Beth Pontari named VP for Academic Affairs and Provost

April 26, 2024

Beth Pontari, a key leader in developing The Furman Advantage and the underlying Pathways Program, has been named vice president for Academic Affairs and provost at Furman University, beginning May 1.

Pontari, a social psychologist whose research and expertise includes the study of self and identity and college student resiliency, has held the provost and vice president position on an interim basis since July 1, 2022. In this and previous roles, she has implemented and managed several university-wide initiatives that have become part of the fabric of Furman.

As associate provost of engaged learning, she chaired the Quality Enhancement Plan Steering Committee and helped launch The Furman Advantage. She also re-envisioned the Center for Engaged Learning, uniting the offices of Study Away, Internship and Undergraduate Research to help facilitate Furman’s promise to provide every student access to high-quality engaged learning opportunities.

“Every time Dr. Pontari has been given an opportunity to lead, she has excelled, with vision and creativity,” said Elizabeth Davis, president of Furman. “She understands Furman’s distinctive position in higher education as a university that places a high value on teaching and the classroom experience. She’s able to hold true to our historical commitments, such as engaged learning, while expanding opportunities to meet the needs of the 21st Century student. Every time she takes on a new initiative, she makes Furman a better university.”

“I’m excited to officially get started,” Pontari said. “I care deeply about Furman and Furman’s future. Being the interim vice president and provost allowed me to understand the expectations of the position and recognize tremendous opportunities that lie ahead. In true Furman fashion, I’ve been mentored really well and have been challenged to develop my leadership skills. I’m optimistic and realistic about the challenges facing higher education, and I think we can face them head-on.”

Pontari, a first-generation college graduate, was impressed by Furman on her first phone interview with then-chair of psychology Gil Einstein, now professor emeritus. She felt there was something unique about the university.

Twenty-three years later, her initial enthusiasm hasn’t waned.

“Furman is student-centered, and high-achieving, but there’s also a culture of care, for students and for each other,” said Pontari. She credits Einstein as a mentor who deeply influenced her love of teaching, research and mentoring students.

Her first day of teaching was Sept. 11, 2001. “I didn’t have a lot of connections here yet. I didn’t know the students and they didn’t know me. I faced those students that day without a lot of experience under my belt, and yet I felt totally supported. That was a world-changing moment, and we got through, and that’s just an example of the many ways the Furman community comes together.”

As a social psychologist, Pontari collaborated with students to examine the intersection between someone’s public and private views of themselves, the way people present themselves and how they manage social interactions.

In 2013, Pontari became more involved in administration, first as chair of the Department of Psychology, then, in 2017, as associate provost for engaged learning before becoming interim vice president and provost.

Pontari has been instrumental in shaping the missions of Furman’s four institutes: The Shi Institute for Sustainable Communities, The Institute for the Advancement of Community Health, The Hill Institute for Innovation and Entrepreneurship and The Riley Institute. She also was key in creating the Center for Innovative Leadership, which launched in 2023. “These entities connect Furman to the world in unique ways that benefit Furman students, faculty and staff and our community partners.

Starting in December 2022, Pontari co-led the creation of Furman’s strategic plan. The plan has been endorsed by the faculty and will now go to the Furman Board of Trustees for its approval. It provides Davis and Pontari a five-year roadmap for the university to elevate innovation, provide for a thriving community and commit to a sustainable future.

To do that, she’ll work closely with the faculty and staff, whom she calls “incredibly talented and dedicated. We want them to feel valued,” she said. “We have an important job. A college education is vital to creating a better society. Our mission here is very important.”

Communicating the mission with all university stakeholders is one of Pontari’s primary goals. “We want the campus, our alumni and the community to be informed so they understand it and are a part of it. They also need to be informed about the progress we’re making in the strategic plan.”

Pontari received a bachelor’s degree from Colgate University and master’s and doctoral degrees from the University of Florida.