A Welcome Return: Meet Fontbonne’s New President
The beginning of the school year typically brings fresh experiences for students and staff, such as new people, learning experiences and more. Of course, the pandemic has presented its own unique challenges to the academic world. At Fontbonne University, the start of term also brought a new university president—but one who isn’t entirely unknown to the school.
Nancy Blattner, Ph.D., took on the role of president this summer. She previously served as Fontbonne’s vice president and dean of academic affairs before departing in 2009 to take on the role of president at Caldwell University in New Jersey. She says the opportunity to return was a welcome one. “It’s a different pace of life, and I felt so comfortable coming back to Fontbonne,” she notes. “It’s been delightful.”
As a Cardinals fan, Blattner is excited to be back in the StL, but baseball isn’t the only thing she was looking forward to upon returning. “One thing that I missed a lot was the food in St. Louis,” she says. “There are things like barbecued pork steaks that are hard to get in New Jersey. They have some great Italian food, but whenever friends from the east coast visit us here, we usually try to take them somewhere on the Hill. They always say how good it is.”
Originally from Cape Girardeau, Blattner received a bachelor’s degree in secondary education and English from Southeast Missouri State University (SEMO), where she also earned a master’s degree in English. She was awarded her Ph.D. in educational psychology from Southern Illinois University in Carbondale. She then began her academic career at SEMO, where she taught for 20 years. When she first started at Fontbonne in 2004, her husband, Tim, had to continue living in Cape Girardeau while she moved to St. Louis. “He supported me through the ‘commuter’ phase of my career,” she notes.
During her first tenure at the university, Blattner developed a deep appreciation for Fontbonne, its Catholic identity, and its style of education. “I am a lifelong Catholic, and Fontbonne has an orientation event called Catch the Fire,” she says. “It’s a beautiful ceremony in which they explain the history and traditions of the Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondelet, who founded the school.”
Blattner had the opportunity to live with the Sisters of St. Joseph at their mother house in the Carondelet neighborhood. She says the experience offered many chances for personal growth, from eating meals with the sisters to quiet contemplation in the building’s small chapel. She notes that she gets a similar feeling from the chapel located in the same building as her new office at Fontbonne.
Since her return, Blattner has led the university’s response to COVID-19. Classes resumed Aug. 24, and the school has taken a number of steps to address the situation. Courses are using a variety of methods for instruction, with approximately 60% including an in-person component. The rest are completely virtual. Blattner says students are living on campus in residence halls, but social distancing is being practiced as much as possible. The university also has a series of rooms set aside for quarantine if anyone tests positive for the virus. She jokes that thanks to video conferencing, her own workday has become like an episode of Hollywood Squares.
While dealing with the pandemic in the present, Blattner is also thinking about the university’s future. One major milestone she is looking forward to is Fontbonne’s 100th anniversary in 2023. “I sometimes say that Fontbonne is St. Louis’ best kept secret,” she notes. “I would like to continue growing the student population both in numbers and in diversity, including more international students. I also want to build partnerships with other institutions throughout St. Louis. As our students become adults, our goal is that they become civically involved and give back to the community.”