Maryville University doesn’t have the ancient ivy-covered walls or Greek columns. It doesn’t have a 100,000-seat football stadium or hold on a spot in the Final Four. You might even overlook it when considering some of the other colleges in St. Louis, and yet Maryville is consistently gaining national honors. In 2011, Forbes ranked Maryville one of America’s Best Colleges; Kiplinger’s followed, calling it one of the nation’s best values in private colleges; and now, U.S. News & World Report has declared it the No. 1 ‘over-performing’ university in the nation.
What does Maryville have that other schools don’t? One answer to that question is university president Mark Lombardi. Lombardi’s success moving Maryville forward for the past five years is the reason he is one of LN’s 10 Most Dynamic St. Louisans. Just like the title bestowed on the school by U.S. News, Lombardi would appear to be an over-achiever himself. “I grew up outside of Providence, R.I., raised by parents who were good, working-class people,” he says. “My parents were huge believers in education and the power of it. They didn’t have the opportunity to go to school extensively, but they were bound and determined that their sons were going to get an education and did everything they could to provide us with that opportunity—and they held my feet to the fire.”
As a teacher, Lombardi says he often passed on that same kind of encouragement to students who weren’t taking their education seriously and saw them go on to flourish. Now as the leader of Maryville, he says he is keeping everyone at the school focused on its primary purpose—not to win awards or earn recognition—but to educate its students. “Everyone at Maryville, whether you are a faculty member, a custodian, a coach or administrator—we’re all educators,” he stresses. “Whether we’re in front of a class or not, we are modeling for our students what I call the contours of a truly civilized society, as well as what it means to be educated, and how to use that education for the betterment of society.”
During Lombardi’s tenure at Maryville, the number of potential students contacting the school for admission information has gone from 5,000 a year to almost 13,000. Enrollment has grown by 20 percent during that time to approximately 4,300 students, and Lombardi expects that number to increase to 5,000 in the next two years. This summer, the school breaks ground on a new 90,000-square-foot health professions building. New dorms also are on the front burner, as well as doubling the size of the athletic center.
Lombardi sees a bigger role for Maryville when it comes to providing opportunities for what he calls “economic empowerment” in the St. Louis region, with plans to develop more partnerships with business and industry. “We’re partnering with Edward Jones in redesigning our finance program. We’re also in a partnership with Rawlings in our sports business management, and we’re working with health-care providers in health professions programs, as well,” he explains. “My role is to have a very close relationship with the rest of the community so we can provide the kind of education and services that are going to enhance the community at-large, and in that sense, make St. Louis a stronger, healthier and more vibrant place."
Lombardi considers his greatest strength the ability to articulate what is beyond the horizon for Maryville and what it will take to get there in a “straightforward, honest and positive way.” That’s how over-performers evolve, and also part of what makes Mark Lombardi a dynamic St. Louisan. “I’m an optimist; my favorite day of the week is Monday—I’m just excited to go to work.”