– Sara Thorndike, vice chancellor for administration and finance and chief financial officer at East Carolina University, has been named Penn State’s new senior vice president for Finance and Business/treasurer, effective Jan. 18, pending final approval of the Penn State Board of Trustees Subcommittee on Compensation.
Thorndike’s appointment follows a national search. She succeeds David Gray, who announced his intention to retire in 2020 after eight years of dedicated service to the University.
Thorndike will play a critical role in the continued success and operational excellence of the University — including oversight of Penn State’s financial performance for an operating budget totaling $7 billion for the 2020-21 fiscal year, as well as leading financial, endowment, business and administrative activities for all Penn State campuses. Thorndike will oversee the Penn State Finance and Business office and a number of high-profile, mission-critical units at the University, including the Office of Physical Plant, University Police and Public Safety, Auxiliary and Business Services, Commonwealth Operations, the Office of the Corporate Controller, the Finance and Business Office of Diversity and Inclusion, Enterprise Project Management, information technology within Finance and Business, the Office of Internal Audit, and the Office of Investment Management.
“I am pleased to welcome Dr. Thorndike to Penn State. She possesses a wealth of financial and higher education leadership experience, and an inspiring passion for education and its transformative potential,” said Penn State President Eric J. Barron. “I look forward to working closely together alongside the rest of the University’s senior leadership team to steward Penn State’s strong financial standing, and to continue to deliver on Penn State’s educational, research and land-grant mission for generations of future Penn Staters.”
Thorndike brings to the position more than 20 years of finance and accounting experience, including 15 years of experience leading financial operations for institutions of higher education.
“Higher education is an incredible pathway for empowering people, enriching communities and contributing to the advancement of our global society. I am excited to bring my strategic financial planning, investment and management experience to Penn State to help our University continue its amazing work educating students, conducting cutting-edge research and making a positive impact across the world,” Thorndike said. “Building on Penn State’s successes in finding cost savings and continuing to advance access and affordability will be two of my key areas of focus, and I look forward to partnering with Penn State’s senior leadership team to advance these critical strategic goals.”
Thorndike has been vice chancellor for administration and finance and chief financial officer at East Carolina University since March 2018. There, she oversaw budgets in excess of $900 million; led a division of more than 1,000 staff; and provided leadership, strategic planning and oversight for 13 units across the university, including financial services, the budget office, campus operations and athletics fiscal affairs. Her accomplishments and duties included overseeing the development of crucial public-private partnerships; enhancing the university’s transparency and financial reporting; identifying efficiencies that have saved more than $2 million annually; and managing state and federal COVID-19 grants to help preserve the long-term fiscal health of the institution.
Thorndike previously served as senior associate vice chancellor for business affairs, chief financial officer and controller at the University of North Carolina Wilmington, positions she held from 2014 to 2018. Her prior financial leadership experience in the educational sphere also includes nine years as controller and accounting director for Principia, which is comprised of both a nonprofit college and an independent school for preschool through high school students.
Thorndike was named a fellow of the National Association of College and University Business Officers (NACUBO) in 2017 and was recognized with the organization’s Rising Star Award. She is a graduate of the NACUBO mentor program and the University of North Carolina’s BRIDGES academic leadership for women professional development program. Thorndike is a member of the Southern Association of College and University Business Officers, for which she serves as vice-chair for their comprehensive and doctoral constituent committee. She is also a certified public accountant licensed in Ohio and North Carolina.
Thorndike holds a bachelor’s degree in accounting from Franklin University in Columbus, Ohio, an MBA from Ohio State University and a doctoral degree in higher education leadership from the University of North Carolina Wilmington.