Vanessa Beasley, Ph.D., was named Trinity University’s president in the summer of 2022, but you might say her first “interview” was in 2014. That’s when she accompanied her older son, then a high schooler, to the Trinity campus for a prospective student visit. Even though her son didn’t ultimately choose Trinity, the school made an impression on her.
“I was very impressed by Trinity’s faculty-student engagement. Undergraduate research has always been at the center of why I do what I do. I feel like if you’re at a university, you should learn how new knowledge is created, and there’s no reason undergraduates can’t be at that table or in those labs, too,” Beasley says. “So when we got to Trinity for that tour, and I saw what was happening with the interaction of the undergraduates and their faculty members, I told my son, ‘This is really special. You don’t see this everywhere.’”
For Beasley, job number one is making sure Trinity is recognized as the top liberal arts university in Texas as well as a nationally recognized leader in modern liberal arts education, and a new ranking supports those efforts. Recently, U.S. News & World Report recognized the university as No. 55 in its 2022-23 rankings of best liberal arts colleges. The designation places the university in the top third of national liberal arts colleges and universities in the country and as the No. 1 national liberal arts college in Texas. Previously, Trinity had been categorized as a regional university and ranked No. 1 in the West for 29 of the last 30 years.
Beasley says the recognition is due to Trinity’s unwavering commitment to the student experience through interdisciplinary experiential learning and undergraduate research on a residential campus in San Antonio, one of the nation’s most vibrant urban areas.
And while eager to discover San Antonio, Beasley is no stranger to the Lone Star State. She received her Ph.D. in speech communication from the University of Texas at Austin, and through the years she has served on the faculty of both Texas A&M University and Southern Methodist University. Most recently, she was at Vanderbilt University, where she served as vice provost for academic affairs, dean of residential faculty, and an associate professor of communication studies. Beasley’s areas of academic expertise include the rhetoric of American presidents, political rhetoric on immigration, and media and politics.
This fall, you’ll find Beasley enthusiastically meeting faculty, staff, students, alumni, and community leaders. She understands that Trinity is at a unique—and critical—juncture in its 153-year history.
“Trinity has made the bold step to put the liberal arts together in a unique way—one that combines the humanities, the social sciences, STEM, and a few key professional programs to really redefine what a liberal arts education is,” Beasley says. “Very few universities are talking about how they’re going to propel themselves to a new level of STEM education as well as a new level of humanities education.”
Beasley and her husband, Trey, a community volunteer, are parents to two adult sons, Adam and Charlie. In her free time, Beasley enjoys reading, hiking, and listening to live music. She considers herself a Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers “superfan” and is excited to discover Texas’ dance halls, honky tonks, and ice houses where musicians of all stripes perform.
Beasley says she’s looking forward to hearing music rise from the residence halls as students settle in, adding that she won’t rule out the possibility of breaking out in a dance. As the semester gets underway, Beasley hopes to remind everyone that a university campus like Trinity’s is a very unique setting—especially in a state and nation that can be so divided and hyperpartisan.
“It’s one of the few spaces where different ideas can circulate, different experiments can happen, and where, frankly, we can experiment with failure and learn from that, too. So, it’s very important to me that everybody has a sense that we’re in a very special place with a very special mission. And as a leader, it’s my job to make those opportunities available to as many people as possible.”