Dr. Sylvia Torti has been named as the seventh president of College of the Atlantic. She begins h... Dr. Sylvia Torti has been named as the seventh president of College of the Atlantic. She begins her tenure on July 1.“Dr. Sylvia Torti is the perfect person to carry College of the Atlantic into our second half century. Her intellectual curiosity, natural leadership, incredible creativity, passion for the human experience, and ability to connect with others on a deep, personal level will allow her to inspire, energize, and uplift all members of the COA community,” said COA Board of Trustees Chair Beth Gardiner. “Dr. Torti is a true human ecologist who sees the world as a series of interlocking parts and enjoys the complexity and the beauty that represents in higher education. Her zest for taking on complex challenges, for leading with heart, and for meeting the present moment with openness will bring untold benefit to the college and all those who share in our mission.”

From 2012-2023, Torti served as dean of the Honors College at University of Utah, a liberal arts college nested within a large research institution, where she achieved ambitious goals through dedicated strategic planning, including tripling the diversity of the student body as well as increasing the number of out-of-state students. She also created a successful office to mentor for nationally competitive scholarships resulting in Rhodes, Churchills, Fulbright, Udall, Gilman, and Boren awards; and, most importantly, initiated and implemented a vision for globally oriented, integrated curricula in ecology, health, and human rights.

“If we were able to somehow piece together the many traits and skill sets that a college president needs to have, and in particular the unique set of skills that a COA president needs to have, we would end up with Dr. Sylvia Torti. Ever since the founding of COA 50+ years ago, we’ve been proud of our inherently multidisciplinary approach, and Dr. Torti embodies this,” said Michael Boland ’94, a COA Trustee and member of the presidential search committee. “It’s rare to find a scientist, particularly one with extensive field work in their background, combined with experience and passion for the arts; amazingly, Dr. Torti has deep experience in administration, finances, and development as well. She is also a natural storyteller in all the best ways, and this will be invaluable in the years to come.”

“Dr. Sylvia Torti is the perfect person to carry College of the Atlantic into our second half century” — COA Board of Trustees Chair Beth Gardiner.

Torti, who is from a bicultural Latinx background and has lived and worked globally, is a collaborative leader with a passion for experiential, interdisciplinary learning, shared governance, and centering the principles of diversity, equity, and inclusion in today’s higher education landscape.

“I believe so deeply in COA’s mission and I am honored and thrilled to join this dynamic community,” Torti said. “I have admired COA for 30 years, since my sister was a student, and over the years, I’ve kept abreast of developments on campus and the school’s continuing innovative approach to education. COA is already a leader in higher education because of its successful and inspiring commitment to a dialogical, ecologically based education, an approach that I believe will become increasingly important in the years to come.”

Previous to her 11-year tenure as honors college dean, Torti served as the director of University of Utah’s Bonderman Field Station, a remote, 400-acre station along the Dolores River in southeastern Utah. She developed and implemented a creative vision for the nascent field station to serve natural sciences, arts, humanities, architecture, and engineering faculty and students, led strategic planning—including infrastructure development for off-grid, sustainable facilities, potable water, land management, and data collection/curation—and coordinated research, education, outreach, and job training programs.

“Dr. Torti fully understands the moment we are in, the important role that COA has in the world of higher education, and how vital it is to make sure that diversity, equity, and inclusion are central to how we evolve as a college at this time,” Gardiner said. “One of the things that we’re so inspired by is Dr. Torti’s proven track record in this area, along with her deep personal commitment. She has a firm grasp of the importance of attracting and retaining diverse students and faculty and expanding the types of classes offered so that we can better reflect the world around us.”

College of the Atlantic President-Elect Dr. Sylvia Torti meets with students in the school's Take... College of the Atlantic President-Elect Dr. Sylvia Torti meets with students in the school's Take-a-Break dining hall during a campus visit conducted as part of the search process.Torti holds a PhD from the University of Utah School of Biological Sciences and a BA from Earlham College. She boasts a 30-year record of publication, including multiple scientific research papers, research and opinion pieces on methods of pedagogy, two novels, and multiple short stories and essays. Her latest novel, Cages, was published by Schaffner Press in 2017.

“I share with COA an interest in how we, as humans, understand and interact with the rest of the living world. We can study the world through science, which is both powerful and rewarding, and something I spent a good number of years doing, but I’m also interested in the power of the arts and the humanities to reveal more about our relationships with one another and the more-than-human world. I believe that working at the ecotones of disciplines, as is the tradition at COA, is a powerful method of inquiry,” Torti said.

“I am also drawn to COA’s commitment to shared governance and focus on equity, diversity and inclusion. I was strongly influenced by the Quaker values I learned at Earlham College, the idea that each member of a community is valued and that all voices must be heard. Our world is a marvelously diverse place and healthy communities are only possible when we embrace, support, and grapple with the multitude of traditions, cultures, and perspectives that live among us. We have so much to learn from one another,” Torti said. “COA is a bold place where people acknowledge cooperation and conflict and strive to understand how and why those behaviors manifest. I think the founders were so right to create a school where we can use what we know about these dimensions of human nature to find solutions to both small and big problems. I am so inspired by the founders’ vision and the way that the school has kept this fire alive!”

College of the Atlantic was in an excellent position to recruit a new leader because of the success of current president Darron Collins ’92, Gardiner said. During his 13 years at the college, Collins, COA’s first alumni president, led the completion of two capital campaigns totalling nearly $90M, the construction of a state-of-the-art academic building and new student residence, the acquisition of off-campus student housing to help alleviate pressure caused by the local real estate market, enrollment growth resulting in the college meeting its 350-student goal, an eight-year reign as Princeton Review’s #1 green college, creation of the ever-more-popular COA Summer Institute, and the installation of a site-specific artwork by internationally renowned land artist Andy Goldsworthy.

“I believe so deeply in COA’s mission and I am honored and thrilled to join this dynamic community” — Dr. Sylvia Torti.

“It’s difficult to overstate the incredible impact that Dr. Collins has had on College of the Atlantic. For the past 13 years, he has thrown his heart, soul and passion into COA,” Gardiner said. “Under his leadership the college has thrived, expanding our breadth, stature, endowment and footprint. Dr. Collins’ legacy is embodied on our campus in Collins House, a state-of-the-art, sustainable residence hall that we have just opened on campus and named after Dr. Collins and his family.”

Torti also expressed her admiration and respect for Collins, whose accomplishments were a big part of what led her to COA.

“I feel enormously fortunate to follow President Darron Collins,” Torti said. “While I was on campus, it was clear to me that his consistent and passionate leadership has contributed to a highly engaged faculty, staff, and student body, and raised the school’s national profile. I look forward to building on his many successes.”

COA has been led by a highly capable succession of leaders since its incorporation in 1969, beginning with founding president Edward Kaelber and followed by Dr. Judith Swazey, Dr. Louis Rabineau, Dr. Steven Katona, David Hales, Andy Griffiths (one-year interim president), and Collins.

The search committee, chaired by COA Trustee Cynthia Baker, comprised trustees, faculty, students, and staff members, with alumni among both trustees and staff. Dr. Ruth Shoemaker Wood of Diversified Search Group held listening sessions with alumni, students, staff, faculty, and trustees, before presenting an initial pool of 81 candidates. During their extensive search, the committee considered and engaged with many highly qualified individuals from both within and outside of academia.

“The search committee was blown away by the breadth and quality of the applicants for the position. It quickly became clear that the college’s mission and model of education is resonating in a deep way with people who aspire to lead organizations, and we couldn’t have been more pleased with those from higher ed, nonprofits, and government who sought to become our next president. We invited three compelling finalists to Bar Harbor and during that time found Dr. Torti to be College of the Atlantic President-Elect Dr. Sylvia Torti addresses the COA community during a cam... College of the Atlantic President-Elect Dr. Sylvia Torti addresses the COA community during a campus visit conducted as part of the search process to select the school's seventh president.an outstanding fit. As an exceptional leader and a systems thinker, she will excel at both the internal work of management and mission refinement and the external work of fundraising and public-facing leadership,” Baker said. “I’m deeply grateful to all of the members of the committee who dedicated so much time and effort, and to the 150+ COA community members who provided feedback to our group. Passion for the college and the collective commitment to secure the best leader possible for its future is a remarkable feature of COA.”

During the final week of COA winter term, three candidates journeyed to campus, where each separately participated in a packed day of roundtable discussions with staff, faculty, administrators, and students, lunch in Blair Dining Hall, pizza dinners, presentations and Q&A sessions (open online to alumni), and morning and evening gatherings with trustees. All participants were invited to fill out surveys for each candidate, and their feedback was reviewed by the search committee before the recommendation was made to the full board.

“Dr. Torti is really enthusiastic about this position, and she brings so much infectious energy. She is very creative, and known for constantly coming up with new ideas about how people can work with each other and solve problems together,” said search committee member Kaia Douglas ’25. “She spoke about planning to do a lot of listening during her first months at COA, and that will be a really exciting time for our community to work with her and bring her up to speed on what COA needs in a collaborative way.”

Torti will be joined in Bar Harbor by her partner, Scott Woolsey, who considers Maine “almost home,” as his family has enjoyed a lakeside property near Bethel, Maine since his childhood. He has an extensive background in food systems and organic farming in New England and looks forward to being part of the COA and MDI community.

View Dr. Sylia Torti’s CV and stay abreast of updates at coa.edu/presidentialannouncement.