By: CHRISTINA CLARK
Susan Elrod is excited to come to IU South Bend for many reasons, but a few that stand out have to do with her love of the outdoors.
“This is an exciting part of Indiana, because of Michigan and Illinois. The lake right there,” Elrod said. “I’m a nature lover. I’m really looking forward to exploring the natural: the parks, the hiking trails, and I particularly love forests.”
Elrod, who takes her new position as IU South Bend’s Chancellor on July 1, finds IU South bend exciting too.
“I’m looking forward to understanding the university, its culture, its place in the community,” Elrod said. “Helping raise the visibility of the university in the community. Even in my initial visits to South Bend, there could be more IU South Bend propaganda around. I’m just looking forward to learning everything that the city and region has to offer as I become a part of the community.”
Until July 1, Elrod continues in her position at University of Wisconsin-Whitewater as provost and executive vice chancellor for academic affairs.
Her resume includes interim provost at California State University, Chico and dean of science and mathematics at Fresno State. She is also a leader in STEM (sciences, technology, engineering and mathematics) field.
“I am a scientist, so as a faculty member of teaching of all sorts of science, mostly around the topic of genetics. I worked in industry for a while before I became a professor, so I bought a lot of that industry, real world focus into my classes. Especially the upper division classes, but I taught a lot of introduction, intro to microbiology, for example,” Elrod said. “I was so excited about my field, like so many of the faculty here. But how could I get students excited about what I was teaching?”
She has served as Dean of the College of Science and Mathematics at California State University Fresno, where, according to her bio on the Association of American Colleges & Universities website, “She led initiatives at the university, state and national levels that focused on improving student success and faculty development in STEM disciplines, while enhancing support for research and expanding community and industry engagement.”
“Eventually I ended up working in Washington D.C. for the Association of American Colleges & Universities, and that was where I went to work on national initiatives on STEM higher education,” Elrod said. “I really got involved in not only programs at the National Science Foundation (NSF), but the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine.”
Her experience in Washington D.C. helped her understand how the government branches were thinking of what defined a graduate of STEM education.
“I worked on a number of initiatives from how to help students transfer into STEM majors better, how to help underrepresented minorities [in STEM] with university all over the country, but I missed being on campus,” Elrod said.
She has taken lessons from every institution she has worked with.
In 2014, she arrived at California State University, Chico, as interim provost and vice president for academic affairs. In a tumultuous time for the University, Elrod was included shortly after in a 2015 “no confidence” vote from the faculty of the administration.
“The Academic Senate at California State University at Chico also passed a resolution of no confidence regarding President Paul Zingg; Susan Elrod, interim vice provost; and Lori Hoffman, vice president for business and finance. ‘The executive leadership has failed to effectively manage the development and implementation of policies and personnel processes that concern the faculty and staff,’ the resolution said,” according to a December 15, 2015, piece on InsideHigherEd.com, “Faculty Vote No Confidence at Ithaca, Chico State,” by Colleen Flaherty.
Elrod acknowleged the time at the university was difficult. She came to Chico State when the President of the university asked her to serve as interim provost.
“What ended happening was there was just a lot of discontent, that may not be the right word, and as interim provost I worked really hard to create some stability. I worked closely with the faculty to hire four deens in eighteen months. I executed one of the largest faculty salary equity programs, but in the end I found a deficit in the academic affairs budget that was not previously revealed, so I think the faculty just were frustrated,” Elrod said.
“That’s just how it happened. I was trying to make apparent a situation that we needed to address, and that just came on the heels of a lot of other things that happened before I even got there.”
When the President announced his resignation, she went on the job market. She was offered the position as permanent provost in August 2015, but declined the appointment. She soon found herself at the University of Wisconsin, Whitewater, in her current position.
“That whole experience [Chico State] really reinforced in me some core values that I have always held, and I feel I’ve always operated under. Those values are transparency, honesty, trust building and to me, the leadership of a university, and I take seriously as incoming chancellor the responsibility to be transparent to work to build trust. Building trust is one thing, but maintaining it takes effort,” Elrod said.
Some of the largest initiatives that Elrod has worked with the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater with, that she hopes resonate with IU South Bend, is that of enrollment.
With the IU South Bend website touting that currently, the school has 5,214 students enrolled total, the number has fallen from its highest point in 2010 at 8,590, according to the Historical Student Enrollment at Indiana University report as part of the IU University Institutional Research and Reporting center.
“I’ve led strategic enrollment planning process at UWW, where we’ve looked at everything from outreach to potential students, our marketing and branding materials, our campus tours and recruiting activities,” Elrod said.
Elrod went on to explain that they also looked at how they were awarding aid, and how it effected nontraditional and transfer students, in addition to working with their Veterans programs. They also worked on retention.
“We can’t make assumptions of what goin on in your life, but we need to be able to know to be helpful, not only for your academic career, because of course that’s the primary reason students are here to get that credential, [but] there’s other things going on because you’re a human being, not just a brain,” Elrod said. “There’s probably a lot f things that are going on that are good, and even great [at IU South Bend], maybe we just need more of those things. I look forward to learning more about what is going on here and what I can do.”
Elrod’s warm personality, paired with her scientific background, bring her unique approach to the Office of the Chancellor.
“I’m a scientist by disciplinary training, I really like to use information and data to understand the situation and then use that to make data informed decisions. One part of my learning will be looking at as much data and information about the university and students as I can.”