Dr. Julia Jasken, M.A. '97, Revolutionizes Higher Education at McDaniel College with a Vision for Student Success

By Lia Kizilbash Gillet

Dr. Julia Jasken, M.A. '97, McDaniel College president

Dr. Julia Jasken, M.A. '97, is the current president of McDaniel College and the second woman to hold the position in the college's history spanning over 150 years. Located in Westminster, Maryland, McDaniel College is renowned for its commitment to student success through the McDaniel Commitment, a program that Jasken led the vision and creation of.

Having devoted most of her professional career to higher education, Jasken began her journey at McDaniel College as an English professor in 2003, where she taught various professional writing courses and specialized in new media pedagogy. 

“I enjoyed teaching very much,” she said. “But my desire to have a more comprehensive impact on the student experience eventually led me into administrative roles.” 

Throughout her tenure at McDaniel, Jasken served as the college's executive vice president and provost before assuming the position of president.

As provost, she led several college initiatives, including establishing the Center for Experience & Opportunity, a one-stop shop for experiential learning. She also oversaw a period of rapid program expansion for the college, creating eleven new majors and establishing a rapidly expanding data analytics program at the master's level.

One of her first tasks after being named president in 2021 was to lead the campus in developing its next strategic plan, which positioned McDaniel as an innovative liberal arts college focused on student achievement and professional success.

Jasken’s leadership at McDaniel College has had a significant impact on its students. 

“I am most proud of leading the envisioning and establishment of the college’s signature McDaniel Commitment," she said. "The McDaniel Commitment is our promise that students will be on a path to success from the moment they set foot on campus.”

Jasken modeled the Commitment structure on the paths taken by McDaniel's most successful students and implemented a four-year plan that guarantees these experiences within the curriculum.

Serving as president comes with challenges, like the “continued uncertainty of the admissions landscape, especially for independent colleges, as well as meeting the evolving demands of the marketplace,” Jasken said.

Outside of working with students and watching them grow and develop, Jasken enjoys meeting alumni from across the decades as they share their fondest McDaniel College memories. 

“It's always interesting to hear how much the college has changed over the years, but also still somehow remaining true to its core.” 

Jasken was honored with a Distinguished Alumni Award from the NIU College of Liberal Arts and Sciences in 2023. This award is given to NIU alumni who have achieved prominence in their professional fields or who have made significant contributions to the college, its mission, and its reputation for excellence—and Jasken’s accomplishments as a leader at McDaniel College have earned her this recognition.

Reflecting on her time at NIU, Jasken fondly recalls Dr. Amy Levin, the director of the Women’s Studies program in 1995 when she began her master's studies.

“Dr. Levin was instrumental in my decision to focus on gender studies within my rhetoric degree, a decision that has served me very well throughout my life,” said Jasken. “She was also the main reason I received a fellowship in 1996, which allowed me to volunteer as a teacher’s assistant in an area outside my primary research interest and take on additional coursework. Dr. Levin’s intellect, grace and dedication continue to be an inspiration.”

Jasken emphasized that her fellowship had a truly transformational impact on her NIU experience.

“It’s hard to explain the impact for those of us who would not otherwise have been able to take advantage of that kind of life-changing opportunity.”

Growing up in Moorhead, Minnesota, Jasken’s grandmother was one of the first inspiring women in her life.

“From my earliest memories, my grandmother was my role model,” Jasken said. “Her work as an elementary school teacher inspired my passion for education. I loved playing school as a child, and my parents went above and beyond to support this interest. When I was in elementary school, they transformed our back porch into a small classroom, complete with old school desks, and the neighbor kids would come over to play.” 

After completing her bachelor's degree from the College of Saint Benedict, Jasken pursued her passion for education and earned a master's degree in English from NIU. Later, she received her Ph.D. from Michigan Technological University, where she focused on "Designing Composition: Textbooks, Teaching and Identity in the Digital Age" for her dissertation.
Jasken continues to be recognized as a higher education leader in Maryland. She received the 2023 Enterprising Women of Excellence award from the Baltimore Business Journal and has been named a 2023 Influential Marylander by The Daily Record.
Jasken remains humble and grateful for the opportunities she has had.

“A colleague and mentor gave me a stone etched with the word ‘gratitude,’” she said. “For me, it serves as a reminder not only to be thankful for the opportunity to serve as McDaniel’s president but also the responsibility to acknowledge and support the work of others around me. I hope my encouragement supports others as they navigate their professional journeys.”