Academic Search Called in by Simpson College to Recruit New President

December 4, 2019 – Education-focused executive recruiter Academic Search has been selected by Simpson College in Indianola, Iowa to find its next president. Search firm president Jay Lemons, senior consultant Wanda Bigham and associate consultant Penny Gibbons are leading the assignment.

Jay Simmons is stepping down from the college’s top job, but will continue to serve in his current position until a successor is found. The role is expected to be filled no later than June of next year.

“The college seeks an exceptional leader who will bring demonstrated success in senior-level leadership that includes management of a substantial and complex organization, along with a deep understanding of and appreciation for a liberal arts education,” said Academic Search.

The leadership agenda for the president of Simpson College includes a focus on attracting and retaining the optimal-size student body that is geographically, racially and ethnically diverse, as well as of the highest possible academic quality, said the search firm.

Marketing and Enrollment

“Like all institutions of higher education, and especially those in college-rich Iowa, Simpson College has experienced increasing challenges in enrollment,” said Academic Search. “The next president must be familiar with marketing and enrollment strategies and be poised to take advantage of the substantial strengths of the institution, as well as new or revised academic programs, to grow student populations.”

The next leader will be expected to work closely with marketing to develop and strengthen the Simpson College brand, including the website, print advertising, advertising in the greater Des Moines area, and social media presence.

He or she will also be charged with demonstrating authentic values and engagement to unify campus constituencies, the community of Indianola, and the greater Des Moines region. Simpson College historically has been an engaged partner in all aspects of its local community, region, and state. The president should maintain and enhance this relationship by being a visible presence and active leader in the Indianola community, as well as in the broader region and in the state while supporting the continued development of the college’s international education opportunity, said the search firm.

Job Requirements

Required qualifications for the role include a bachelor’s degree, with an advanced/ terminal degree preferred, and progressively responsible executive-level experience and a demonstrated record of success.

Highly valued qualifications include significant successful senior leadership experience with demonstrated ability to act decisively and effectively to bring about change that strengthens institutional reputation and position. Candidates should also have the ability to value, motivate and develop talented people while holding them accountable for their performance, being able to accurately evaluate employees and make personnel changes. Also required is a commitment to and passion for communicating with alumni, friends of the college, and corporate donors, financial support for Simpson.


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Simpson College is a four-year private college of the liberal arts and sciences affiliated with The United Methodist Church. Located just south of Des Moines, Simpson is home to more than 1,100 full-time undergraduate students with an additional 200 part-time, mostly adult students, at a site in West Des Moines. Twenty academic departments house more than 80 majors and minors, as well as three graduate programs.

Seasoned Recruiters

For over three decades, Academic Search has been a leader in designing and implementing search processes for leaders of colleges and universities across the country. The firm has completed more than 380 executive searches for higher education institutions and related organizations, for roles ranging from presidents to provosts to deans.

Dr. Lemons became president of Academic Search in 2017, after serving for 25 years as a college president in both public and private higher education. A recognized leader in the academy, he has been particularly devoted to supporting leadership talent by working with new college presidents on the faculty of the new presidents’ programs of the American Association of State Colleges and Universities and the Council of Independent Colleges and through the professional development programs for aspiring leaders of the American Academic Leadership Institute (AALI). Dr. Lemons was president of Susquehanna University in Selinsgrove, PA, from 2001 through June of last year, and prior to that served as chancellor of the University of Virginia’s (UVA) College at Wise, UVA’s public liberal arts college in southwestern Virginia

Dr. Bigham joined Academic Search in 2011 and has assisted public and private colleges and universities with over 45 national searches for presidents, vice presidents, and deans. She previously served as president of Huntingdon College and Marycrest College, and she held administrative positions at Emerson College and Morehead State University (vice president for development, associate dean for academic affairs, acting dean for graduate and special academic programs). She also served in leadership positions for the United Methodist Church’s Division of Higher Education.

Ms. Gibbons, who has 13 years of higher education experience, brings diverse knowledge in enrollment management, advising, marketing, advancement, retention and student success from her experience at both public and private institutions—at the community college, four-year and graduate levels. She has served in a variety of roles, including coordinator of academic advising, staff writer/communications coordinator, director of the academic resources center and director of graduate admissions.

Contributed by Scott A. Scanlon, Editor-in-Chief; Dale M. Zupsansky, Managing Editor; and Stephen Sawicki, Managing Editor – Hunt Scanlon Media

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