Laura Skandera Trombley

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Laura Skandera Trombley
Other names Laura Elise Skandera
Residence Southern California, United States
Nationality American
Fields English Literature
Alma mater

Laura Skandera Trombley is an American scholar of Mark Twain and Chair Emerita of the J. William Fulbright Foreign Scholarship Board[1][2] She has served as President of two institutions: the fifth President of Pitzer College in Claremont, California, and the eighth President of the Huntington Library, Art Collections and Botanical Gardens in San Marino, California[3][4][5]

Early life and education[edit]

Born as Laura Elise Skandera to an elementary school principal and second-grade teacher, she enrolled in Pepperdine University at the age of 16 and earned a B.A. in English and Humanities by age 20. She graduated summa cum laude with a master's in English from Pepperdine University. From 1985 to 1988 she was a research associate in the American Studies department at the Universitaet Eichstaett in Germany.[6][7] She received her PhD in English from the University of Southern California and during her studies received the Virginia Barbara Middleton Scholarship and English Graduate Student scholarship, as well as being the Lester and Irene Finkelstein Fellow.[8] In 2002, Pepperdine recognized Skandera Trombley with the Distinguished Alumna Award and awarded her an honorary doctorate in 2013.[9] She is the 2017 Recipient of the Lou Budd Award in Recognition of Outstanding Contributions in the Field of Mark Twain Studies, the highest honor in Mark Twain scholarship.[10]


After the completion of her PhD, Skandera Trombley accepted a teaching position at the State University of New York in Potsdam where she earned tenure in three years, constituting early tenure[11][12][13][14], as an associate professor of English. Skandera Trombley also served in other administrative roles at Potsdam including assistant provost.[15] In 1997, she assumed the post of vice president for academic affairs and dean of the faculty, the first woman to hold that title, at Coe College, a private liberal arts college in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. She was named President of Pitzer College at age 40. She was chosen, in 2015, as the first woman President of the Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens. Skandera Trombley became an advisor to the Board of Trustees at the Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens in 2017 and a consultant to the Libra Foundation and Schiff Foundation.[16][17][18] She is a Professor of the Practice of English in the Dana and David Dornsife College of Letters, Arts and Sciences, University of Southern California.[19]

Skandera Trombley began her Mark Twain scholarship while a USC doctoral student, with the largest find of Twain letters to date.[20] At SUNY Potsdam, she was a recipient of the 1994 SUNY Potsdam President’s Excellence in Scholarship and Creative Activities Award.[21] She was featured in a 2000 New York Times story by Margalit Fox about a letter Twain’s daughter wrote about her parents.[22] In 2002 she was included in Ken Burns’ documentary about Mark Twain.[23] Nominated for a Pulitzer prize for her biography, Mark Twain’s Other Woman, she will appear in the forthcoming documentary, “Dreamland: Mark Twain’s Journey to Jerusalem.”[24][25]

The Huntington Library[edit]

In her first year, Skandera Trombley raised 39.4 million dollars, a 9 million increase over the previous year,[26] and achieved record earned revenue amounts for Admissions, The Huntington Store and Dining.[27] All combined earned revenue reached a total of $11.3 million, a 1.4 million increase over the previous year.[28] The Huntington also reached a new high of nearly 40,000 member families and 725,759 visitors.[29] Under her tenure, she negotiated a new food vendor contract worth baseline 25 million over 10 years; increased open hours by 130%.[30] Skandera Trombley modified the plan for the final phase of the Chinese Garden, adding a restaurant, outdoor entertainment space, and an art gallery, and completed funding for the 20-year project, with gifts totaling 12 million dollars.[31] In addition, she planned and received a 2.5 million gift for a Director of Research home to be built on the grounds of The Huntington, their first LEED certified building.[32]

She worked to establish internal sustainability and water conservation efforts;[33][34] organized the first institutional sustainability summit;[35] and signed an agreement with the University of California, Riverside to subsidize the hiring of two assistant professors who will do research full-time in The Huntington's collections.[36] She also hired the institution’s first Vice President of Information Technology and its first Vice President of Facilities.[37][38]

Skandera Trombley created the first institutional dashboard; instituted The Huntington Channel[39] to archive videos and web casts for the public; and created the Out of the Vault Series, to heighten the Huntington’s profile in the southern California region. She instituted San Marino Day and made a $5,000 gift in her father’s name to honor San Marino educators,[40][41] and created annual staff recognition awards. She negotiated a new agreement between The Huntington and USC for The Huntington-USC Institute on California and the West (ICW) and USC-Huntington Early Modern Studies Institute (EMSI); exhibited NASA’s JPL Orbit Pavilion to outstanding attendance and reviews;[42] and secured a future exhibition of the Hamilton/Burr pistols, due Fall 2017. In fall 2016, the Jonathan and Karin Fielding Wing opened, a $10.3 million expansion to the Virginia Steele Scott Galleries of American Art designed by Frederick Fisher, along with a major contribution of the Fieldings’ collection.[43]

Pitzer College, A Member of the Claremont Consortium[edit]

Skandera Trombley was inaugurated as president of Pitzer College in February 2003, the same year that the college celebrated its 40th anniversary. In her first year in office, she made the SAT optional as a criteria for admission to the college.[44]

During Skandera Trombley's presidency, Pitzer founded several new collegiate centers and majors. The college launched the Robert Redford Conservancy for Southern California Sustainability.[45][46][47] Other initiatives developed during Skandera Trombley's tenure include the Firestone Center for Restoration Ecology in Costa Rica[48] and the Vaccine Development Institute's partnership with the University of Botswana.[49] Skandera Trombley increased the College’s student access to overseas study from 49% to 80% and established over fifty exchanges, including the first ever with the Royal Thimphu College in Bhutan.[50] These exchanges also provided access for international students from lower economic backgrounds to study at an American liberal arts college. In 2011, under Skandera Trombley, Pitzer became the first college in the country to offer a degree in secular studies.[51]

In the thirteen years she led the college, the admission acceptance rate improved from 56 percent to 11 percent, and the college moved up 35 places in the U.S. News & World Report rankings: No. 70 in 2004 to No. 35 in 2014.[52] In 2012, Pitzer was named the 20th most selective higher education institution in the country by Business Insider.[53] During her tenure, Pitzer had the most Fulbright Fellowships of any college/university per 1000 students and for the fifth consecutive year, The Chronicle of Higher Education named Pitzer College as the top producer of student Fulbright Fellows among all US colleges.[54]

Additionally, she grew the annual endowment fund from $42 million in 2003 to $133 million in 2014,[55] raised the lowest worker compensation to 10 percent above the living wage for Los Angeles County, and retained all faculty and staff positions during the 2008 recession.[56] Staff and faculty received raises every year of her presidency[57]. Skandera Trombley established three endowments: the John Skandera student financial aid fund for first generation students, the Laura Skandera Trombley endowment and the Laura Skandera Trombley Humanities and Arts Endowed Research and Internship Fund.[58][59] Since the beginning of her presidency, Skandera Trombley completed three fundraising campaigns totaling over $110 million dollars, and the College's annual fund increased by 80 percent and the endowment over 211 percent.[60]


Skandera Trombley frequently provides commentary about the humanities and higher education. She has authored five books, some of which are about her scholarly interest Mark Twain, including Mark Twain's Other Woman: The Hidden Story of His Final Years,[61] and Mark Twain in the Company of Women, selected by Choice Magazine as an Outstanding Book of the Year.[62] She was also the co-editor with Michael Kiskis on Constructing Mark Twain: New Directions in Scholarship.[63] In addition, she is the editor of Critical Essays on Maxine Hong Kingston[64] and co-author of Epistemology: Turning Points in the History of Poetic Knowledge.[65] She has published op-ed pieces in the Chronicle of Higher Education[66][67][68] about the challenges faced by women in higher education administrations and has published dozens of scholarly articles. She is a regular blogger on social media sites[69], The Huffington Post[70] and The Daily Beast.[71][72]

Additional activity[edit]

Skandera Trombley is active in Los Angeles and national organizations including serving on the board of the Chief Executive Organization, a member of The Southern California Forum of The Trusteeship of the International Women's Forum, Rotary International,[73] the Zamorano Club,[74] the Council on Foreign Relations Higher Education Working group on global Issues, the Chronicle of Higher Education/New York Times Higher Education Cabinet[75] and the Council of Presidents of the Association of Governing Boards.[76] In December 2012, President Barack Obama named Skandera Trombley to the 12-member J. William Fulbright Commission that was established by the US Congress to supervise the global Fulbright Fellows program.[77] In 2014 she served as Vice-Chair of the commission, and on November 12, 2015, the board elected Skandera Trombley as Chair.[78]

She gave keynote speeches on behalf of the J. William Fulbright Foreign Scholarship Board at 70th Anniversary events in Reno,[79] Berlin,[80] Helsinki,[81] Jerusalem,[82] and the State Department in Washington, DC.[83] She has also presented and been a moderator at TEDxFulbright[84] ,[85] as well as a guest on the Larry Mantle Show on KPCC.[86][87] In 2015 she published an Op-Ed, “In Face of Terror, Humanities Education More Important Than Ever,”[88] and most recently she was appointed as Chair to The Rhodes Trust, District 16 Committee of Selection for the Rhodes Scholarships.[89]


  1. ^ Chang, Anna (February 12, 2013). "Pitzer College President Laura Skandera Trombley joins the J. William Fulbright Foreign Scholarship Board". Pitzer College. Retrieved April 21, 2017. 
  2. ^ Stearns, Catherine (December 1, 2015). "J. William Fulbright Foreign Scholarship Board Elects Laura Skandera Trombley as Chair, Jeffrey Bleich as Vice Chair for 2016". U.S. Department of State. Retrieved April 21, 2017. 
  3. ^ Trounson, Rebecca (November 13, 2001). "President-Elect Named for Pitzer College". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved October 28, 2015. 
  4. ^ Vuong, Zen (December 2, 2014). "The Huntington to Hire Its First Female President". Pasadena Star-News. Retrieved October 28, 2015. 
  5. ^ Boehm, Mike (December 3, 2014). "Laura Skandera Trombley is Named New President of Huntington Library". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved October 28, 2015. 
  6. ^ "General Press Kit". Huntington Library. July 2015. Retrieved April 21, 2017. 
  7. ^ "Alumna of the Month" (PDF). 1 (11). Fulbright Edge. February 2014. Retrieved October 28, 2015. 
  8. ^ "Press Release-Laura Skandera Trombley Named President of The Huntington". The Huntington. December 2, 2014. Retrieved April 21, 2017. 
  9. ^ "Honorary Degree Recipients Education Division". 30 (2). Colleague Pepperdine University. Fall 2013. Retrieved October 28, 2015. 
  10. ^ Award letter from Dr. Ann Ryan, LeMoyne College to Laura Skandera Trombley, March 3, 2017 
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  49. ^ "Pitzer College to Ratify Vaccine Development Collaboration in Botswana". Office of Communications. Retrieved 2015-11-19. 
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  51. ^ Goodstein, Laurie (May 7, 2011). "Pitzer College in California Adds Major in Secularism". The New York Times. Retrieved October 28, 2015. 
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  58. ^ "Named Scholarships". Pitzer College. Retrieved 2015-11-19. 
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  61. ^ Martelle, Scott (March 14, 2010). "Mark Twain's Vendetta Volume". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved October 28, 2015. 
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  65. ^ Laura E. Skandera Trombley, ed. (1998). "Critical Essays on Maxine Hong Kingston". G.K.Hall. ISBN 0783800363. Retrieved October 28, 2015. 
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  67. ^ Skandera Trombley, Laura (March 24, 2014). "What's In A Name". The Chronicle of Higher Education. Retrieved October 28, 2015. 
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  70. ^ "Laura Skandera Trombley Entries". Huffington Post. Retrieved October 28, 2015. 
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  72. ^ Skandera Trombley, Laura (March 20, 2010). "America's First Modern Celebrity". The Daily Beast. Retrieved October 28, 2015. 
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  77. ^ "President Obama Announces More Key Administration Posts". The White House. December 20, 2012. Retrieved October 28, 2015. 
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  84. ^ Laura Skandera Trombley (April 30, 2014). TEDxFulbright Laura Skandera Trombley (video). Retrieved October 28, 2015. 
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