Agnes Scott College President Leocadia "Lee" Zak sits in a rocking chair on one of her favorite locations on campus. An inauguration ceremony was held on April 26, 2019 on the campus, located in Decatur. ERIC STIRGUS / ESTIRGUS@AJC.COM.

Agnes Scott leader seeks to boost STEM offerings, build community ties

Agnes Scott College’s new president has spent much of her initial months on the job meeting students, faculty, community leaders and business executives, but now a new phase in her young tenure begins.

On Friday, the school held an inauguration ceremony for Leocadia “Lee” Zak on its campus in Decatur. Much of her upcoming work will be to enhance the women’s school efforts in producing innovative programs at a time more attention is being paid to disparities among female students pursuing careers in science, technology, engineering and math.

“My biggest and most important responsibility is making sure (students) have the tools they need to reach their full potential,” she said in her inauguration speech.

Zak said in an interview with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution some of that will entail working with local technology companies and businesses to determine how they can assist each other and generating more revenue, possibly through hosting different types of events on campus, to fund some of the resources its students need.

Women account for nearly half of the nation’s workforce but receive only 30% of STEM degrees and hold only about a quarter of the nation's jobs in those fields, according to the some federal research.

The college’s work in STEM got a boost Friday when it announced two of its students will receive Goldwater STEM scholarships for undergraduate students planning to pursue a career in those fields. The college is also one of only a handful of schools to partner with Google on coursework to deepen coding skills, how to identify bias in artificial intelligence and ways to investigate, clean, analyze, and visualize data.

Zak, who came to Agnes Scott in July from Washington, D.C., joked during an interview the biggest adjustment to this area has been dealing with the humid summers. Aside from that, she said the transition has been “absolutely amazing.”

Zak’s predecessor, Elizabeth Kiss, left after 12 years of leading the college to become the warden and chief executive officer of the Rhodes Trust. Zak previously served seven years as director of the U.S. Trade and Development Agency. She was appointed by then-President Barack Obama to that position and confirmed by the U.S. Senate in 2010. 

Agnes Scott created academic requirements a few years ago that every student be “digitally literate,” which means they are able to create analytics, create a website of their own and and create programming content. This year’s senior class is the first set of students to have completed those standards, which the college calls its SUMMIT leadership development and global learning initiative. SUMMIT has been nationally recognized by some educators and news organizations that publish academic rankings on various areas of higher education.

Agnes Scott last fall had 325 first-year students, the largest incoming class in its history. The college has about 1,000 students. Increasingly, more of those students are interested in STEM and other innovative coursework.

Zak had nearly 50 meetings with various groups and organizations as part of what she described as a “listening tour” during her first semester on campus. Through those conversations and others, Zak said her post-inauguration goals include renovating its Main Hall, adding more graduate courses and additional outreach with local business leaders in the region.

“The world is always changing. So we have to change too. We have to keep innovating,” she said.

BY THE NUMBERS

1,040 - number of Agnes Scott students

10:1 - the student-faculty ratio

65 - number of Lyft rides Zak took across Atlanta during her first semester

53 - meetings with alumnae in Zak’s first semester

5 - number of graduate programs that will be offered for the Fall 2019 semester

Source: Agnes Scott College

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