Pia Trigiani is known for her sense of humor and playful wit amidst the demands of leading the university’s Board of Visitors. But she is very serious about her love for Longwood and her pride in the accomplishments across the university.
A prominent Alexandria-based attorney and former president of the Virginia Bar Association, she became Longwood’s rector—the leader of the university’s governing Board of Visitors—earlier this year. She is serving her eighth and final year on the board, which has given her keen perspective into Longwood’s academic progress and campus developments. Most recently Trigiani’s service on the board has been marked by navigating through the pandemic, an exercise that further strengthened her confidence in Longwood’s momentum.
In addition to her official appointments to various boards throughout the commonwealth, Trigiani gives generously of her time and has served in volunteer leadership positions for a wide range of organizations and professional associations. But she describes her service on Longwood’s board as unique and special.
We caught up with Trigiani for a Q&A as she approaches the midpoint in her tenure as rector.
Q: First, tell us about the role of the rector of the Board of Visitors. What is your approach to the position?
A: The rector is the leader of the board and chairs the meetings. I’m the person who is the conduit from the president to the rest of the board. My job is to engage the board and make sure all of the voices around the table are being heard. I always see the chair of any group as the person who brings everybody together, and I want to be known as a collaborative leader.
As a board, our job, first and foremost, is to promote and advocate for the university. We do that by supporting and guiding the leadership, where appropriate. We do not make the decisions about the daily operation of the university. As a board, we have to be very transparent with our decision making because it’s a state university. The confidence in the president and his leadership team is supported by the Board of Visitors. The good news is that we’ve got a strong, committed, thoughtful leader in President Reveley.
The rectors I’ve served with—including Eric Hansen, Marianne Radcliff ’92, Robert Wertz ’85 and Colleen Margiloff ’97—added tremendous value. I think their strong leadership and guidance has been a great model. At the end of the day, what I would like for people to say is that I added, not subtracted. I hope I’m the combination of all of those rectors. If I can take the talents that each of them lent to it, and in one short year add that to it, I will have accomplished great things. And I’ll do it with humor.
...I’ve come to really love Longwood. It has heart and soul. You can feel it when you come onto campus.Longwood Rector Pia Trigiani Tweet This
Q: How long have you served on the board, and did you have any connection to Longwood before you were appointed?
A: I was first appointed in 2014, so this is my eighth and final year on the board. I’ll never forget my very first board meeting, when we adopted the resolution apologizing for Longwood’s role during the civil rights era and Massive Resistance in Prince Edward County. It was an emotional moment for all of us. My only previous connection with Longwood was that I attended Girls State. That was a great but very minimal connection. So I was new to higher ed, and it was not something I knew much about.
But I’ve come to really love Longwood. It has heart and soul. You can feel it when you come onto campus. It kind of wells up in you, and you get a feeling like, ‘Wow this is cool. This is somewhere people want to be.’ There’s something unique here. There’s something that touches the very core of you that really gets to the fundamental essence of what we are. I love that it’s a place where you have a lot of students who are first-generation collegegoers. I love that parents come to Convocation. I know this year I saw there were some mothers who did their daughters’ caps.
There’s this attention to all of the parts that make a university: the physical campus, the academics and the student experience.Longwood Rector Pia Trigiani Tweet This
Q: From your perspective as a board member, can you tell us what it has been like navigating the challenges of the pandemic?
A: What we really saw shine was the intensity to continue and the innovation and ingenuity of the university’s leadership. There was an intensity to the commitment to give the students their senior year or their freshman year, and to keep them safe at the same time. There is a huge in loco parentis sense of things at Longwood. Not in the place of parents, but there is an understanding that we hold their children in trust for those four years.
Longwood’s leadership overall has been strategic, even in the face of a pandemic. They thought through very carefully how to have students on campus and continue classes in person as much as possible. I think as a board we were the encouragers in chief, supporting the university’s leadership. That leadership team thinks through things six ways to Sunday. We learned from them.
There is also a sadness about the lost year because we were disconnected from each other. We couldn’t meet in person and that was hard, especially because our time on this board is limited. The joy of being on the board is being on campus. Our meetings are reinvigorating and encouraging. I want to be amongst the students. I think it’s important for them to see that.
Q: What is your elevator pitch to a prospective student who is considering Longwood?
A: What our world needs right now are citizen leaders with a liberal arts education—that’s the pitch. There is an overall disdain for leadership, so to educate and support citizen leaders, which is the central mission of the university, is essential. The benefits of a liberal arts education are that you learn to read, write and think and to present your ideas. I’m a big advocate of the liberal arts. I loved Judge John Charles Thomas’ comments at Convocation about how liberal arts does not refer to liberal versus conservative. It’s not a political statement. The [root word of] “liberal” means freedom and free thinking and a focus on lifelong learning.
We recently dedicated Longwood’s property on the Chesapeake Bay in honor of former Virginia Gov. Gerald Baliles. He recognized that education is the great equalizer—that it’s essential to the enrichment of a life well lived and the foundation for developing and sustaining a strong economy. I think that’s Longwood. It is to give the students that opportunity.
I have loved every minute of my service on the board, particularly the opportunity to come and know Longwood. Her people, her traditions, her history and her great purpose: educating citizen leaders.Longwood Rector Pia Trigiani Tweet This
Q: What have you come to appreciate most about Longwood while serving on the board?
A: There’s always something new and exciting going on, which is what I think makes colleges and universities so interesting. It’s a place where good ideas are recognized, appreciated and become reality. Innovation is embraced, and someone is always thinking of a new way to do something. Civitae is a good example of that—building a core curriculum based on the skills of communication, critical thinking and teamwork. There’s this attention to all of the parts that make a university: the physical campus, the academics and the student experience.
Conceptualizing and bringing the Upchurch University Center to reality as the hub of student life on campus is a great example. I think what happened with the renovation of the high-rise residence halls is incredible—talk about innovative. The bones were strong, so we used what was there. And we did it in record time and under budget.
The Vice Presidential Debate was another huge “we can do this” moment and affirmation for us. It reflected one of the great strengths I’ve seen in Longwood, which is thoughtful planning. It was planned and executed with precision. It’s been fun and meaningful to be a part of moments like that and creating so much good for the university.
Q: As you look ahead, how do you see Longwood positioned for the future?
A: I think Longwood is well-positioned to further build on its 182-year legacy. Longwood has come into her own over the past eight years. The new buildings like Upchurch, Allen Hall, Brock Hall, Radcliff Hall, the soon-to-be Joan Perry Brock Center and other campus updates—she’s had a makeover. Not a do over, but a makeover on a lot of fronts. Not to mention growing the endowment and launching Civitae. These changes have created innovation and focused attention on moving Longwood to its next chapter. I think we are poised to do great things with athletics. The basketball teams, the softball team, the baseball team—there’s a lot of potential there.
Since joining the board, I’ve become a student of Joan of Arc. She was confident, bold and fearless. That’s Longwood. I have loved every minute of my service on the board, particularly the opportunity to come and know Longwood. Her people, her traditions, her history and her great purpose: educating citizen leaders. I feel like I’ve truly gotten more out of my service than I have given and that I’m leaving Longwood better for having been here.