Westminster College President Leads With Business Acumen
On paper, Stephen Morgan doesn’t sound like your typical college president; he’s not an academic scholar with a Ph.D. but a business guru with a degree in accounting and a CPA. However, when Westminster College’s board of trustees needed a new president, they knew just who to hire: Morgan, the 35-year Westminster veteran who helped grow the college’s endowment to $70 million and directed the construction and renovation of 17 new buildings.
“It’s a dream come true that I could start as a business manager and become the president,” Morgan says. “It’s been such a wonderful career for me to have here for over three decades. One of the things I love about Westminster is there are a lot of opportunities if you roll up your sleeves and work hard.”
Photo courtesy of Westminster College
Reared in the Shadow of Westminster
Morgan grew up a few blocks from Westminster in the Sugar House neighborhood of Salt Lake City. As a college student at the University of Utah, he drove by Westminster daily. He didn’t visit the campus until he was assigned by his accounting firm to perform Westminster’s financial audit. The year was 1979, and it was a challenging time for the college. Founded by Presbyterian missionaries in 1875, Westminster became religiously independent in the mid-1970s, but struggled the next six to eight years to find a strong identity.
“We really came close to closing our doors,” Morgan says. “It was during that period when I audited Westminster that I really became taken by the faculty, staff and donors that wouldn’t let Westminster fail. It inspired me to apply for a job as the business manager.”
Morgan has advised six different college presidents, watching them wrestle with tough decisions and plan the future of the college. That unique mentoring opportunity aided Morgan in his role as the latest president.
A trademark of Westminster is its small student body of 2,800. Its intimate atmosphere allows the faculty (and even Morgan) to personally know the students.
“Students come when they’re 18, and we get to watch them discover who they want to become,” Morgan says. “This discovery of their human potential is a remarkable period to go through and to witness — it’s what energizes me about this job.”
Morgan’s three kids are all Westminster graduates, and his wife graduated from Westminster once the kids were grown and she had time to complete her degree. “We brag that we have the most Westminster license plates of any family,” Morgan says.
Students at Westminster receive more than a traditional education. They become civically minded residents because of the volunteer program at the college’s Katherine Dumke Center for Civic Engagement. Morgan is especially proud of the center, which partners with the city of South Salt Lake to get student volunteers teaching in the local writing center, mentoring in the schools, and assisting in the Hser Ner Moo Community and Welcome Center. Students volunteer more than 95,000 hours to the community each year.
Another unique program headed up by Annalisa Holcombe, associate vice president for community relations, puts Westminster students in local Sugar House businesses, drafting business plans, creating marketing strategies and helping develop new products. In the seven semesters since the program started, 59 Westminster students have helped 55 business, nonprofit and government entities.
“When I was a student, I was studying business plans, I wasn’t making them,” Morgan says.
In his spare time, you’ll find Morgan running the tree-lined streets along the Wasatch Mountains — he’s part of the elusive 20-year-club for the St. George marathon. But his favorite hobby is enjoying the extracurricular activities at Westminster. He cheers on the college’s sports teams, attends the student plays and listens to the campus concerts.
“My hobby is this college,” Morgan says. “There isn’t an evening where something isn’t going on here. It’s wonderful.”