When hundreds of students participated in Campus Cleanup Day March 16, they had no idea Sherilyn Emberton, Ed.D., was on campus. She had just wrapped up another interview in Fort Wayne for the vacant presidency job at the university and decided to visit the campus alone.
“I walked around and took pictures like crazy,” Emberton said. “I remember thinking ‘This is the most beautiful place.’ I tried to act like a prospective parent. I don’t know if I fooled anyone or not.”
Five months later, she was passing out ice cream bars at the mud volleyball event hosted by the Student Activities Board Sept. 8. Students talked with her, snagged a picture with her and some even invited her to play croquet at their apartment in Forester Village.
She’s no longer a “prospective parent.”
The board of trustees unanimously named Emberton as the 13th president April 26. She replaced G. Blair Dowden, Ed.D., after he announced his retirement October 2012 after 22 years as president. She is the first female president in the institution’s history.
She previously served as provost and vice president for academic affairs at East Texas Baptist University in Marshall, Texas. Before that, she was provost and vice president of academic affairs at Lincoln Memorial University in Harrogate, Tenn.
Emberton’s term began June 1.
After taking office, she helped organize work weeks for faculty and staff to prepare the university for the fall semester.
“We were waiting for our financial year to end to see what we would have to get the campus ready,” she said. “We were able to do some things financially to freshen up some things, fix some things. Sometimes they’re not even seen things.”
Emberton said 100 people helped during the summer.
“My desire is to let everybody understand that the physical beauty of this campus is important,” she said. “It’s probably one of our top marketing tools.”
Emberton’s job also began with the school still dealing with the $1.5 million budget deficit revealed in 2011.
“Every institution is facing this right now,” she said. “We need to continue to work hard on a financial business model for the university that helps us be sustainable. We have to make our money go further, we have to be good stewards of the money we have, and we have to give students the best bang for their buck. It’s important that we look at [the university] and understand that it is a service, and it’s also a business.”
Emberton said fixing the deficit is “not rocket science.”
“You spend less than you take in,” she said. “That’s how you do it. We have to learn to do that. We need to create some new revenue streams. We are a not-for-profit institution, but we’re not for loss either.”
Emberton said there weren’t funds set aside for her inauguration Oct. 4 so she had to “find donors.”
“I’m not going to take it out of the operating [budget],” she said. “I don’t want to do that … I just want to be a good steward of our resources. It’s important to me. If we have money left over, we’ll spend it on the students.”
The board of trustees also approved of a satellite campus in Peoria, Ariz. when Emberton was announced. She recently visited Peoria and has “spent a lot of time on that.”
“As we move forward on that, whatever model we choose to do, if we choose to go to Peoria, will be one that makes financial sense,” she said.
The university plans to open the campus for the 2014-2015 school year.
“It’s one of those things that is an unreal opportunity so there is always risk with opportunity,” she said. “You don’t get opportunity very often, so I think that is the urgency that drives us.”
Emberton said they have “scaled [the Peoria plans] back tremendously.”
“The urgency … was really due to needing to let the city of Peoria know and get a nod from the university that we are serious about continuing the dialogue,” she said. “That was the rush to get that solidified.”
Besides the formal inauguration, students are planning their own presidential inauguration for her Oct. 3.
“That was very important to me,” she said. “I wanted something that was theirs. It’s something they can look back years ago and say ‘We did that. That was ours.’”
A selected group of students are planning the service. It will be at College Park Church and for chapel credit.
“It’s your inauguration,” she said, “how you want it to be.”
Emberton said she wants to expand the graduate program to encourage students to stay with the university after they complete their undergraduate degree.
“We’re talking about how to create four plus one programs where students can stay,” she said. “There’s a lot of [students] who want to stay with us and get their masters, but we don’t have anything.”
Emberton said that she loves students and wants every decision the administration makes to reflect that.
“I want it to be very clear that when we make a policy … it benefits our students,” she said. “Whatever it is, I want them to feel content here, that they have a part here and that they matter. I want to make sure they know that … My desire is not to change a lot of things. My desire is to make things better.”
Click here for a Q&A with Emberton.