Saddle Rock Retreat, Nov. 2023

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College Community:  

The Harvey Mudd College Board of Trustees held its annual Saddle Rock board retreat—a 63-year tradition—to ponder and discuss the long-term success of the College. The theme of the retreat, held Nov. 3–5,  was “Prepare to Launch,” and included trustees, faculty, the President’s Cabinet, members of AABOG and HMC students, who gathered as part of the effort to engage all College stakeholders in discussions that will lead to a strong strategic plan. 

On Friday, Vice President for Academic Affairs and Dean of Faculty Tom Donnelly shared a broad overview of the next decade, including the work in progress—like introducing President Nembhard to the community—and future goals, like strategic planning and a comprehensive campaign. Given these aspirations, the agenda for the weekend included sessions designed to build relationships and think about the College’s next chapter.  

With guidance from Vice President for Advancement Hieu Nguyen and facilitation from other cabinet members, attendees engaged in a “jumpstart” exercise designed to lay a foundation for open communication with Harriet. In small groups, attendees shared what they’d like to know about her, what they want most from her and what they think is most important for her to know about trustees, alumni, faculty and students.  

Saturday morning, Harriet responded to many of these questions and comments. She shared stories of her family and their influence on her life and how these lessons affect her leadership style. Since the attendees described open communication as a desired trait, Harriet shared how important information sharing and feedback is to her. She concluded by responding to attendees’ comments about the most important aspects of Mudd culture, among them: the students, the Honor Code, collaboration and the College’s impact on society.  

In the final session on Friday, there was a review and discussion of the six themes outlined in the First 100 Days report. In small groups, attendees shared their thoughts on each: 

  1. Culture and people 
  2. The student experience 
  3. Academic programs 
  4. Impact on society 
  5. Places and spaces 
  6. Building capacity to invest in our future 

More than 100 comments from attendees were compiled and recorded, and summaries related to each theme were presented to the full group before the day’s conclusion.  

Sunday’s discussion emphasized major events on the horizon. Over the next years, the HMC community will engage in strategic planning and launching a comprehensive campaign. Hieu Nguyen and Tom Donnelly discussed the approaches to these important events, and Harriet shared her views on their execution. Participants shared their perspectives on what makes a strategic plan successful and how this success can be measured. It is a priority for all HMC constituents to have opportunities to learn about the strategic planning process, share their ideas and help make the final plan come to life.  

I described my experiences leading strategic planning at three different higher education institutions and detailed which ideas from these plans could potentially help Harvey Mudd with its work. I concluded my presentation by encouraging trustees and others to think about key ideas from the weekend that were meaningful to them and to identify ways to contribute and collaborate. The attendees’ enthusiasm to utilize their unique strengths, backgrounds and experience to support Harriet and the College was heartening.  

In closing, Saddle Rock 2023 was a special time for us to be in conversation with Harriet and begin investigating new ideas and directions for the College. Expect further discussions that will help us find the essence of Harvey Mudd College, distill what differentiates us from peer colleges and launch into the next decades. As we conclude the fall semester and move into spring, I look forward to the Presidential Inauguration activities Feb. 29–March 1, when we’ll have a special opportunity to be in community again and continue envisioning a distinctive and impactful future for the College.  


Jim Bean ’77 

Chair, Harvey Mudd College Board of Trustees