Dr. Damián J. Fernández has been named the 10th president of Warren Wilson College.
A Cuban immigrant who grew up in Puerto Rico and a first-generation college student, Fernández comes to Warren Wilson with more than 30 years of experience in teaching and leadership positions at both private and public institutions. Most recently, he served as president of Eckerd College.
The selection follows an eight-month national search with a deep, strong and diverse pool of candidates. The search was led by a committee of 15 faculty, staff, students, alumni and trustees. More than 80 members of the Warren Wilson community worked with the committee and provided feedback about presidential candidates.
“On behalf of the Board of Trustees, we are extraordinarily pleased that Dr. Fernández has agreed to serve as our next president and to lead Warren Wilson through the challenging times facing colleges and universities across the country,” Chair of the Board Lach Zemp said. “Dr. Fernández brings a wealth and depth of experience in higher education that is in perfect alignment with the values instilled in our students from Warren Wilson’s long legacy of excellent academics, service to community and the importance of work.”
Fernández’s aspirations for Warren Wilson College include advancing innovative programs that deepen project- and problem-based learning, growing and diversifying enrollment, addressing facilities and other institutional needs, and rethinking the traditional business model of liberal arts colleges.
“Warren Wilson's foundational commitment to access and its pedagogy of mind, heart, and hand—learning, service, and work—are as compelling now as in 1894,” Fernández said. “Together we will push the boundaries of experiential learning for the 21st century. Warren Wilson will be a leader in the renewal of the American liberal arts college by focusing on excellence, inclusion, innovation, and impact.”
During his time at Eckerd, Fernández raised more than $38 million, enrollment reached its highest point, the annual fund set a new record, and the Board approved a strategic plan that prioritized innovation in the liberal arts, community engagement, Diversity Equity Inclusion and Belonging, and financial and environmental sustainability. The college launched initiatives to deepen student learning (including a farm and the living shoreline restoration project), funded seed grants for faculty and student collaboration, and established the St. Pete Center for Civic Engagement, the Office of Inclusive Excellence, The Nielsen Center for the Liberal Arts, and the Seville Center in Spain.
Fernández received his bachelor’s from the Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs at Princeton University, master’s in Latin American Studies from the University of Florida, and Ph.D. in International Relations from the University of Miami. His research interests center on Latin American politics and international relations. He is the author of the book “Cuba and the Politics of Passion.”
A catalytic leader and progressive educator, he is a National Science Foundation grant recipient, and he sat on the Board of the American Council on Education (ACE) and on the Association of Governing Boards Council of Presidents. ACE profiled him in their series on equity-minded leadership. He said Warren Wilson’s values, heritage and pedagogy resonate deeply with him.
“I am thrilled that Dr. Fernández is bringing his remarkable energy and set of experiences to Warren Wilson College,” said Alisa Hove, Warren Wilson’s Chair of the Department of Biology who served on the presidential search committee. “Throughout the search process, Dr. Fernández distinguished himself as a creative, empathetic, and strategic leader whose philosophy is driven by a strong belief that hands-on, meaningful experiences within the liberal arts are central to building a more just, equitable, and sustainable world.”
Warren Wilson College is one of nine work colleges in the country, where all residential students are required to work on campus, and in exchange they receive money towards their tuition. Every student at Warren Wilson is also required to do community engagement, where they volunteer in the community.
“Ours is a pivotal moment in the history of the college and our nation,” Fernández said. “Together we will ensure Warren Wilson's future as a place that contributes to individual and community transformation for the greater good. What an honor and responsibility to be steward of that mission. I thank the Board and the community for this extraordinary opportunity.”
Fernández has begun working with Warren Wilson Interim President Bill Christy, Provost Dr. Jay Roberts, the rest of the college’s leadership team, and the Board of Trustees to fully understand the college. He will assume the role as president on June 1, 2023.