OTTY Honoree 2020 Kerry Walk: The City is the Campus

The president of Marymount Manhattan College is helping students make the most of the school's hometown

02 Mar 2020 | 12:32

In a city like New York, it can be difficult to find places that feel small and intimate. But according to Kerry Walk, that’s exactly what prospective students will find at Marymount Manhattan College.

“[Marymount] is in the greatest city and it's one of the only small colleges on the island of Manhattan,” said Walk, the school’s president. “Families and students alike come here because they want the kind of high quality education we have to offer and they know that we have practically 100 percent of our classrooms filled with fewer than 30 students. So we occupy a unique position in the higher education ecosystem.”

Walk’s own mix of experience at both large institutions and small liberal arts colleges was terrific preparation for when she took on the role as president in July 2015.

Originally from the Pittsburgh area, Walk earned a bachelor's degree in English literature at Wellesley College. At the University of California Berkeley, Walk received a PhD in English literature, with a focus on English Renaissance literature and the Victorian novel.

She spent the first half of her career at Ivy League institutions, including Harvard and Princeton universities. At Princeton, she built and directed the acclaimed interdisciplinary Princeton Writing Program. From 2011 to 2015, Walk served as both provost and interim president of Otis College of Art and Design, in Los Angeles, where she saw the college through a campus expansion and the implementation of a new strategic plan.

“I've had a chance to be deeply embedded in liberal arts education and combining that with a creative education,” said Walk. “I feel lucky to be at Marymount Manhattan, which combines creative practice and critical inquiry. I feel like it sums up my own interests and sums up my career pretty well.”

Since taking the helm at Marymount, Walk said she and her administration have taken down “the fourth wall” between the college and the city, making connections across Manhattan as part of an initiative called CityEdge.

“The idea of CityEdge is for us to leverage this great location and for our students to have experiences across the city that are deliberately educational, to prepare them for the professional world,” said Walk.

For example, Walk said Marymount offers some classes that never meet at their 71st Street campus. Art History classes instead go to galleries, studios and museums, speaking with curators, museum directors and art critics. For the students in the dance and theater programs, the college is taking advantage of the experts in its backyard, bringing in choreographers, directors and lighting designers.

“Unless you really see through the walls of your college, you can remain very insular,” said Walk. “Instead, we are spreading out. The city is our campus.”

Additionally, Walk said Marymount is working develop its reputation as a creative college. The school is in the process of allocating resources, including faculty, programming and physical space, in order to enhance this identity.

“I think that that will have a long lasting effect on who our college is attractive to and how we are perceived nationally and internationally,” said Walk.

Walk said she feels honored to be able to do such consequential work at Marymount.

“For every student that we have an impact on, we know that we're having an impact on that student’s family, that student’s community — and by extension, the nation and the world,” said Walk. “That sounds like a grandiose way of describing the work that we do, but it's actually true; the ripple effect is immediate.”

“Unless you really see through the walls of your college, you can remain very insular...the city is our campus.”