Tuajuanda Jordan, 53, dean of arts and sciences at Lewis & Clark College in Portland, Ore., will become president of St. Mary’s College of Maryland on July 1. (St. Mary's College of Maryland)

A chemistry professor and academic dean from Oregon will become the next president of St. Mary’s College of Maryland, officials announced Wednesday, filling a vacancy that arose suddenly after the public liberal arts school disclosed a major enrollment shortfall.

Tuajuanda Jordan, dean of arts and sciences at Lewis and Clark College in Portland, Ore., will take over at St. Mary’s on July 1. She succeeds Joseph R. Urgo, who left abruptly last year after two straight disappointing recruiting cycles caused financial strains at the public college on the Southern Maryland waterfront.

Jordan, 53, will be the first African American president of St. Mary’s, joining the relatively few black women who lead colleges and universities.

Jordan edged out two other finalists: Charles Caramello, an associate provost and dean of the graduate school at the University of Maryland, and Kim Mooney, provost at Franklin Pierce University in Rindge, N.H. All three made public visits to the campus this month.

Gail Harmon, chair of the St. Mary’s Board of Trustees, said that Jordan is “a superlative new leader” who will bring “added creativity and rigor” to the school. Harmon said the board, which approved the appointment March 15, was not looking for “wholesale change” at the college.

“We know who we are,” Harmon said, “and we believe that’s a successful model. But we are looking to make course corrections.” Raising enrollment at a time when many small colleges face recruiting difficulties, Harmon said, is a top issue.

Jordan — who was born in Charlottesville, grew up in Forestville in Prince George’s County and graduated from Suitland High School — is accustomed to breaking barriers in academia. Jordan said that after earning a bachelor’s degree in chemistry from Fisk University, she became the first African American woman to earn a doctorate in biochemistry from Purdue University. In 2011, she became the first African American dean of arts and sciences at Lewis and Clark, a private college of about 3,700 students.

Jordan previously was director of the Science Education Alliance of the Howard Hughes Medical Institute in Chevy Chase, Md.

After she starts at St. Mary’s, she said, she will spend the first several months “listening to people and their concerns.” She said the school seems to be “looking for someone who can be there awhile and lead them to the next level. The question becomes: What is that going to take?”

Building enrollment and the endowment, Jordan said, are key tasks. “Those are things we’re going to look at really carefully,” she said. “It seems to me that with the unique position of St. Mary’s, [the college] should be able to turn this around in short order.”

St. Mary’s, with fall enrollment of 1,859, depicts itself as an honors college with small class sizes and robust interaction between students and professors. Tuition and fees this year for Maryland residents are $14,865, which is higher than the price at state universities but lower than what private liberal-arts colleges charge.

The challenge for St. Mary’s is to grow enrollment while maintaining academic standards. Last fall, the school had 384 freshmen, its smallest entering class in 13 years. That was down from 419 the year before. In previous years, the school typically had about 450 freshmen.

Urgo, who had been hired in 2010, announced in June that he would not seek renewal of his contract. He faced some pressure from trustees, who had grown frustrated over the college’s budget and recruiting troubles.

Ian Newbould, interim president of St. Mary’s since last summer, has taken several steps to intensify recruiting. Harmon said she hopes that the school can return to about 2,000 students, a level it last reached in 2010.

Jordan will have a three-year contract. Harmon declined to disclose the salary because she said negotiations have not been concluded.