For all the twists and turns of 2020, during unprecedented changes in the global workforce and higher education, this year marks the momentous occasion of one university president’s two decades of visionary leadership. Paula Wallace was named president of SCAD (Savannah College of Art and Design) in 2000, another auspicious year in world history, and since that time has devoted her creative energies to breaking as many SCAD records as glass ceilings.
In 1978, when she was still in her twenties, Wallace co-founded SCAD, a private, nonprofit, accredited university, after a distinguished career in K-12 arts education. For the first 22 years of her SCAD career, she served as academic dean, vice president, and provost of the university before being appointed as the institution’s chief executive officer. In the 20 years since that moment, she has led SCAD in a period of exponential growth, from fewer than 5,000 students to nearly 15,000 students worldwide.
According to the Chronicle of Higher Education, the average tenure for a university president is under seven years, which is only part of what makes Paula Wallace’s astounding 20 years at SCAD so remarkable. Forbes recently reported that fewer than 30% of university presidents are women–and the number is actually in decline. Higher education remains far behind other sectors of the economy, like tech, in featuring more and more prominent women founders and CEOs.
Wallace’s leadership has transformed SCAD into an international academic juggernaut. From its founding location in Savannah, SCAD has grown into a global university, with Wallace overseeing the establishment of campuses in Atlanta, Georgia, and Lacoste, France, as well as an award-winning eLearning program that offers B.A., B.F.A., M.A., and M.F.A. degree programs. From 2010 to 2020, SCAD also operated a degree-granting location in Sham Shui Po, making SCAD the first U.S. arts university with a presence in Hong Kong. As a lifelong educator, Wallace has long championed the limitless possibilities of the classroom, across oceans and boundaries.
“My lifelong mission at SCAD has been to prepare students for creative professions in a loving, nurturing environment,” Wallace said. This commitment is the primary driver of Wallace’s leadership, where she has overseen the vast expansion of SCAD academic offerings to include over 40 degree programs and 75 minors and certificate programs. New, visionary degree programs at SCAD reflect a changing global workforce, including user experience (UX) design (created in collaboration with Google); luxury fashion management (the first M.A. and M.F.A. degree offerings in the discipline); and the business of beauty and fragrance. The alumni employment rate of SCAD alumni in their chosen fields approaches 99 percent.
SCAD’s global preservation legacy is the forefront of its mission. Under President Wallace, SCAD has been recognized with prestigious awards from the American Institute of Architects, American Society of Interior Designers, Art Deco Societies of America, National Trust for Historic Preservation, and UNESCO. Many SCAD historic preservation projects have been recognized for their excellence, including the SCAD Museum of Art, housed in a former Central of Georgia Railway depot, which received the AIA Institute Honor Award for Architecture.
In her two-decade executive tenure, Wallace has also founded three teaching museums, SCAD FASH Museum of Fashion + Film in Atlanta, SCAD Retour en 1856 in Lacoste, and SCAD Museum of Art in Savannah. Her initiatives include the SCAD Alumni Atelier artist ambassadorship, providing SCAD alumni artist residencies at the university’s global locations; SCAD Art Sales, which connects SCAD artists with global clients; SCADFILM, which fosters the knowledge and network of entertainment arts professionals; SCADpro, the university’s in-house design consultancy that solves high-stakes design challenges with world-renowned companies; and SCADamp a professional presentation studio that prepares creatives to amplify their stories through verbal, visual, and interpersonal communication.
Wallace created and championed many of the university’s most popular annual events, including SCAD Sand Arts Festival, SCAD aTVfest, SCAD deFINE ART, SCAD FASHION, SCAD Savannah Film Festival, SCADstyle, and SCAD Sidewalk Arts Festival.
In 2016, President Wallace published The Bee and the Acorn, her memoir of her life in education and the founding of SCAD. She has authored numerous additional books including the first major book on China’s leading couture visionary, Guo Pei: Couture Beyond, and SCAD: The Architecture of a University, a 360-page volume that highlights SCAD’s most inspiring spaces and illuminates the storied pasts of its architectural treasures.
In a new century of global changes in academia and industry, President Wallace has demonstrated visionary leadership. The university’s international community celebrates the 20th anniversary of her presidency, as she leads SCAD into the future.
SCAD: The University for Creative Careers
The Savannah College of Art and Design is a private, nonprofit, accredited university, offering more than 100 academic degree programs in more than 40 majors across its locations in Atlanta and Savannah, Georgia; Lacoste, France; and online via SCAD eLearning.
SCAD enrolls more than 15,000 undergraduate and graduate students from more than 100 countries. The innovative SCAD curriculum is enhanced by advanced professional-level technology, equipment, and learning resources, as well as opportunities for internships, professional certifications, and collaborative projects with corporate partners. In 2019, the prestigious Red Dot Design Rankings placed SCAD as the No. 1 university in the U.S. and in the top two universities in the Americas and Europe for the third consecutive year. Career preparation is woven into every fiber of the university, resulting in a superior alumni employment rate.