For 212 years, Georgetown University was headed by Jesuit priests. So when the search committee for a new president asked to meet with John DeGioia, then senor vice president there, he did not think he was a real candidate for the top job. “I thought they were being courteous,” he says.
Not so. In 2001, DeGioia became the first layman to be named president of a US Jesuit institution. In the 71⁄2 years since, Georgetown’s $1-billion capital campaign has enabled it to begin the largest expansion of campus facilities in the school’s history. Student financial aid has increased, and endowments for faculty research have grown.
DeGioia and his wife came to Georgetown as freshmen and never left. “At every stage, when it made sense to move on, another opportunity came up here,” he says.
To prepare students for globalization, Georgetown has expanded its international reach with a campus in Doha and a joint program with universities in London. More than 130 countries are represented on campus. The university has a full-time imam and, on the Jewish High Holy Days, one of the city’s biggest congregations on its campus.
DeGioia still teaches a course in human rights, ethics, and globalization: “There is a hunger in our young people for an ethical formula by which to judge engagement in the world.” He also has increased Georgetown’s involvement in the community. In 2007, the scope of its Meyers Institute for College Preparation, an outreach program providing academic help, counseling, mentoring, and family support to DC seventh-graders, more than doubled. Meyers students, primarily in Ward 7, receive help through middle and high school and have classes and activities on the GU campus on Saturdays and for three to five weeks each summer. Ninety-eight percent graduate and go on to college; 85 percent graduate from college in five years.
DeGioia recognizes that part of Georgetown’s appeal for DC kids and adults has nothing to do with classrooms. “We’re pleased to be able to bring the city together several nights a year to watch the Hoyas play basketball,” he says.
See all of the 2008 Washingtonians of the Year