Award, Council for Advancement and Support of Education District VII. She was awarded the Dorothy A. Trux Award for an Emerging Professional Administrator, National Association for Women in Education in 1997.
Laura Trombley has been a member of numerous organizations which advocate for service, higher education, scholarship, gender equality, and improved female representation in business networks: Rotary International, the National Council for Research on Women, the Council of Presidents of the Association of Governing Boards, the Council on Foreign Relations Higher Education Working Group on Global Issues, the Young President Organization, the Chief Executive Organization, The Zamarano Club, The Mark Twain Circle of America, and The Southern California Forum of The Trusteeship of the International Women’s Forum.