Kate Foster, a 1975 graduate of Verona High School, was named president of the University of Maine at Farmington on Wednesday, April 25. Currently a visiting fellow at the Brookings Institution in Washington, D.C., Foster–known to the wider world now as Dr. Kathryn A. Foster–is the former department chair of the University at Buffalo Department of Urban and Regional Planning and the director of the university’s Regional Institute.
Even though her new job is more than 400 miles from Verona, Foster sees it as something of a homecoming. “In the Foster household, education was the organizing value and school was the medium,” she says. “For me, school was the thing around which my life revolved. The activities of the Verona schools–the academics, getting good grade, playing in the band and on sports teams—was my foundation. I couldn’t imagine my great success in life without that foundation.”
After graduating from VHS, Foster got an undergraduate degree in geography from Johns Hopkins University and thought she would go into urban city planning. She obtained a masters in city planning from the University of California, Berkeley and went to work in San Luis Obispo County south of San Francisco. While there, she was given the opportunity to be an adjunct at California Polytechnic State University, and she caught the teaching bug. “In the first 20 seconds of my very first class, I knew that I should be a teacher and not a planner,” she says.
Foster expanded her teaching at Cal Poly, but she knew that she couldn’t become a full-fledged professor without a doctorate. After a stint in Swaziland for the Peace Corps, she entered the Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs at Princeton University. She was hired by SUNY Buffalo as an assistant professor of urban and regional planning in 1993 and stayed in upstate New York for 19 years. “I grew to love the place and I kept getting new opportunities there,” she says.
But the itch for a new thing in a new place eventually came, and so Foster found herself heading to Brookings. Yet even as she delved into how regions make decisions across state lines, her colleagues were encouraging her to think about a new role in academia.
“The aspiration to be a college president came relatively recently,” she acknowledges. “I never thought it was possible for me. But I came to realize that I had developed skills in academic leadership—strategic planning, working with a board, fundraising, keeping a budget, and the like. I had a knack for that and I enjoyed it.” She was a finalist for the presidency of a women’s college and then was one of 60 original candidates for the job at Farmington.
Foster begins her new position on July 1. She expects to spend her first year on campus learning about the aspirations of her students and faculty for the school. “There are some very generous, wise and creative people here,” she says.
“I have been working in public higher education since I have been in California,” she adds. I believe that higher education should be open to everyone regardless of means.The University of Maine at Farmington represents the kind of place you could go to to get that kind of great education.”
The Farmington campus in western Maine serves 2,000 undergraduates, which is roughly twice as many students as there were in VHS when Foster graduated with the largest class to have ever gone through the Verona school system. But one thing will be very familiar: the school colors.
They’re maroon and white.