Dr. Patricia (Tobie) Tyler van der Vorm, Wells College Class of 1970, has been selected to receive the Wells College Alumnae and Alumni Award for 2015. She is being honored for her service to Wells and to higher education. The Award honors Wells women and men of high achievement in professions and careers, in volunteer and community work, in service to their alma mater, or in some combination of these endeavors.
Tobie’s service to Wells College began before she even graduated. In addition to being a junior advisor and an admissions assistant, she was the resident advisor in Leach, the first student to serve in that capacity. After graduation, she served as Annual Fund chair, 40
th Reunion co-chair, on the executive committee for Careers/Internships, the Alumnae Association Board and the Wells College Board of Trustees, including years as vice chair and chair. This was a time of transition for Wells; the issues included lower tuition to attract more students, the Leadership Institute, strategic planning and working with Pleasant Thiele Rowland ’62, and her vision for Aurora.
Jean Jones Morris ’70, Tobie’s roommate senior year, says that Tobie “operates with complete integrity and is always respectful of others, regardless of their point of view…. While she respects and embraces tradition, she is also able to change course as times and circumstances require.” Alice Woodson Smith ’70, Tobie’s roommate for two of her four years at Wells, says of her, “Without a doubt, her goal was, and is, to ensure that the exceptional liberal arts education she received at Wells is available to those who follow her.”
After graduating from Wells with a degree in psychology, Tobie worked in the admissions department for Hollins College. In 1975 she was hired by American University in Washington, D.C. as coordinator of their Cooperative Education Program. In more than 20 years at American University, Tobie grew the Cooperative Education Program into a full-service Career Center which became a major recruiting tool for American University. During this time, she also earned her master’s in counseling and Ph.D. in education administration from the university. Katherine Stahl, Tobie’s successor as executive director of the Career Center, remembers that “Tobie’s devotion to Wells was well-known…that her time at Wells helped shape her confidence and perspective. Her confidence helped her throughout her time of leadership at AU, often being the only woman in a room full of university leaders. Fortunately, due to early leaders like Tobie, young women today expect to be leaders in every room.”
In 1998, Tobie moved to a position of senior consultant with Academic Search, placing high-level executives at academic institutions. “The right leader at the right institution is crucial to the future of that institution,” according to Donna Burns Phillips, former director of the Office for Women at the American Council on Education. The Council sponsors workshops for middle managers in academia who want to move up to president. Part of the workshop is a one-on-one session with a search consultant. Tobie, a frequent participant, was very effective and well-received.
Dr. Carol Bresnahan, vice president for academic affairs and provost at Rollins College, feels that the search for college administrators has become very complex; expert advice is needed at every step of the process. Tobie provides that advice but does not tell the search committee what to do; it is their search process. A search takes the time of staff, faculty and administration, and time is, of course, money. A failed search process loses that time and money and also credibility within the academic community. Dr. Stuart Baron, president of the Delaware College of Art and Design, another candidate who has worked with Tobie, says that the real value of a search consultant is guiding the search committee as it defines what it is looking for in a candidate. According to Dr. Jamie Ferrare, managing principal at AGB Search, “Tobie does it right. She leads with an ethical compass that assures everyone involved that the search will be done professionally and always with the best interests of the client institution at the center of her work. “
In 2011 Tobie moved to AGB Search, along with several of her colleagues from Academic Search. In addition to executive searches, they assist with transition planning “with the goal of strengthening institutional governance.” Tobie has recently retired from full-time search and consulting work, and has assumed the title of consultant of counsel. In this role, she will mentor new consultants, represent the firm at national conferences and speaking engagements, and serve as a trusted advisor.
What is impressive about Tobie is not just what she accomplished for Wells College and higher education, but how she accomplished it. Everyone seems to feel that Tobie has a way…
of bringing people together;
of confronting the issues, not the personalities;
of seeing the forest as well as the trees;
of knowing when to step aside and let others take ownership of the decision.
Many have commented on her tact, clear-headedness and mentoring. She asks tough questions and draws out the answers. She is supportive of the efforts of others and gives unstintingly of her time and expertise. Dr. Thomas Courtice of AGB Search says, “Throughout her career, Tobie has demonstrated the values that Wells College intends for all its graduates: social justice, service to others, and a sense of giving to something larger than self. She has spent a lifetime ensuring opportunities for the growth and development of college-aged young people. Her search efforts… have made a measurable qualitative difference in higher education today, and she has touched the lives of thousands of college students through the work of the presidents she has placed.”