What attracted you to UT?
UT bears the name of the city of Toledo. We’re linked in perpetuity and we have an obligation to help not just UT get ahead, but to move the entire region forward. As an urban planner by training, I see the possibility of thousands of connections between UT and different parts of the community.
There are very few schools that can compete with the breadth of academic programs that exist at The University of Toledo. And the more diverse the academic disciplines, the greater are the possibilities to advance education, health care, culture, and economic development.
You’ve been UT’s president for a month now. What’s your experience been like so far?
Sharon Gaber: It’s been incredibly exciting and busy. Since March when I was first named, I was able to make the trip to UT a couple of days every few weeks. So when I started on July 1, I felt like I had an initial foundation already established in Toledo. I was somewhat settled at home; I knew small parts of city, I knew where to go get groceries.
A lot of the first few months is meeting all of the people critical to Toledo’s and UT’s success. I’ve been able to engage with faculty and with the Health Science Campus. I’ve met with faculty leaders and student leaders.
Outside of UT, I’ve been able to meet with the mayor, I’ve spent time in Columbus meeting with state officials and I just returned from meeting with our federal leaders in Washington, D.C.
As president I sit on the boards of the Toledo Regional Chamber of Commerce and the Regional Growth Partnership and I’ve been able to engage with both organizations and other members of the business community in conversations about how UT can help advance economic development across the entire region.
What are your priorities as president?
This is an area the Board of Trustees and I spoke about during the interview process and very soon again after I was named. We’re still in the beginning stages of mapping out how we reach our goals, but I do know where I’d like to lead UT.
We’re going to:
1.) Increase enrollment and retention of students at UT and make sure they graduate.
2.) Increase externally funded research and research expenditures, including the recruitment of top-tier faculty to UT.
3.) We’re going to dramatically increase our philanthropic efforts, including a program to encourage all alumni to donate, even if it is $5 or $10 a year. The percentage of alumni who donate to their alma mater is one of the ways U.S. News and World Report ranks colleges. If every alumnus donated what they can manage each year, UT would instantly rise in the rankings.
4.) We’re going to reduce administrative costs. For example, I just merged the External Affairs division into the Advancement division with a single vice president. And I know there are other opportunities for savings we’ll be able to announce in the coming months.
As we achieve each of these goals individually, they will collectively increase UT’s national stature and move The University of Toledo toward greater national prominence.
How do you plan on engaging with the Rocket Nation?
At The University of Arkansas I was proud of my reputation for being out and about on campus. I think it’s critically important for University leaders to get outside of the bubble you can sometimes find yourself in with back-to-back administrative meetings. This campus is the professional home of thousands of really intelligent people. I want to speak with them regularly to make sure the University is headed in the right direction.
When I was in Washington, D.C., I attended a gathering of the local alumni chapter. I also had breakfast with students who had summer internships in the nation’s capital. I’m excited to meet with proud Rockets at similar functions all across the nation. I’ve already had several hundred people over to the presidential residence as we begin the process of identifying compelling ideas for UT supporters and philanthropists to help advance UT.
I also now have a Twitter account for the first time in my life. Follow me at the handle @UTPresident. My own children have sold me on social media to stay engaged, particularly with students — and they’ll be the first to tell me if I’m falling behind.
How will you help students succeed at UT?
Student success comes from a number of different pieces fitting together. We need to make sure students are able to access higher education financially. Tuition is frozen for the next two years, representing the 4th and and 5th years since 2007 that UT has frozen tuition. Much of the fundraising in the coming years also will focus on increasing scholarship money available for students.
Additionally, we need to recruit students prepared for a college curriculum. One of the first meetings I had at UT on my first day was with UT success coaches. Success coaches’ work alongside academic advisors to ensure students are getting the assistance they need before a problem becomes an academic crisis. This fall we will identify a director of retention whose job will be to coordinate and champion our student retention efforts.
We also need to continue to advance our online education experiences and the customized degrees we offer that provide college credit for professional experience. More and more of our students are non-traditional — meaning they’re not coming straight out of high school — and we must always be working to adapt to meet their needs.
And while joining student organizations and getting involved on campus also play key roles, the last thing I’ll mention is that student success is the result of great faculty. In the same way we’ll be raising money for scholarships, I’ve called on all of the college deans to look to fundraising to help recruit and retain outstanding faculty and researchers. These are the people that provide our graduates transformative experiences to prepare them for their careers after UT.
Have you noticed that the University of Arkansas is on the football schedule this fall?
You know, that did happen to catch my attention. I had the chance to speak with Coach Matt Campbell recently and I have no doubt the Rockets will be ready for the Razorbacks.
But something else I have witnessed in the short time I’ve been at UT is the prominent role academics play in the UT Athletic Department. As we’ve seen across the nation at other schools, that’s not always the case. Congratulations and bravo to all of UT’s student-athletes, coaches and to Athletic Director Michael O’Brien and his administrative staff for success in the classroom to match success on the field.
Is there anything else you’d like to add?
If you see me on campus or in the community, please don’t be shy about saying hello. Toledo has been a wonderful experience for me and the people are far and away the best part. This has been an easy and positive transition because of how kind everyone has been.