D.C. government and community leaders joined in paying tribute to Dr. Knapp and Diane Robinson Knapp.
By Ruth Steinhardt
Hundreds of students, faculty and staff gathered Saturday afternoon to bid farewell to George Washington University President Steven Knapp, who will end his decade-long tenure as president this summer.
“I just want to say what an honor it has been…to have served this university and to see it continue on its path to ever greater heights,” Dr. Knapp said. “[We] will always think of ourselves as part of this university community and in fact will always regard this university…as our cultural and intellectual home.”
The president’s wife, Diane Robinson Knapp, their children and grandchildren were on hand at the Charles E. Smith Center, transformed for the day into a “carnival” where well-wishers ate, danced, snapped selfies and wrote thank-you cards to the Knapps. Ruffles, the Knapps’ beloved dog, wandered through the crowd with the assurance of a celebrity. Perhaps in deference to the Knapps’ focus on health and wellness, food offerings included a juice bar with apple-kale, orange-carrot and other wholesome options.
In attendance to speak about Dr. Knapp’s impact were Board of Trustees Chair Nelson Carbonell, B.S. '85, GW Alumni Association President Jeremy Gosbee, B.A. '98 and M.B.A. '02, D.C. Council member Jack Evans (D-Ward 2).
Mr. Carbonell recalled his time on the selection committee that originally chose Dr. Knapp as president in 2007. The committee wanted a candidate who would grow research, enhance GW’s fundraising capacity and build relationships with the community.
“President Knapp has unequivocally surpassed our expectations in all three areas,” said Mr. Carbonell.
Dr. Knapp’s areas of focus and achievement have been diverse during his time as president. He oversaw the planning for and construction of Science and Engineering Hall, which doubled the space available at GW for science and engineering and brought together researchers across disciplines to encourage collaborative innovation.
The university has continued to grow its research capabilities, moving up the National Science Foundation’s list of top research institutions from 108 in 2007 to 83 in 2014.
Dr. Knapp also shepherded the development and implementation of the university’s ambitious strategic plan, Vision 2021, creating interdisciplinary initiatives like the GW Cancer Center, the Global Women’s Institute, the Computational Biology Initiative, the Autism and Neurodevelopmental Disorders Institute and the Urban Food Task Force.
He also spearheaded GW’s groundbreaking collaboration with the Corcoran Gallery of Art and the National Gallery of Art, under which the Corcoran College of Art and Design was transferred to GW, becoming the Corcoran School of the Arts and Design within the Columbian College of Arts and Sciences, and the university assumed ownership of the iconic Beaux-Arts home of the Corcoran on 17th Street.
Dr. Knapp was instrumental as well in partnering with the world-renowned Textile Museum, which led to the creation of a new cultural hub on the Foggy Bottom Campus—the George Washington University Museum and The Textile Museum—and the building of a state-of-the-art conservation and collections center on the university’s Virginia Science and Technology Campus.
“President Knapp has been a visionary since he’s been here,“ said Ben Vinson III, dean of the Columbian College of Arts and Sciences. “He’s been able to see the ways in which the arts, the sciences, the professional schools—all of them intertwine into a seamless institution. At the same time, his heart has been deeply placed in the success of our faculty and our students.”
That investment in academic success was key to the 2014 public launch of Making History: The Campaign for GW, currently on track to raise $1 billion by 2018 to support students, enhance academics and break new ground in addressing the world’s most pressing challenges.
Dr. Knapp also has been committed to ensuring broad access to a college education. Moderating tuition increases was a priority of his tenure, and following his participation in a White House summit on expanding higher education opportunities for low-income students, he launched a university-wide Task Force on Access and Success in 2014.
A key recommendation of the task force was implemented in 2015 when the university announced the adoption of a test-optional policy for undergraduate applicants. In the years since the policy’s implementation, GW has seen a 33 percent increase in enrollment of students from historically underrepresented groups.
The university also launched the District Scholars Award, a grant that expands access to lower-income District of Columbia high school students, and formed partnerships with the Posse Foundation and Say Yes to Education. He formed the President’s Council on Diversity and Inclusion in September 2010 and created the position of vice provost for diversity and inclusion, which has now expanded to vice provost for diversity, equity and community engagement.
In his speech, Mr. Gosbee, the Alumni Association president, stressed the importance of Dr. Knapp’s accomplishments to the global alumni community. Annual gifts to GW have more than doubled during Dr. Knapp’s time as president.
“We feel the impact of [Dr. Knapp’s] accomplishments, and that’s because GW’s success is our success,” Mr. Gosbee said.
Outgoing Student Association President Erika Feinman said students had “wracked their brains” over what to present to the Knapps on their departure. “What could you possibly give someone for 10 years of service to this university, 10 years of dedication, 10 years of love, 10 years of support not only to students but to the entire university—to the faculty, to the alumni, to the staff and most of all to the student association?”
In the end, they settled on a large white orchid. “What could be more appropriate for folks who are so passionate about growing the university?” Feinman said.
Mr. Evans thanked Dr. Knapp for spearheading GW’s partnerships with the local community and presented him with a letter from D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser and a ceremonial resolution, unanimously passed by the D.C. Council, declaring May 6, 2017, “Steven Knapp Day” in the District of Columbia.
“The university has been a great partner with the District of Columbia in every way, shape and form,” Mr. Evans said.
After the speeches in his honor, Dr. Knapp took a seat where he has been comfortable for years: behind a drum kit joining the Jazz All-Stars to play Dave Brubeck’s “Take Five.” As attendees hooted and cheered, Dr. Knapp launched a blistering solo—then retired into the background, providing the rhythmic structure on which his fellow instrumentalists could build.