Fitzgerald, who succeeds Interim Provost Jerry Greiner, previously served as associate vice president of academic affairs and dean of the School of Graduate Studies at Central Connecticut State University. She is excited about the shift from a large public institution—Central Connecticut serves nearly 12,000 students—to the more intimate setting of a private university. She also values Alvernia’s Franciscan heritage, strong commitment to community engagement and close-knit family vibe.
“There’s a spirit you can feel here,” she said. “The sense of support that everyone gives to one another and the wraparound care that you can provide for each student… that truly is ‘knowledge joined with love.’”
The balance of a rich traditional on-campus undergraduate experience and strong graduate and adult learning programs drew Fitzgerald to Alvernia, and part of her plans as provost include exploring ways to enrich student success even further. She is particularly excited about the many possibilities that will emerge from President Loyack’s college town strategic initiative in Reading, an effort that will aim to forge partnerships and build programs in collaboration with the city and its business community.
“We speak the same language,” Fitzgerald said about President Loyack, who also joined Alvernia July 1. “I share his strong commitment to community engagement and thoughtful program expansion. We complement each other, and he’s put together a team that allows each of our strengths to thrive.”
During her 20 years at Central Connecticut State University, Fitzgerald rose from assistant professor of communication to professor and chair of the communication department before she was appointed associate vice president for Academic Affairs and dean of the School of Graduate Studies. Her accomplishments include building 16 new programs, including a doctorate in nurse anesthesia practice, a program the faculty expressed a need for in part due to accreditation changes in the field.
“We had a strong master’s in nurse anesthesia, but we needed to establish a doctorate,” Fitzgerald explained.
State institutions are bound by specific requirements and agreements and, at that time, Central Connecticut State University was not cleared to offer professional doctoral programs. After petitioning the legislature, Fitzgerald successfully paved the way not only for the new doctorate in nurse anesthesia practice but also for other professional doctoral programs across the state system.
“I am proud because it fulfilled a need for the university and for the state,” she said, adding that the program’s first class graduated in May. “That was an important moment for me to be with the faculty and see that class graduate.”
Fitzgerald said that she and her son Conor have received a warm welcome not only from Alvernia but also from the greater Reading community they now call home. They are enjoying the outdoors, especially kayaking on Blue Marsh Lake. “It’s how I recharge,” Fitzgerald said of the time she spends on the water. A high school and college actress, she is looking forward to attending theater and musical performances on campus, as well as sporting events. She’s also an avid reader and hopes to start a faculty book club.
Originally from Grand Island, New York, near Niagara Falls, Fitzgerald earned her doctorate and master’s in organizational communication at the University of Buffalo and bachelor’s degree in communication from Edinboro University of Pennsylvania. She didn’t always plan for a career in academia, but a respected mentor encouraged her to think outside the box.
“This professor took the time to encourage me and help me think differently about what my career could look like.” His support ultimately guided Fitzgerald to find her calling and taught her the difference she too can make in others’ lives as an educator. “If it weren’t for him, I wouldn’t be here today in a career that has rewarded me so greatly.”