“Getting the role was a surprise but it was a good surprise,” said Susan Edwards, university provost and future university president. “It’s an honor.”
Transition and double duty as provost and president
According to Edwards, the transition into her new role as president has been seamless.
She was surprised when she was offered the position of president but with so many great projects and positive energy on campus right now, it was very easy for her to agree to this new position.
“Really, we haven’t missed a beat and that’s one of the reasons that it’s in some ways a lot easier to say yes to becoming the next president is that we have so many great things going right now,” said Edwards.
“That’s really why I was sort of driven to say yes, not because I ever wanted to be a president because I really did not want to be a president. I couldn’t bear someone slowing me down because we have so many great initiatives going right now like the retention initiative for our students.”
According to Edwards, the hardest part of handling both roles is making sure she’s not double-booked.
As busy as she is with all of her responsibilities, she’s handling them with a sense of humor and even joked that she’s not sleeping much.
Reconnecting with stakeholders
Wright State has many partners and stakeholders in the area. Many of those relationships had been somewhat neglected and relied on proximity rather than an active partnership, according to Edwards. Some of Wright State’s biggest local partners are Sinclair, Wright Patt Air Force Base and Reynolds and Reynolds.
“I think we actually have to be proactive and we have to be an emphasis on the active, in terms of making sure those relationships stay strong and grow,” said Edwards.
“The old ‘build it and they will come’ scenario is not true for higher education in this day and age anymore. We have to actually actively pursue opportunities for our students. Just like we have to actively pursue our students.”
There are more than 30,000 people working on the Air Force Base and over 30 percent of them are going to retire in the next five years.
Edwards plans to strengthen relationships with partners to prepare graduates for internships and jobs where companies have openings and learn what employers are looking for from new hirees.
“We need to be really active to reconnect with folks in the greater community because at the end of the day, our students need to have something that’s going to set them apart from others,” said Edwards.
“I want to give our students every advantage as they leave us to enter the workforce or graduate school or professional school or whatever they wish to do.”
While Edwards was provost, she worked heavily on diversity, inclusivity, and retention. Edwards plans to continue working on these topics during her presidency as well.
“[Retain The Nine] is one of my most favorite projects and you know why it’s one of my most favorite projects? Because it’s student-driven. If you think about when you came to campus, the community is everything. You want to belong. Everybody wants to belong somewhere,” said Edwards.
“Retain The Nine is really looking at a more inclusive campus where everyone feels as though they have a place and that to me underpins everything to me.”
She has worked closely with Retain The Nine to improve community and engagement from all students.
Edwards has been working to improve inclusivity for all diverse groups and all students, including students with disabilities, veteran and military populations, minority populations and LGBTQ populations.
“Retain The Nine is really focused on how do we provide support mechanisms for our minority students so that they feel welcome, supported and included. I want every student that comes to this campus to feel those same three things. They are supported to be successful, they are welcomed and they are included,” said Edwards.
Edwards wants to improve communication on campus.
She has started something she calls ‘Stump the Chump’ which entails walking around campus and attending classes.
This allows students and faculty to ask her any questions they have.
“It’s just an opportunity to be transparent and have communication because what’s really interesting is people don’t necessarily talk to you. They just tell you what they think you want to hear and I think having these ‘Stump the Chumps’ means that I’m hearing directly from faculty, staff and students rather than it coming through somebody else,” said Edwards. “So I’m hearing of issues when the issues are there to be heard about and I’m also dispelling rumor.”
Edwards plans to focus on recruitment, enrollment and retention in the university.
She also believes it’s time for Wright State to change the narrative and tell our story rather than allow others to tell the story for us.
Edwards wants to highlight the great things being done at Wright State rather than allow the negative narrative told by others to overshadow progress.
“There are probably a thousand projects that we could get going, but we’ve got to focus. We could do a shotgun approach and sort of scatter, but we’ve got to focus. I think the focus has to be on student success. It has to be on enrollment all the way through to graduation and how do we provide our students with the most exceptional academic experience while they’re here,” said Edwards.
“Hopefully [students] will realize that I am for them. These jobs are not about the title. They’re about the work. The only thing that matters to me is that Wright State benefits from it,” said Edwards.
According to Edwards, the two most common reasons that students leave college are that they don’t feel that they belong or they have personal or financial issues.
Her plans to create support systems to help students navigate and alleviate these problems.
Edwards was a first-generation college student so she understands and has experience with some of the confusion and stress that come with college.
“We have student success which has the tutoring services and advising and career services. This is seeing students more holistically because students are people first. How do we look after the people side? The new retention initiative is sort of around the people side. We kind of forget that, you know?” said Edwards. “We see you all as these bright young things that are coming indoors and sitting there and doing all your work and then disappearing but really you’re people and people have life. Life sometimes gets in the way and so how do we help you navigate through life? Retain The Nine is really a piece of that same initiative and I think we will expand on those initiatives as we move forward.”
Edwards is regretful that she won’t be in attendance for the December commencement as her son is graduating from another university on the same day. Edwards will begin overseeing events such as graduation starting May 2020.
“I want us to be known as a university that puts its students first, that values them as human beings and has the best academic experience that one can have. I keep coming back to that because that is foundationally what I truly want to be able to give to the students,” said Edwards.
Morale and pride
“I am sick of other people telling our story,” said Edwards. “I am really sick of hearing a negative story. It is time to change the narrative.”
“There are so many great things that go on here at this institution and it is overshadowed by dark clouds that people insist on bringing forward time after time after time. Enough. We need to shed light. We need to pull those clouds away and shed the light that this institution deserves,” said Edwards.
“If I can do that, then that will make me very happy. That is my biggest goal, to change the narrative because I believe we’ve allowed other people to tell the story long enough and it has not been a good story.”
Edwards has been working with faculty to create plans to improve student life for not only students who live on campus but also those who live just outside the campus.
“Always have a conversation, even if it’s a difficult conversation. Always be willing to have the conversation because people want to be heard and they want to know that you’ve actually listened. The only way we can move forward is by allowing people to be heard, listening and ensuring that we don’t repeat the errors of the past,” said Edwards.
Edwards plans to boost morale and communication between students, faculty and administration.
Edwards also plans to improve pride in alumni by challenging them to re-engage and get more actively involved with the Wright State community.
“My biggest challenge is probably going to be enrollment. I say that primarily because I still have a narrative I’ve got out there that I need to change. Enrollment season is now,” said Edwards.
Edwards also believes some of her other challenges will be the lack of publicity about recruitment and rebuilding trust.
Edwards will officially become President on Jan. 1, 2020.