In September 1969, alumnus and trustee E. Claiborne Robins donated $50 million to the University of Richmond with the goal of making the university one of the finest small universities in the nation.

Nearly 40 years later, Edward L. Ayers strives to sustain and further that goal.

Ayers, who is beginning his third year as president at Richmond, said he was excited for a promising year, one that has already made history. In addition to boasting the largest undergraduate class - the class of 2013 consists of 926 students - the school also set an all-time best record for alumni donations, Ayers said.

But Ayers said there was not much time for basking.

"My job is to leverage past success into future success," Ayers said. "Now, we need to keep this rapid progress going."

Last weekend Ayers was busy welcoming the first-year class to Richmond. He greeted first-year students, helped some move into their dorms and culminated the festivities with a picnic in his back yard for the entire class. Monday night he began teaching a 10-student freshman history course called "Mapping American History" in the basement of his house.

Ayers said he was not only pleased with the size of this year's class but also the diversity.

"The fact that we just doubled the students of color is a testament to how much progress we are making," Ayers said. "We want a school that is representative of America and now we have to grow into that aspiration."

But Ayers also said it was important to retain accepted students that did not decide to attend Richmond. Ayers said that a committee met Monday morning to discuss financial aid.

The construction on campus, Ayers said, was representative of his overlying goal for this year - to build the next stage of the university's life.

In addition to a 37,000-square-foot addition to the Robins School of Business - Queally Hall - other construction projects on campus include the Westhampton Center, an addition to the Westhampton College Deanery for women's programs; the Carole Weinstein International Center, to house the Office of International Education and programs focusing on global issues; and First Market Stadium, the new home of Richmond Spider football, which will open for the fall 2010 season.

Ayers also said he was excited to be working with a number of new members on his leadership staff. Among other hires this summer, Richmond named a new assistant vice president for communications; an interim dean of the Robins School of Business; an assistant vice president and dean of admission; a director of admission; an assistant vice president of foundation, corporate and government relations; a chaplain; and a vice president for business and finance.

Ayers said he wanted to use this year's success to make principles to his strategic plan more concrete. Ayers drafted the strategic plan in his first year to help answer the question, 'What does the University of Richmond want to be known for as we move forward?'

But above all, Ayers stressed that his most important goal for this year was to enhance student life.

"You have to honor the people that are with you," Ayers said. "How do we honor all of the students, and how do we make sure that we have a great experience for this larger class?"

Contact staff writer Nick Mider at