The Arlington Catholic Herald: Marymount hires a new president

After a monthslong search, Marymount University in Arlington has named Irma Becerra to be its seventh president.

“I take this opportunity to congratulate Dr. Irma Becerra on being selected to serve as the seventh president of Marymount University,” said Bishop Michael F. Burbidge in a statement released May 3. “This is an exciting and historic announcement in the history of Marymount University and Dr. Becerra will surely build upon the great work and incredible progress made under the leadership of Dr. Matthew Shank.”

“In my time as Bishop of the Diocese of Arlington, I have continued to learn about and appreciate Marymount’s commitment to educating the whole person, which Marymount appropriately recognizes in their mission as being the intellectual, ethical and spiritual needs of the individual,” Bishop Burbidge said. “I look forward to working with Dr. Becerra to ensure a stable foundation for the university’s Catholic identity and fidelity to the Magisterium, as these are hallmarks of every authentically Catholic university and learning environment. Rooted in Our Lord’s mercy, love and compassion, may Dr. Becerra and all of the students, faculty and staff of Marymount University enjoy a prosperous future now, and always.” 

“The university warmly welcomes Dr. Irma Becerra,” said Matthew Shank, the school’s current president, who announced his retirement in November. “Marymount has such a historically important role in higher education, particularly as the first Catholic college established in Virginia. The university will be in good hands.”

Becerra currently serves as the provost and chief academic officer at St. Thomas University, a Catholic college in Miami, and will take over as Marymount’s president this summer.

“In all measures, Dr. Becerra rose to the top in our national search for the next president to lead Marymount,” said Edward Bersoff, chairman of the board of trustees and head of the search committee.

“She understands the need for Catholic higher education, she is committed to it and will ensure that the mission of our founding order, the Religious of the Sacred Heart of Mary, advances from Arlington across the world,” said Bersoff.

Becerra is a Cuban-born American. She earned her bachelor’s and master’s degrees in electrical engineering from the University of Miami and went on to become the first woman to earn a doctorate in engineering from Florida International University in Miami. She then worked as a professor there and later led the school’s Entrepreneurship Center.

After many years at Florida International, she was recruited by St. Thomas to help boast enrollment and strengthen student retention. While there, she helped create a program called the Catholic Education Continuum, which allows students at local Catholic high schools to dual enroll, earning college credit while in their high school courses.

“We wanted to create a more seamless path for those students to consider St. Thomas,” she said. “They could (potentially) graduate in three years and use the fourth year for graduate school. (The program is) a way to offset the perceived high cost of private education and it really resonated with families.”

Becerra hopes to implement a similar program at Marymount. She and her two grown children are graduates of Catholic schools.

“I’m delighted to be the first lay woman to be selected to do this job,” said Becerra. “I will be a dedicated and tireless advocate for Marymount University and the ways in which it transforms the lives of its students, much like education changed my life.””

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