Stanley Druckenmiller ’75 called her work phenomenal and former President Barry Mills described her as world class. When it was announced on Tuesday that Bowdoin’s endowment returned 14.4 percent last year and is now valued at $1.393 billion, President Clayton Rose credited its continued success to Senior Vice President for Investments Paula Volent and her team. 

“What Paula has done is unbelievable,” Rose said.

Volent has been overseeing the College’s endowment since 2000, but she first arrived at the College long before she even considered a career in finance. 

On January 2, 1981, the Lewiston Journal ran an announcement that Paula Volent—a recent graduate from the University of New Hampshire—had been hired as a curatorial assistant at the Bowdoin College Museum of Art (BCMA). She’d just finished her undergraduate degree in art history and chemistry and was planning on working in the art world. 

“One of the stories of my life is that there’s lots of transitions; lots of opportunities came up, and I was open to taking advantage of some of the serendipity,” Volent said.  

After working at the BCMA, she went on to graduate school in art conservation at NYU, worked at the New York Historical Society, the San Francisco Palace of Fine Arts and the LA County Museum of Art and opened her own paper conservation studio in Venice, California. While running her own business, she thought that she should have some financial knowledge. 

“I realized running my own business...that I didn’t really have the skill set to read a balance sheet or the finance skills,” Volent said. “So I started taking a couple of finance classes at UCLA at night, and I was very good at it.”

Her professor suggested that she go to business school and become a museum director. 

“I thought it was crazy,” Volent said. “But it sort of stuck in my mind. So I did apply.”

At the same time she was accepted to Yale School of Management, Volent was also offered a fellowship at the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C, to work on contemporary works of art. She deferred her admission to Yale and went to work in D.C., but eventually made her way back to New Haven.

However, shortly after she arrived at Yale to start her first semester, her daughter was born. Volent took a semester off and went knocking on the door of the Yale Investments Office. 

“I thought if I was going to work at a not-for-profit institution like a museum, I needed to learn about endowments,” Volent said. Chief Investment Officer David Swensen was on the other side of that door at Yale, and he gave her a shot. 

Swensen is often noted as one of the top investors in the world; he’s mentored a handful of successful proteges—Volent among them. 

She started off in his office as an intern after only one semester of business school.

“I didn’t know all of this nomenclature about finance. It was all mysterious to me,” she said.
Volent ended up working in that office for a few years. 

“I fell in love with finance and endowments,” Volent said.

Return to Bowdoin

Nineteen years after she was originally hired as a BCMA curatorial assistant, Volent returned to Bowdoin in July 2000 as the associate treasurer. 

“I really wanted to come back to Maine because I love the geography of Maine and the place,” Volent said. 

It’s been 15 years since Volent arrived at Bowdoin for the second time. Though her title changed to Vice President for Investments in 2002 and Senior Vice President for Investments in 2006, her responsibilites have remained largely the same. Volent is charged with managing the College’s endowment with the help of the entire endowment office and the College’s investment committee. 

Under her watch, the endowment has grown from about $465 million to $1.393 billion. Volent has seen the endowment through the dot com bubble and the recession and consistently posted returns above the national average. In Fiscal Year 2014, the endowment was named Endowment of the Year. 

Although the switch from art conservation to endowments may seem an about-face, Volent finds the jobs similar.

“People always say, ‘what a big switch you made from doing art history and art conservation to finance,’ and I really feel like the intellectual curiosity and sort of excitement every day in going into my job is similar,” she said.

Volent lives in Cape Elizabeth and makes the commute in to Brunswick. 

“I love Bowdoin. I’m very loyal to Bowdoin. I think it’s one of the very best places,” Volent said. “Working with Barry Mills has been one of the highlights of my life, and I think it’s going to be really exciting to work for Clayton.”

She’s seen the College through three presidents—Bob Edwards, Mills and now, Rose. 

“I think Bowdoin keeps getting improved,” Volent said. “When I first came to Bowdoin in 2000, especially on the investments side, people didn’t really know what Bowdoin was, and now we’re very well known. Barry did an amazing job. I think Clayton is going to bring the College to the next step for thinking about higher education in the future.”

Volent is still heavily involved in the arts. She’s on the advisory committee for the BCMA and the investment committee for the American Institute for Conservation. 

“I don’t do any art myself, really, because I don’t have time,” Volent said, “But I would like to slow down and get back into that. As an art conservator, you have to be proficient in studio art because you’re actually going to fill in damages on a work of art. At one point I did a lot of my own.” 

But for now, the endowment keeps Volent busy—she flies back and forth to Bowdoin’s satellite investment office in New York City weekly, and often travels across the country and around the globe for meetings with investment managers. 

“Being in investments is really interesting. One day you’re thinking about what’s going on in China and the next about global politics, and the next minute you’re diving deep into the balance sheet of a company,” Volent said. “I’m really always looking for the best investments for Bowdoin so we can support financial aid and grow the endowment.”