Harvey Mudd Inaugurates President Harriet B. Nembhard

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On Feb. 29 and March 1, Harvey Mudd College welcomed alumni, students, faculty, staff, trustees, delegates, partners and friends to inaugurate Harriet B. Nembhard as the sixth president in the College’s 69-year history.

The two-day celebration included the formal investiture ceremony, an Annenberg Speaker Series talk, a community service project, a gala dinner featuring a panel discussion with presidents from fellow colleges, luncheons, student musical and dance performances, a dance party and more.  

During the investiture ceremony March 1, representatives from various constituencies offered words of welcome to President Nembhard.

Chair of the Board of Trustees Jim Bean ’77 opened the ceremony by welcoming Nembhard to the stage and welcoming members of the community to share in the historic occasion.

“Dr. Nembhard comes to Harvey Mudd bringing a depth of experience in teaching, scholarship, administration, mentorship and leadership,” Bean said.

Professor of Religious Studies Erika Dyson spoke of the blessing and challenge of living in community and said that she and the Mudd community have claimed Nembhard as “one of our own, and are eager to learn from you and to be changed by you.”

“May we do the difficult work of community, of interconnectedness, of mutual responsiveness and responsibility, of holding each other accountable to our best selves, our most innovative, creative, and vital ideas, our deepest connections to justice, our riskiest, but possibly most promising, interventions into the systems that limit human thriving,” Dyson said.

Alumni Association Board of Governors president Kathy French ’97 recalled Founding President Joseph Platt’s conviction that each cohort dedicates itself to the mission of the College and creates its future.

“Today’s events formalize passing our leadership torch amidst an ever more complex atmosphere. While President Platt had no way of envisioning the specific challenges and opportunities ahead of us today or into our future, he correctly identified that ‘it is what we make of it,’” French said.

Hiram Chodosh, president of Claremont McKenna College, Nembhard’s alma mater, both welcomed Harriet home to Claremont and invited the community to take off with her into the future. “This is a proud moment for each of us, all of us. Not just in a point reached, but for the road not yet mapped. This is not only because Harriet’s leadership emerged from within our own home. It is what she now brings to our table; her special capabilities that will lead us forward,” Chodosh said.

Chair of the Faculty and Professor of Mathematics Susan Martonosi remarked that “propelling innovation” was an apt theme for Harvey Mudd, as the College has been innovative since its founding in challenging the norms of STEM education and because innovation is particularly needed at this time in history. “The world needs Harvey Mudd College. But not the Harvey Mudd of yesterday or even of today; the world needs the Harvey Mudd College of tomorrow,” Martonosi said.

“As we stand on the precipice of our future, we are fortunate to have in President Harriet B. Nembhard a leader who is prepared to leverage Harvey Mudd College’s fine tradition of innovation to propel us forward,” Martonosi said.

Staff representative Laura Palucki Blake, assistant vice president for institutional research and effectiveness, described how Nembhard’s presence, in words and leadership, is characterized by preparation, curiosity and care.  

“Throughout the course of her career, she has demonstrated the courage to engage in challenging conversations and make difficult decisions while simultaneously exuding the joy, warmth, and wonder that is required to lead an institution like ours with empathy and integrity,” said Palucki Blake.

Kayleah Tsai ’24, president of ASHMC; and Henry Hammer ’24, student senate chair; reflected on their experience working with Nembhard since her arrival at the College.

“President Harriet has been such a joy to have on campus. She is a kind leader, who really takes the time to stop and acknowledge everyone on campus, making them feel valued,” Tsai said.

“President Harriet has been an invaluable resource to us as rising leaders. She has taught us the difference between choosing the correct option and the right option and how to always lead with kindness and empathy. We have taken many of her words to heart and continue to look to her as a role model for excellent leadership,” Hammer said.

Laura Larson, vice chair of the board of the trustees, spoke about Nembhard’s ability to authentically connect with people.

Former first lady of CMC and close friend Jil Stark commented that Nembhard has many reasons to smile, including the outstanding students, faculty and trustees at Harvey Mudd who are working to change the world for the better.

Former PhD advisee Hyojung Kang described the qualities President Nembhard embodied as a teacher and advisor. “As you take on this new role as President, I have every confidence that you will continue to lead with the same spirit of courageous leadership, passion, excellence, integrity and humility. You will inspire students, staff, faculty members and community members to dream big, embrace challenges with resilience and always strive for excellence in all that we do,” Kang said.

Daughter Naomi Nembhard shared how while growing up, her mother often told her, “Be good, be smart,” and how the meaning and importance of these words continued to grow for her. “Your goodness must be backed up by smart choices because unconditional kindness isn’t always actually kind. And your smartness and your intelligence must have kindness at the forefront in order to make the kinds of changes we need to see,” Naomi Nembhard said.

Spouse and Professor of Engineering David Nembhard said, “As I learned more and more about this community and experienced becoming a part of this community, I realize how honored and proud I am to share Harriet with you as she leads Harvey Mudd College as our sixth President. May her leadership inspire us to propel innovation and reach new heights.”

Board Chair Bean formally declared President Nembhard the sixth president of Harvey Mudd College, bestowing her with the presidential medallion. Naomi Nembhard helped place the medallion on President Nembhard.

“We are committed to continuously generating and sharing solutions that ignite positive change, drawing inspiration not only from the legacy of our past—but also from the limitless potential of our future endeavors,” Nembhard said in her inaugural address.

“Together, let us embrace this journey with optimism, courage, determination and a shared dedication to excellence. Together, let us continue propelling innovation as we push the frontiers of knowledge and inspire future generations of thinkers and leaders. Together, let’s soar to even greater heights!”

The ceremony concluded with choral music from the Claremont Concert Choir and a poetry reading by Ada Limón, the United States Poet Laureate.

After the ceremony, the inauguration celebration continued with an all-campus lunch, a community engagement activity, student performances and a dance party.

View the full investiture ceremony.