Barbara Lettiere, 10th President: Still Making a Difference

It may not be too far-fetched to say that if it was not for Barbara Lettiere, female students at Immaculata University would still have to wear skirts and dresses to class. As junior class president in 1971, amidst the protest-hungry youth movement of the early 1970s, Lettiere and her fellow classmates yearned to make their own mark.

Taking her leadership duties seriously, Lettiere was sent to discuss the dress code policy with the president, Sister Mary of Lourdes, IHM, and the Dean of Students, Sister Mary Jean, IHM. “Don’t ask me where I got the guts to do this,” Lettiere recalls with a mischievous grin. “But I did, and right after that, Sister Mary of Lourdes said words to this effect: ‘I’m going to regret doing this, but we will change the dress code.’”

Assuming the role of 10th president of Immaculata University as of July 1, Barbara Lettiere ’72 will now be the person whom students visit when they want policy changes. If the dress code is the most difficult of their requests, Lettiere will be thankful.

Growing up in a working class neighborhood in Trenton, NJ and graduating from Cathedral High School (which Lettiere notes is no longer in existence) she is a proponent of Catholic education and the beneficiary of very supportive and strong female role models within
her immediate family.

“My grandmother came over ‘on the boat,’ as they say,” Lettiere remarked of her maternal grandmother who lived with the family throughout her childhood. Working in a cigar factory, her grandmother was determined that Lettiere and her brother Jack would not end up like her. She wanted them to receive an education. With encouragement from her entire family, she received support and excelled in school.

When Lettiere graduated from grammar school, her hard work paid off as she was named valedictorian for her class. However, before the ceremony, her eighth grade teacher stopped Lettiere’s mother to tell her, “You know, she may be the valedictorian, but she will not amount to much in life.”

“My mother was having none of that,” Lettiere says with a broad smile. “She told me, ‘Barbara, you’re gonna make a liar out of her.’”

In order for Lettiere to prove that her eighth grade teacher had misjudged her, she knew she needed to attend college. However, her parents had a few stipulations. First, her dad did not want her to take out loans. Second, her mom wanted the school to be close to home. After identifying Immaculata as a possible choice, they visited the campus. Lettiere was not completely convinced, but her mom liked the school, and it satisfied the family’s two objectives. She qualified for some financial assistance, and her family was able to cover the rest of the tuition.

“But,” she said laughing, “my tuition was supplemented by my father’s gambling habit.” She remembers getting the phone call in April to inform her that she could come back the next fall. “He would call on the hall phone and say, ‘Sign up for another year. I just hit!’”

With devoted faith in their daughter, Lettiere’s father wanted her to be a doctor and her mother hoped she would become a lawyer. Once she arrived at Immaculata University, however, two things became clear: she liked having definitive answers, and English classes were not her favorite. Thus, she decided to major in Math, where there is no gray area—it’s either right or it’s wrong.

Sister Maria Socorro, IHM, chair of the Math Department at the time, helped Lettiere stay focused and encouraged her during her challenging Physics classes, which were then required courses for Math majors. “She knew that there was some roadblock in my head in Physics, and she was just so supportive,” Lettiere says. She remembers Sister Maria telling her, “Don’t worry about it, it will come to you.” Their bond drew close over Lettiere’s college years, and they remained in contact until Sister’s death in 1995.

Lettiere was determined to work hard outside of the classroom as well. When assigned as a work-study student for Sister Marian William Hoben, IHM, who was an English professor at the time and later served as president of Immaculata, Lettiere did not feel a connection as quickly as she had with Sister Maria. As Sister Marian recounts, when Lettiere arrived at her doorstep to begin work and Sister discovered that she was not an English major, she had a hard time finding jobs for her. Sister Marian consistently told Lettiere that she did not have any work for her.

Lettiere became a little nervous. All the other work-study students were being “run ragged,” as Sister Marian remembers. Lettiere explained the situation to her mom, who said, “Well, either she doesn’t have any work for you or…she truly doesn’t have any work.” Tenaciously returning every day, Lettiere won Sister Marian over. She entrusted Lettiere with some tasks, and a friendship grew.

“I am delighted that Barbara was chosen as president, and I know she will do a marvelous, marvelous job,” Sister Marian William said.

In addition to impressing the faculty and staff at Immaculata when she was a student, Lettiere also made close friends during college. Classmates remember her as studious and friendly.

“If we couldn’t find Barb in her room, we’d check the tennis courts, music room, or the lounge—not watching TV…but ironing!” states her friend Jeanne Weingartner Lapsa ’72.

Lettiere was a walk-on for the tennis team, coached by Marge Galuska, who also served as the athletic director. Dedicated to her studies, Lettiere was also a member of the Immaculata Honor Society.

“From the moment I met Barbara in our freshman year, I knew I could count on her friendship, honesty and loyalty. Her high ethical standards and active listening skills will serve Immaculata University well,” states classmate and friend Patricia Bomba, M.D. “She is a humble leader who recognizes her success is dependent on others.”

Looking back on how education has evolved since she attended classes over 45 years ago, Lettiere maintains that the classroom experience is essentially the same: ensuring that the students learn. However, “Once you get outside the classroom, everything has changed!” She notes, “The amenities that we had are nowhere near what current students expect.”

Even with technological advances steamrolling ahead, Lettiere believes there will always be a place and a role for higher education. It is a difficult business considering the demographics, economics, regulations, and competition that is inherently involved. Lettiere understands that Immaculata is particularly affected by competition, which intensifies the challenge. “You draw a circle 15 miles from us, and you hit 25 schools,” she states, knowing that she is exaggerating only slightly.

Never one to focus on the negatives, Lettiere is already working on clearly identifying Immaculata’s vision and planning the necessary elements to achieve that vision. Once that has been accomplished, she truly believes Immaculata will continue to be successful. Building upon the rich tradition and strong reputation that Immaculata has built over the years, Lettiere’s exceptional financial management skills will allow her to work with the executive administration and members of the Board of Trustees to maneuver Immaculata back to financial sustainability. Thriving in this competitive environment will take the skills and commitment of the entire Immaculata community. “We will need to stay focused on our mission and keep students at the center of all our decisions,” states Lettiere.

With a master’s degree in Economics and Statistics from the University of Notre Dame and an MBA in Decision Sciences and Finance from Rider University, Lettiere received the training she needed to become a great leader. Learning the fundamentals through an extensive management training program provided by Bell of Pennsylvania, Lettiere fondly recalls that her first position after college was managing a group of seven telephone technicians.

Later, working in diverse departments such as marketing, operations, and finance, she became vice president/treasurer at Bell Atlantic in 1992 before assuming the presidency of Bell Atlantic Federal Systems for five years. During that time, she helped secure the largest government contract ever awarded to the company. After 28 years, she retired from Bell/Verizon.

Then, in 2002, the same year Sister Patricia Fadden, IHM, Ed.D., became president of Immaculata University, Lettiere took on the role of vice president of Finance and Administration for Trinity University in Washington, D.C. With her extensive financial expertise, she guided the University through some difficult times.

Once Lettiere joined the Immaculata University Board of Trustees in 2010 and then served as the first lay chair, she used her knowledge of and experience with small private Catholic universities to do the same for her alma mater.

Throughout her career, people have described Lettiere as a tough but fair leader. She maintains that everyone has a role to play. She believes in allowing people to do their jobs but also holding them accountable for their performance.

Surrounding herself with talented people has been a hallmark of Lettiere’s career. According to Janet Garrity ’78, who worked with Lettiere at Bell Atlantic/Verizon and has recently rejoined her at Immaculata as the vice president for Finance and Administration, Lettiere appreciates and respects all those with whom she works: peers, subordinates, and other leaders. “Most importantly, she is a person who trusts and empowers the people in her organization to take ownership of their responsibilities while at the same time promoting information-sharing and teamwork,” Garrity shares.

Months before taking office as the 10th president, Lettiere started working with Sister Patricia, the executive administration team, and members of the Board of Trustees to begin the transition period and to broach immediate concerns.

“I’m fired up, let’s get to it!” she told the campus community during her introduction in February.

Lettiere’s first step was to move from her home in South Carolina to Chester County. A few days before the moving van was to arrive, Lettiere was rushing to complete last-minute packing when she had a car accident that changed her view on life.

“I’m not a dramatic person by any means, but I would call it a life-altering event,” she admits. She did not realize how serious the accident was until fire personnel arrived on the scene, took a look at her car, saw her standing beside it, and commented, “How did you get out of there?”

Lucky to sustain injuries only to her hand, Lettiere admits that the accident “forced me to think about how I live my life. I’ve always been a hard charger, never stopping, and this has honestly slowed me down.”

Slowed down, perhaps, but still fired up, Lettiere implores, “I will need the commitment, trust and support from the entire IU community. We will need to work together as ONE organization with just ONE goal: the ultimate success of this incredible institution. I am truly honored and humbled by the challenges and the opportunities.”

Get to Know Barbara Lettiere

As you get to know Barbara, she says there are some things you will likely learn about her. She is a self-proclaimed news junkie and neat freak, and also has a soft spot for hospitalized children. Learn a few more fun facts:

Favorite Food: family Italian recipes
Favorite TV Show/Channel: the Golf Channel
Favorite Hobbies: golfing and cooking
Favorite Music: jazz
Favorite Movie: The Mighty Macs (of course)

Author: aduncan

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