February 01, 2021 | Office of the President

Message to the Bowdoin Community (February 1, 2021)

To the Bowdoin community,

I write with the bittersweet news that our extraordinary chief investment officer and senior vice president, Paula Volent, will be stepping down from her position at the end of the current academic year on June 30 to pursue the next chapter in what has been a varied and tremendously successful career.

Paula said of her decision, “It has been a great honor to oversee Bowdoin’s endowment. I love the College and its mission, and I am proud to have been able to contribute to Bowdoin’s position as one of our country’s great liberal arts colleges. This was a difficult decision, but after more than twenty years, I am excited about writing a new chapter and taking on new challenges.”

Paula and her team have produced remarkable investment returns for Bowdoin that changed both the trajectory of the College and the lives of thousands of students who benefitted from the financial aid resources generated from our endowment. Paula’s impact will be felt far into the future and is almost immeasurable. When she took on her position in the summer of 2000, the Bowdoin endowment stood at just over $465 million; when we closed the books last June, it had grown to $1.8 billion, providing nearly $72 million to the annual operations of the College last year, including $33 million for need-based financial aid. It is this success, married to the tremendous generosity of our alumni and parents, that makes it possible for Bowdoin to be among only nineteen colleges and universities in America that are able to provide need-based financial aid without required loans while meeting a student’s full need for all four years. It is something that truly sets Bowdoin apart.

Year in and year out, working with her team and the Investment Committee, Paula has produced consistently outstanding investment returns, outpacing virtually every other college and university endowment in the nation over the short, medium, and long term. The press has called her “one of the savviest investors in the non-profit world” and “a pioneer in a male-dominated field.” It is amazing to consider that Paula came to investment management as a second career, parlaying degrees in art history and her notable talent as an art conservator into unparalleled achievement in an entirely different profession after earning her MBA at the Yale School of Management and applying her diligence, curiosity, and creativity in ways that have served her and the College exceedingly well. She continues to be both a role model and a champion for young women seeking careers in finance.
“I couldn’t be more grateful to Paula for her exceptional work over two decades—work that has profoundly changed the course of the College and will for decades to come,” said Investment Committee Chair Stan Druckenmiller ’75, H’07. “While it is tough to see her retire from Bowdoin, as a friend, I am thrilled for Paula personally as she embarks on what I’m sure will be another great chapter in her professional life.”

“Paula’s outstanding management of the Bowdoin endowment has literally made it possible for generations of students to gain an amazing Bowdoin education,” said Robert White ’77, P’15, chair of the Bowdoin College Board of Trustees. “On behalf of the entire board, thank you, Paula, for your dedication to our students, their families, and the common good. It has been our great good fortune to work with you, and we wish you all the best.”

It may not be widely known that Paula’s first position at Bowdoin was in the early 1980s as a curatorial assistant at our museum of art, and she has maintained deep connections with the museum and art world ever since. As she moves into the next phase of her life, Paula will remain a deeply engaged member of the museum’s Advisory Council, and we will continue to benefit from and appreciate her wisdom and insights.

I am grateful that Paula will assist in the transition once her successor is identified, and that process will begin shortly.

I really can’t overstate the importance of Paula’s enduring contributions to our college. As her friend and mentor, Yale University Chief Investment Officer David Swensen H’15, said of Paula just a few years ago: “You will be remembered as a transformational figure in the history of Bowdoin.” We will work to have an opportunity as COVID-19 recedes to give Paula a proper send-off, but for now, I know each of you joins me in thanking her for her devotion to Bowdoin and for doing so much to provide the resources that create tremendous opportunity for students and that will support teaching, learning, and scholarship here far into the future.