Dr. Terisa Riley is excited about Fort Smith. Since it was announced Tuesday (April 16) that she was recommended as the next University of Arkansas at Fort Smith chancellor, she has been inundated with messages of support and congratulations.
“I am already so excited about being a part of the community,” Riley said in an interview with Talk Business & Politics. “I met and talked with so many people when I was there for my interview. It’s obvious Fort Smith is a very caring community.”
Dr. Donald Bobbitt, president of the UA System, announced Riley as his choice Tuesday. If approved by the University of Arkansas System Board, Riley will begin the job leading the institution with around 5,840 students and 914 faculty July 1. Former chancellor Dr. Paul Beran left Aug. 31 for a new job as executive director and CEO of the South Dakota Higher Education Board of Regents.
Riley, who will be the first female leader of the university and its preceding institutions, will have an annual salary of $290,000. Details of the official offer are expected to be released soon, according to Nate Hinkel, UA System director of communications. Beran, who served as chancellor for 12 years, was earning $224,910 when he left the position. Hinkel said it is uncertain when the UA Board will act on Bobbitt’s selection. The Board has a meeting set for May 22-23, and no special meeting has been scheduled to consider Bobbitt’s recommendation.
Riley, senior vice president for student affairs and university administration at Texas A&M University at Kingsville, was one of four candidates to visit UAFS as part of the search for a new chancellor. Riley’s transition into the UAFS chancellor position will involve meeting with people in the community and on campus.
“Part of the July 1 start is to have things up and running and be on the ground when students come back, faculty comes back and classes start,” Riley said. “I’m also wanting to meet with folks in the community. I have been very involved in my community, and I’m anxious to be a part of the Fort Smith community.”
Riley said she was able to spend extra time in Fort Smith during the interview process, noting the city has the perfect mix of being large enough to have all the amenities a person wants while being small enough to be known.
“Fort Smith is exactly the kind of community I want to be a part of,” she said. “I want to invite people to the campus. It is a public university. It belongs to the people.”
Riley grew up in Rolla, Mo., and vacationed in Arkansas several times as a child. She said she’s looking forward to all there is to do in Fort Smith and at UAFS.
“I always say, no matter what your passion, you can find it on campus. I love musical theater. I can go to that on campus. Right now we have an operetta here. Really, I like all theater.”
Riley is also a fan of fishing, reading, board games and spending time with family.
“It’s an easy life, nothing high maintenance. But I’m always up for new fun challenges,” she said.
Riley will move to Fort Smith with a couple of cats. Her four children have left the nest, and now is the time for her to focus on herself and moves she can make.
“I told (my children) this is the time I can look to do this. I told them all about Fort Smith after I came for the interview. I told them this is a place I can see myself. They immediately started looking it up. I was proud, they said they had checked out the chamber website,” she said.
Riley has four children — 21-year-old twins, a daughter who is 20 and an 18-year-old son, who is finishing his freshman year as a sports journalism degree at University of Missouri at Columbia. Her 20-year-old daughter is studying film at New York University. Her 21-year-old daughter will graduate from the University of Texas at Austin in May and attend graduate school at Harvard, while her 21-year-old son graduated from the University of Incarnate Word in San Antonio in December.
“I would say I have the four best children in the world, but I’m sure someone would argue that,” she said. “But the truth is they are phenomenal people. They are just fun to be with.”
During her April 4 campus visit, Riley said the university should consider a marketing and branding campaign that better tells the institution’s story and extends the messaging reach.
“You have to do that work together as a community. … What are the messages that are really showing the excellence of this place? How do we show that this is an institution of first choice and not just of convenience?” Riley said.
Letting potential students know that UAFS is an affordable institution that makes for a great investment in their future is another marketing goal, Riley said.
“It is really an exceptional institution of applied learning at an incredible cost,” she said. “I know firsthand how daunting it can seem to think about how to pay for an education. Lots of high school and even junior high students think it’s not affordable. We can show it is affordable, and that you can do it.”
Riley understands the importance of an affordable education.
“I had work really hard to pay to my way through college,” said Riley, who started college as a theater major. “I had to work, so I couldn’t go to rehearsals. It’s a little hard to be a theater major if you can’t be in any plays. I had to change my major to communications.”
Riley also wants to look at enrollment at the university and analyze where this is a capacity for growth.
“It’s more than just saying where you think there should be a need. You have to look at what where that growth can come. That is a top goal,” she said.