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Bellarmine University Welcomes Its First Female President

Donovan Flowers

Susan Donovan started her first day as Bellarmine University's president on Tuesday, marking the first day a woman has held the top job at the private Catholic university.

Marking her first day with cabinet meetings, the former Loyola University Maryland vice president says she values being a collaborative leader who gives employees autonomy to work.

Stepping into the role, she plans to prioritize enrollment and learning about Bellarmine first.

"Enrollment is always a driver, certainly in a private institution of this size," Donovan said. "Undergraduate and graduate enrollment seems strong, which is great. Now I need to get familiar with more of the institution."

At Loyola Maryland, a Catholic university, Donovan was chief development officer from 1988 to 2011 and executive vice president until she was named to lead Bellarmine. As executive vice president, Donovan helped lead administration, enrollment and student development.

In her role at Bellarmine, Donovan will provide executive leadership for the divisions of administration, advancement, enrollment management and communications, and student development.

Bellarmine was founded as a men's only college, allowing women to enroll in 1968, according to the university's spokesperson. In 2015, women made up more than half the student population.

A female president, Donovan says, was overdue.

"I thought it was probably overdue that we break through that particular glass ceiling," Donovan said in a statement.  "Based on my experience so far, it doesn't seem like it's going to be much of an adjustment for the Bellarmine community."


She's begun familiarizing herself with Louisville already. Donovan says her time pursuing a masters at Florida State University warmed her to Southern foods. Kentucky's rollercoaster weather stands out to her, but she says the hospitality made the campus feel right to her.

"I thought the hospitality stood out; the warmth of the people here has just been really fantastic," Donovan said.

Bellarmine's board of trustees appointed Donovan on Feb. 21. Former president Joseph McGowan died in March.


Kyeland Jackson is an Associate Producer for WFPL News.