As did at least two of the four University of Arkansas at Fort Smith chancellor candidates, Dr. Terisa Riley said the university should consider a marketing and branding campaign that better tells the institution’s story and extends the messaging reach.
Riley, senior vice president for student affairs and university administration at Texas A&M University at Kingsville, spoke Thursday (April 4) to UAFS students, faculty, staff and regional citizens. She was the last of four candidates to visit the campus as part of the search for a new chancellor. 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.
Dr. Marilyn Wells provost and senior vice president for academic affairs at Minnesota State University in Mankato, Minn., Dr. Robert Marley, provost and executive vice chancellor for academic affairs at Missouri University of Science and Technology in Rolla, Mo., and Dr. Philip Way is the provost and vice president for academic and student affairs at the Slippery Rock University of Pennsylvania, are the other candidates.
Riley and Way were named finalists in the search for a new chancellor for Indiana University South Bend Feb. 1 and met with representatives on that campus that month. Riley was also named a finalist in the search for a chancellor at the University of Hawaii at Hilo in November 2018 and at Missouri Western State University in St. Joseph, Mo., at the end of February.
In response to a question about how the relatively younger UAFS could avoid being in the shadows of larger, more well-known universities in the state, Riley said she has learned that UAFS has an exciting future. She said that message needs to be told to different audiences around the state and beyond.
“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.
She said a goal of a new marketing plan could be to increase the number of students who choose UAFS as their first choice instead of convenience. She said students are often the best ambassadors to sell the school.
Marketing UAFS as a first-choice university should explain to high school students that smaller regional universities can offer greater social mobility for students. Students who attend regional universities may not be from wealthy families, may have work and have other obligations. A nearby university gives them a chance for academic and personal advancement they may not get at more distant, larger schools.
Riley said a strength she would bring is in helping develop a “strategic enrollment plan” that boosts the number of students and student retention rates. She said retention at the Kingsville campus was once 51%, but after a “tremendous amount of research and work,” the rate rose to 72%.
“We’re not satisfied with that. We’re working to 80%,” she said, adding that no single issue or fix resulted in the retention improvement, but it took many different ideas and solutions.
Spending time to “listen actively” was part of Riley’s response when asked about what she would do in her first 90 days if hired. She said she would listen and learn from those at the university and in the metro communities to find “low-hanging fruit.” She said changes may not happen in the first 90 says, but new efforts could begin in that time.
“I have already met so many people who are really excited about this place … and there is so much to learn,” Riley told the crowd.
She also said it is presumptuous to talk about possible new degree programs. That would require input from faculty and regional business and civic leaders,
‘CIVIC AND CIVIL DISCUSSIONS’
On the issue of diversity, Riley said a basic policy promoting diversity is no good unless there is a focus on the university having an inclusive culture. Pursuing diversity is difficult if people don’t feel welcome once on campus. She also said it’s important for a university to create an atmosphere for “civic and civil discussions” among all stakeholders.
She also noted that UAFS is on track to qualify as an “Hispanic-serving institution.” When 25% of a university’s undergraduate population identifies as Hispanic, it becomes an HSI. Hispanic student enrollment at UAFS has grown from 9.7% in 2014 to 12.7% in 2018. Riley said becoming an HSI opens doors for more federal funding options.
On a question about skills training and workforce development, Riley said she would need to study more about what the university is doing and what is needed in the community before making adjustments – if any. However, she stressed that “soft skills” must be part of such programs because it’s important in any job to know how to think critically, and write and communicate verbally. She said there is more to a job than just the required technical skills.
Riley also said the job of a chancellor is to be a facilitator who puts “great people” with great ideas together and “let them get to work.” She said her passion is about being better and that often requires everyone to be able to give and receive honest feedback, no matter how uncomfortable it may be. Institutions doing that “in a healthy way” typically avoid mistakes and have more successful outcomes.
“If there is an elephant in the room, I like to pet it, ride on it, name it,” she said.