The New President of Harvey Mudd College

By Dr. Harold A. Black

My niece Dr. Harriet Black Nembhard is the new president of Harvey Mudd College – often referred to as one of the best, if not the best, undergraduate schools in America. Mudd focuses on the sciences, engineering, computer science and mathematics. However, it is a science based institution with a soul. Mudd’s mission statement is that it “seeks to educate engineers, scientists, and mathematicians well versed in all of these areas and in the humanities, social sciences, and the arts so that they may assume leadership in their fields with a clear understanding of the impact of their work on society.” Its students and faculty have serious smarts. The composite SAT scores are 1480-1560 with ACTs 34-36. It has a small student body. It is expensive with annual cost of $80,000+, a 10 percent acceptance rate and is the college with the highest starting salaries of its graduates. Its literature says that “Harvey Mudd College (HMC) is one of the premier engineering, science and mathematics colleges in the United States. HMC educates engineers, scientists and mathematicians who become leaders in their fields and have a clear understanding of the impact their work has on society. For more than 50 years, HMC has led the way with interactive undergraduate research opportunities on par with graduate institutions. HMC has a strong focus on the humanities, social sciences, and the arts, exceptional faculty members who challenge students to achieve beyond their expectations and one of the nation’s highest rates of graduates who go on to earn PhDs in the sciences. HMC’s graduates are highly trained scientists, technologists, educators, entrepreneurs and other professionals.” Mudd is also dedicated to diversity and inclusion and does so without relaxing its rigorous standards.

My niece began her service as president on July 1, 2023, but waited until the end of February to be officially installed as president. The ceremonies were on February 29 and March 1, 2024. That she chose those dates was no coincidence. February 29 was the last day of black history month while March 1 was the first day of women’s history month. Harriet is fiercely proud of being a black woman engineer in a profession dominated by white men. Her PhD is in industrial engineering from the University of Michigan which is interesting not because my PhD is from Ohio State but because her father was a Purdue graduate. Yet Michigan was the best place for her (and her husband who also is a PhD in engineering). Her major professor was a leading expert in the field and speaks highly of her strong will and determination as a graduate student coupled with an insatiable desire to learn.

True to the traditions of the family, Harriet is a no excuses person and a consummate professional. She is demanding yet compassionate. She knows that dumbing down of standards does not elevate those who underachieve and only punishes those who can. As such, she is the perfect president for Mudd. Engineers are generally pretty smart but her selection as president also speaks well for their judgment. Harriet is a brilliant and insightful scholar, internationally recognized for her pioneering work in healthcare engineering. She is also a prominent figure in STEM education. I am proud that she has dedicated her academic research to making a difference and has had impacts on medical research including Parkinson’s disease. She is actually coming home to Mudd which is part of the Claremont Colleges. Harriet has undergraduate degrees from Arizona State and from Claremont McKenna College. She has been in place since July 1 and has already made positive impressions among students, faculty and staff. All are highly praiseworthy of her leadership and of course her intellect.

When she told me that she was leaving her position as dean of the college of engineering at the University of Iowa to become Mudd’s sixth president, I was elated. Being chosen as president of the leading undergraduate college in the country is a high honor. Given her skills, her perspective, her view of academics and college education, she is going into a perfect situation. Surrounded by very smart faculty and rare students who work hard and expect to be worked even harder she has been called to lead through example. It is ideal. Harvey Mudd is fortunate to have her and she will lead them to even greater heights.