Le Fer Hall

Reflecting on the 16th President of Saint Mary-of-the-Woods College

Blog | 10.30.2023

This story appeared in the Fall 2023 issue of Onyx Anneau.

Dottie L. King, Ph.D.

Under Dottie King’s 13-year presidency, Saint Mary-of-the-Woods College saw impressive growth and progress. King’s leadership revitalized the institution for success amid the changing higher education landscape. She was the driver behind new programs, including nursing and sprint football, which brought enrollment and awareness, boosting the college’s reputation and forward trajectory. Her tenure marked record enrollments and an era of community partnership building, laying a strong foundation for a new era at The Woods.

King stepped down in June of 2023 after 20 years of service to the institution. As the College proceeds during a year of transition while it searches for a new president, we take a look at the decade of King’s presidential leadership which led to the growth of the institution.

King’s academic excellence drive led to innovative programs aligned with emerging fields. Her commitment to diversity and inclusivity enriched the learning environment. Off-campus, she formed strong community ties, enhancing the region’s growth and the College’s role.

Her legacy endures, setting a precedent for transformative leadership. Her impact on higher education is profound, inspiring future generations. King’s dedication and qualities were essential in enhancing enrollment and securing the College’s future.

There is no doubt that leadership, particularly at a small Catholic college in today’s world, requires sacrifice and dedication as well as agility, resilience and tenacity. These are all qualities King brought to the job, where she was tasked with increasing enrollment and solidifying a future for The Woods. Her legacy remains woven into the fabric of The Woods. The next pages reflect on King’s impact as they revisit the newsroom highlights reel of significant moments and accomplishments from her presidency – closing out this chapter of The Woods and acknowledging her new role as former president and chancellor of the College.

February 2011
Saint Mary-of-the-Woods College named Dottie L. King, Ph.D. as 16th President.

October 2011
Presidential Inauguration held.

R to L: 12th President Jeanne Knoerle, SP, ’49; 16th President Dottie L. King and 14th President Joan Lescinski, CSJ

October 2011
SMWC renamed distance education program. The 38-year-old Woods External Degree (WED) program was renamed Woods Online.

August 2012
Terre Haute Chamber of Commerce named King as the 2012 ATHENA Award recipient. The ATHENA Award is presented to an individual who demonstrates excellence, creativity and initiative in their business or profession; provides valuable services by contributing time and energy to improve the quality of life for others in the community; and actively assists women in realizing their full potential.

October 2012
Saint Mary-of-the-Woods College embarked on an $11 million campaign aimed at enriching the total college experience and increasing recruitment efforts by building a sports and recreation center. King said, “With the early support of visionary and generous partners, we will realize a new facility that will live up to our aspirations and create opportunities for future generations.”

September 2013
SMWC received a grant for nearly $2 million from the U.S. Department of Education’s Strengthening Institutions Program. The grant funds supported a range of projects to increase student success, academic quality, institutional management and fiscal stability. Specifically, the award was used to increase enrollment and retention and increase institutional efficiency and capacity for data-driven management.

December 2013
Shovels entered the ground on December 3, 2013, as a decade-long vision of the new sports and recreation center finally came to fruition. King announced that the new facility would be named after the late Jeanne Knoerle, SP,’49, Ph.D., and former SMWC president.

L to R: Ralph Wagle (Garmong Construction); Lisa Stallings, SP, ’74; Norm Lowery (First Financial Corporation); Mike Ciolli (Vigo Co. Commissioner); Marcia Reder Schmidt ’72 and Jerry Schmidt (Co-Chairs fo the Pomeroy Pride Campaign); Dottie King; Duke Bennett (Terre Haute Mayor); Ken Brengle (Terre Haute Chamber of Commerce) and Steve Robinson (URS)

December 2013
Lilly Endowment Inc. awarded SMWC a $1 million grant through its Initiative to Promote Opportunities through Educational Collaborations. The Woods used grant funds to build upon the success of its academic programs and develop a Baccalaureate of Science in Nursing (BSN) degree program to meet the critical demand for nurses, healthcare professionals and leaders in the healthcare industry in the state. Grant funds supported startup costs for curriculum development, faculty, science labs and the development of an RN to BSN completion program.

May 2015
The Board of Trustees voted unanimously to become fully coeducational at its May 1, 2015, meeting. SMWC began accepting applications from men immediately as commuter students for the fall of 2015. The College welcomed residential male students in the fall of 2016. Taking this step was a means to educate more women and men than the College had seen in recent years. To attract new students, the College leveraged its strengths – academic integrity, leadership development, intimate learning environment and spiritual growth opportunities.

July 2015
As the 2014-2015 fiscal year came to an end, Saint Mary-of-the-Woods College proudly announced that the Woods Fund goal had been met for the first time since 2007-2008. The College surpassed its goal of $950,000 and raised $980,177.

September 2015
SMWC officially launched its 2015 Strategic Plan titled Aspire Higher. The strategic plan expressed the vision and strategy to set a clear direction for the College. The plan, the result of more than four years of college-wide discussions and analysis initiated by King outlined the ambitions and aspirations for the institution.

May 2016
King added a new honor to the list of her accolades – Sagamore of the Wabash, the highest civilian distinction in Indiana. During the SMWC’s board of trustee meeting on May 6, 2016, Lt. Governor Eric Holcomb and Indiana Senator Jon Ford surprised King with the award on behalf of Governor Mike Pence.

L to R: SMWC Former Board Member Greg Gibson, Lieutenant Governor Eric Holcomb, King, SMWC Board Chair Randy Adams, SMWC Former Board Member Pat Ralston and Indiana Senator Jon Ford.

October 2016
SMWC students, staff, faculty and alumni participated in a day of volunteerism for the first Foundation Day of Service. True to the charitable spirit of Saint Mother Theodore Guerin, America’s eighth saint and foundress of the College, volunteers engaged in a variety of on-campus service projects ranging from gardening to data entry and focus group participation.

November 2017
King was recognized at the Girl Scout’s annual Lieutenant Governor’s Leadership Luncheon sponsored by Indiana Lieutenant Governor Suzanne Crouch. King spoke to 900 people in the Indiana Roof Ballroom in Indianapolis during her acceptance speech for the Girl Scouts of Central Indiana’s Confidence Leadership Award.

October 2018
SMWC introduced its mascot, a horse named Onyx. She made her debut as part of the Homecoming 2018 festivities.

October 2018
SMWC reported fall 2018 enrollment in its campus-based program (which does not include online and graduate students) was at 440 students, the highest since 1969. Enrollment was on a continuing upward trend the previous four years: 291 in 2015, 320 in 2016 and 377 in 2017.

November 2018
SMWC expanded its 67-acre campus through the purchase of 160 acres. This purchase agreement with the Sisters of Providence allowed the College to take ownership of athletic fields, the barn and farmland it leased from the Sisters of Providence while also adding new land and properties.

L to R: SMWC President Dottie L. King, Ph.D. and Sisters of Providence General Superior Dawn Tomaszewski, SP, ’74.

October 2019
SMWC was found eligible to participate in federal student aid programs in 2005 to 2010 and would not be required to return $42 million in student aid as determined by a resolution reached with the U.S. Department of Education (DOE). After a thorough review by the DOE, including the records of regular and substantive interactions between students and academic staff during the years audited and findings of SMWC’s accrediting agency regarding its academic model, the College was deemed in full compliance with applicable laws.

October 2019
Building on momentum gained from its Aspire Higher Strategic Plan, King publicly announced the second phase of its strategic plan, Aspire Even Higher, at the President’s Gala. The Aspire Even Higher Strategic Plan had three distinctive and interconnected priorities focusing on advancing SMWC in the areas of academics, environment and the College’s outreach locally, regionally and nationally. The concepts of spirituality, enrollment and innovation were woven across the three priorities. One initiative under the plan was the launch of a refreshed brand strategy including a new brand positioning statement and a new College logo — a circle with the College name against a solid background featuring the College’s brand colors.

June 2020
Clad in hard hats and with shovels in hand, King and the leadership of Saint Mary-of-the-Woods College broke ground on a new $15 million residence and dining hall. The groundbreaking for the last residence building, Le Fer Hall, was in 1920, and housing had not been added to campus since. Due to growing enrollment, King said this was the next logical step to accommodate the influx of students and to be supplementary to Le Fer Hall.

August 2020
SMWC created an Office of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion and made firm its commitment to values that have long been a part of The Woods’ fabric.

October 2020
SMWC was approved for membership in The National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics (NAIA). Under NAIA, student-athletes have the opportunity for post-season championship competition and are provided opportunities to become more involved in the community as part of the Champions of Character programming.

October 2020
SMWC received a $1 million grant from Lilly Endowment Inc. to fund growth in new academic programs. The College launched its first doctoral program, added new programs in kinesiology and exercise science and developed a faculty fellowship to support innovative and strategic ideas.

October 2020
SMWC was approved for River States Conference (RSC) membership by the Council of Presidents. The RSC is the first athletic conference membership since scholarship athletics began at the College. SMWC competes in 14 of the 17 RSC championship sports.

March 2021
SMWC was named in two competitive grant awards by Lilly Endowment Inc. as part of a Phase 3 Charting the Future of Indiana’s Colleges and Universities initiative. The two grant initiatives are collaborative efforts designed to support student retention and mental health resources. King said, “I am so grateful to the Endowment for setting in motion a process that has allowed us to dream again while addressing the most pressing needs facing our students today.”

June 2021
King announced that SMWC would join five other colleges and universities in the Midwest and Upper South to field a sprint football team starting in fall 2022. This became the 16th intercollegiate scholarship team at SMWC. Sprint football has the same rules as standard American football with the requirement that players must maintain a weight limit of 178 pounds.

August 2021
It’s been nearly 100 years since Saint Mary-of-the-Woods College opened a new residence hall. Dottie L. King, Ph.D., president, led the official opening of the College’s newest facility to house students, Les Bois Hall. The structure is a multiuse facility, featuring a new dining hall — which was named the Barbara Doherty Dining Center and blessed in May. The opening of Les Bois Hall adds another 92 beds to the more than 300 beds already on campus, along with a market and new bookstore home.

August 2021
Despite the challenges of recruiting students during a pandemic, The Woods welcomed 211 new students, a record-breaking incoming class, who started their journey as the Class of 2025.

August 2021
The Indiana Division of Historic Preservation and Archaeology awarded SMWC a $50,000 Historic Preservation Fund (HPF) grant to rehabilitate and restore the crumbling front steps and side walls of the iconic Conservatory of Music building.

November 2021
The Woods welcomed Little Onyx as its live mascot.

March 2022
SMWC announced that the master’s nursing program was ranked nationally in US News & World Report: Best Nursing Schools: Master’s in 2022. SMWC was also ranked in the Nursing Schools Almanac for 2021 in The 30 Best Nursing Schools in Indiana and The 100 Best Nursing Schools in the Great Lakes.

June 2022
The Wabash River Regional Development Authority (RDA) announced that SMWC’s proposal would be one of 23 projects to be funded through the $20 million Regional Economic Acceleration and Development Initiative (READI) program. SMWC received a $1.5 million grant to expand its equestrian and athletic facilities. Plans for the funds include updating the existing outdoor and indoor equine arenas, expanding parking for horse trailers, creating a pasture management system and improving equine event amenities

August 2022
SMWC received $702,775 from Lilly Endowment Inc. through its initiative, Indiana Youth Programs on Campus (IYPC). IYPC grant funding enabled SMWC to launch Challenging Ambitions and Maximizing Potential (C.A.M.P.) at The Woods in June 2023 and established a new Office of Pre-College Outreach. Fifty campers attended the first session, studying areas in equine, exercise science, nursing, sustainability and global leadership.

September 2022
The Saint Mary-of-the-Woods College Archives and the Sisters of Providence Archives moved to a new shared space in Rooney Center as part of an ongoing collaboration between the two institutions.

January 2023
Woods Online had a boost to its enrollment for Spring 2022- 2023. Much of the growth was owed to offering the new Paramedic Science to Bachelor of Science in Nursing (PM to BSN) Program – just one of two programs in the country.

February 2023
SMWC received $500,000, through a grant received by Vigo County from the Indiana Office of Community and Rural Affairs (OCRA). The funds will assist with the exterior restoration of the Conservatory of Music, including limestone and brick, roof, downspouts and eaves, to help protect the building from leaks and continued degradation.

May 2023
SMWC received a $250,000 planning grant through Lilly Endowment Inc.’s College and Community Collaboration (CCC) initiative. The grant will enable SMWC to partner with the West Central Indiana region in unique and creative ways.

May 2023
SMWC announced a $250,000 gift over three years from Union Health Systems to expand the Paramedic to BSN (PM-BSN) program.

June 2023
The Class of 1963 surprised King at Reunion 2023 by honoring her with their Preserving a Legacy Award in recognition of her dedicated work in advancing the mission of the College for the last 13 years.

June 2023
After 21 years at Saint Mary-of-the-Woods College, the last 13 of those as president, Dottie L. King, Ph.D., announced she was stepping down as president to pursue a new journey as the president of the Independent Colleges of Indiana (ICI) on August 1.

King, the 16th president of the College and the fourth longest serving, will continue to serve the institution as chancellor, an unpaid honorary advisory position at the invitation of the Board of Trustees.

By the Numbers
King’s Presidency from 2010-2023




Woods Rings


degrees and

Exceeded $1 million in Woods Fund for 6 consecutive years
Met Woods Fund goal for 7 consecutive years

Addition of 2 New Buildings

Jeanne Knoerle Sports and Recreation Center
$8.3 million
Les Bois Hall
$15 million

Other renovations and expansions during King’s tenure:

  • Purchase of land from the Sisters of Providence expanding campus to 311 acres
  • Conservatory of Music:
    • Auditorium
  • Hulman Hall:
    • Nursing labs
    • Chemistry labs
    • Exercise science classrooms
  • Le Fer Hall:
    • PK Parlor
    • The 1840
    • Residence floor centers and kitchens
    • Studio 64
  • Rooney Center:
    • Woods Student Center
    • Student Success Center and Learning Resource Center


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