Lafferty begins leading YSU

By Cassandra Lucyk 

A two-time graduate of Youngstown State University — and former member of the Ursuline Sisters — Helen K. Lafferty officially started her tenure as YSU interim president Feb. 1.

Lafferty was born and raised in Youngstown. She graduated from Ursuline High School and received her bachelor’s degree in education, theology and philosophy, and master’s in education, administration and psychology, from YSU. Lafferty is also a first-generation college student. 

“No one in my family ever said the word college,” Lafferty said. “When this opportunity came to me, I just thought, this is such a great way to thank both of them. If it hadn’t been for the Ursuline Sisters or Youngstown State, I don’t know where I’d be, but because of them I am here.”

Before assuming the interim presidency, she worked at Villanova University in Pennsylvania for 42 years. 

John R. Jakubek, chair of the board of trustees, said Lafferty possesses qualities that will make her a good interim president. 

“First of all her experience in higher education she’s a very articulate individual she can express herself well. She’s very approachable and I think she’s going to be a great communicator,” Jakubek said.  

 The campus community should experience a smooth transition, Jakubek said, noting that Lafferty and Tressel have similar leadership styles.

“I don’t think [Lafferty] will be that much different than how things have gone with President Tressel,” Jakubek said. “They both are very successful people, and know how to work well with people.”

Lafferty served as vice president of Villanova University for 16 years, interim vice president of academic affairs, associate dean for the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences at Villanova and has been a national and global trustee for YSU since 2020. 

Mark Vopat, head of the faculty union and professor of philosophy, said a large number of faculty are pleased with Lafferty’s appointment. 

“I’ve had some very nice e-mail exchanges, and she is very interested in something going on this week and will be attending. So, right off the bat she has gotten very involved, and I appreciate that,” Vopat said. 

Although her position is temporary, Lafferty said she is excited about her tenure as president. Lafferty explained what she plans on doing during her presidency and how excited she is to have this position. 

“I intend to enjoy everything that’s here. I’m really trying to immerse myself into all of the activities around. Universities are the greatest places to be because there is always something going on,” Lafferty said. “I go home every day and say to myself, ‘I am having too much fun. I’m not supposed to be having this much fun.’”

Any questions regarding the new leadership at YSU can be directed to Lafferty, Jakubek or Vopat at their emails,, and