Stacey R. Sauchuk , the first woman to head a private military academy in the United States, hopes to attract more female cadets to the Valley Forge Military Academy and College, and to increase the school's enrollment overall.
Sauchuk, 53, who will assume her new post as president on June 1, was on the scenic campus Thursday to meet with a reporter and also to sample foods from cadets' home countries for the school's annual International Day celebrations. Students hail from 28 foreign countries and 30 states and territories.
Her focus, she said, will be on the students and she would like them to know that.
"I really am very student focused," said Sauchuk. "I want them to know that I'm interested in their opinions, their experience and that I think that our job is really to make sure that experience is the best that it can be here."
While Sauchuk, who grew up near Baltimore, does not have a military background, she is an alumnus of nearby Eastern University and served on the board trustees of her alma mater, including seven years as chairwoman of that board. During that time, she got to know VFMAC when Eastern negotiated a land purchase, she said.
Sauchuk, who holds master's and doctorate degrees in educational psychology from Temple University, was president and CEO of the Art Institute of Philadelphia and held a variety of management roles in the institute's parent company, Education Management Corporation.
Interim President Col. James Doyle said that Sauchuk brings a wealth of experience in educational leadership.
"We went through a very rigorous process," he said. "Well over 100 candidates applied." Sauchuk was vetted by teachers, staff and alumni representatives.
"She came in first in every category," he said. "She was the most qualified."
While she hasn't served in the military, Sauchuk plans to keep the military focus of VFMAC.
"I'm 100 percent committed to the military model," she said. "What the board was feeling was a need for a fresh perspective."
"I've always been interested in education when I was a kid I liked to play teacher I've always been fascinated by people and what motivates them," said Sauchuk. "So it was kind a combination of getting the psych background but to really be focused on testing and learning disabilities and learning disorders with kids, putting the education and the psych piece together."
One of her goals is to increase the school's enrollment. Currently, there are 487 students in grades 7 through 12 at the Academy and the two-year college program. The school's highest enrollment some years ago was 1,200, she said.
"I'd love to see us get back to 1, 200," she said. "That won't happen overnight. At that point there will be a vibrancy and energy that will be very exciting."
There are currently 19 women cadets in the college, while the academy remains an all- male bastion. Sauchuk believes she can draw more women in with marketing and also by improving athletic opportunities for them.
"What's interesting is the young women that are here persist very well and their graduation rate is high so when they come, they actually do very well," said Sauchuk. "A lot of what draws students to this place is individual connections."
Another objective is to improve the buildings on the campus. The school was founded in 1928.
"There are certainly some physical plant challenges. My goal to get them refreshed. That will require significant fundraising
Sauchuk, her husband, Sergio, and their black Labrador retriever, Ruthie, plan to move from Gladwyne into the president's on-campus residence, Crossed Sabres.
Living on campus will help her become more connected and make it easier to take part in activities.
"I'm excited about it," said Sauchuk. "It puts me right on campus."
When not working Sauchuk enjoys music.
"I play the piano and we love attending live musical performances of all sorts," she said.
"I'm a real 'foodie,' which means checking out lots of restaurants and loving to cook. I love trying new cuisines and learning new cooking techniques," she said.
Sauchuk is also an avid reader of "all sorts of genres."
She also likes walking, tennis and Zumba for "staying in shape."