August 8, 2011 | last updated January 17, 2012 1:54 pm
2011 Women to Watch

A matter of degrees | Danielle Ripich, University of New England

Tim Greenway
Tim Greenway
Danielle Ripich, president of the University of New England

VIEW: Women to Watch 2011: Danielle Ripich

VIEW: See more Danielle Ripich and the University of New England

11 Hills Beech Road, Biddeford
Founded: 1978
Services: Four-year, independent private university
Employees: 1,000
2011 budget: $127 million
Contact: 283-0171

When Danielle Ripich was named president at the University of New England in 2006, she took the reins of an institution with an enrollment of just over 4,000 students in its three colleges. Through 2010, enrollment swelled 63% to nearly 7,000, while UNE doubled its number of colleges to six.

What a difference five years can make. Or more appropriately, what a difference the right leader can make.

Upon her arrival in Biddeford, Ripich inherited a thriving medical school, but that wasn't enough to suit her vision for the 33-year-old school, which also has a campus in Portland. As a self-described "disruptive innovator," Ripich was a driving force behind the launch of UNE's College of Pharmacy in 2009, and will preside over the opening of its College of Dental Medicine, planned for 2012.

From day one, Ripich realized that complementing UNE's established medical school by offering education in other areas of health sciences was a way to build recognition for the school.

"Early on, I realized that Maine, Vermont and New Hampshire [was] the largest geographical area in the U.S. without a pharmacy or dental school, so I did see that as our opportunity," she says. "By putting those two schools in place — plus we've built the public health program, which we hope to grow into a school of public health — it puts us in the company of a handful of private universities in the nation that have that mix, and it makes us a strong private health sciences university."

As a result, UNE is currently the leader in developing health professionals in the state, and Ripich's leadership has positioned the school as a national leader as well. The growth is especially impressive given it occurred without the subsidies of the public university system, or the deep endowments of some of Maine's other private schools.

Under Ripich's watch, the school's Biddeford campus has seemingly been under constant construction since 2006. That growth includes UNE's first research-only building, two academic buildings, a new residence hall, a bright blue synthetic athletic field, the College of Pharmacy building and the George and Barbara Bush Center, a student center. The College of Dental Medicine building will soon take its place on the list of new construction.

Nearly every new building bears the name of one or more of the school's benefactors. "We can't do it all on student dollars, so everywhere around the state of Maine you'll find institutions have been helped by generous gifts," she says. "Everybody is looking to extend and stretch what we get from tuition from students every way we can."

For example, Ripich has forged a relationship with the Harold Alfond Foundation, which awarded UNE $10 million in December 2010 to build a state-of-the-art athletics complex on its Biddeford campus. The foundation also promised $3 million to support UNE's goal of developing an integrated health training clinic where physician assistants, nursing students, social work students, doctors and others will work together to gain real-world experience in an inter-professional environment.

Ripich's tenure has not been without its challenges: In 2009, she was criticized for attempting to close some university health clinics in a cost-cutting move. But rather than dwell on what's been said or done in the past, Ripich views these experiences as opportunities to learn. "One of the lessons learned in a public leadership position is that you have to continue to communicate," she says. "You may think you've communicated around an issue well, and you realize that there are a lot of misperceptions, that rumors get started, and then you're chasing rumors."

While UNE is best known for its health sciences focus, Ripich wants people to know UNE has strong programs in the humanities and social sciences, and a business program. "I like to say we train students not just for their first job but for second and third jobs, and that's often where our broad range of courses comes in," she says.


What was the biggest challenge of your career? Early in my career, I became a tenured full professor at a major research university, and 93% of tenured full professors were men at that time.

When did you know you'd made it? At my inaugural address at UNE, I asked the faculty to come together with me and build a stronger university, and they spontaneously stood and applauded. At that moment, I thought, "OK, we can make good things happen. I can do this."

What advice do you wish you'd gotten early in your career? Take more risks.

"I'll relax when... my work is done."

What was your "Haven't we moved beyond this" moment? I was touring some research labs that we were renovating, and the labs looked beautiful, except right in the middle of the floor there was a place where the tiles didn't match. I said, "This will be nice when you get the floor finished," and they said, "It's finished." They had an extra box of tile from another job, so we used it. At UNE, we're very frugal with student dollars and we stretch them, but we don't need to use an extra box of tile; the floor should match.

Read more

Mainebiz Women to Watch alumni: Checking in on past winners

2011 Women to Watch

Track star | Patricia Quinn, Northern New England Passenger Rail Authority

Mill right | Louise Jonaitis, Saunders Bros. at Locke Mills LLC

Double duty | Colleen Hilton, VNA Home Health & Hospice

Taking another tack | Beth Shissler, Sea Bags


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