Priorities of YSU impress president finalist

By Harold Gwin

Cheryl J. Norton wants to be a part of YSU’s focus on students and community.

YOUNGSTOWN — Cheryl J. Norton finds compelling Youngstown State University’s vision and commitment to be the leader in community-education engagement.

It’s a university actually changing a community through education, and it was a key factor in her decision to apply for president here, she told about 90 people at an open community forum in Tod Hall on Thursday.

Norton, president of Southern Connecticut State University, is one of four finalists for the job being vacated by David C. Sweet, who retires June 30.

She is known for building strong community ties and partnerships during her time at Southern Connecticut, particularly with the business community.

Youngstown State is rich in history and strong in its roots with an unlimited potential for the future, she said. It is student-centered and community-focused, and she wants to be a part of that, she said.

Southern Connecticut is very similar to Youngstown in some respects, Norton said, pointing out that both are public state schools in an urban setting, and both are largely commuter campuses.

YSU has about 1,200 of its nearly 14,000 students living on campus. At Southern Connecticut, it’s about 2,700 out of 12,000 living on campus.

Commuter campuses are especially important because they allow people to increase their education while remaining in their home communities, and urban public education is important to the success of this country, Norton said. It is reaching out to people who didn’t know of the educational opportunities available to them, opportunities that can improve their lives and their community, she said.

Scott Schulick, president of the YSU Board of Trustees, said the board plans to name the university’s seventh president by mid-February.

Norton answered a number of questions posed by members of the forum audience. Some of the issues:

Experience with collective bargaining units: Employees weren’t organized at Metropolitan State College of Denver when she served as provost there from 1997 to 2004. However, there are six unionized employee groups at Southern Connecticut, and she found that there wasn’t a complementary relationship between the unions and the administration when she got there in 2004.

Norton said she made changes at the top in the human resources department that ensured everyone was being treated equally under the law and then began meeting on a regular basis with union leadership to build a feeling of trust and a solid working relationship.

“We have a very good working relationship with them now. We communicate,” she said, explaining that means talking even when there aren’t issues to be resolved.

Philanthropic development: Norton said she developed the proposals for the first major gift-giving campaign at Metropolitan State. The goal was set at $12 million, but the campaign netted $16.7 million, she said.

Southern never had a development office until eight years ago, she said, explaining that, in New England, people aren’t accustomed to giving to public universities.

“We had to start from scratch,” she said, noting the school launched its first gift-giving campaign under her watch, focusing on alumni as a prime source of support. Alumni donations jumped 53 percent, she said. The university made a concerted effort to let the community know what was happening on campus, and support grew as people became more aware of what Southern was doing, she said.

“It’s starting to snowball now as people see success,” she said, adding that the university is about to launch a major gift campaign.

Relationship with students: Norton said that, at heart, she is still faculty, and she loves to engage students, whether it be just walking around campus or attending athletic or other events.

“My job, as president, is to connect,” she said, and that means both on and off campus.

International studies: Students can’t be limited to campus and then be expected to compete globally, Norton said. The more they can be exposed to the international community and diversity, the better their education and the broader their experience will be, she said.

Southern Connecticut didn’t have the resources to launch its own international studies program but was able to link with an international exchange group that not only assists in bringing foreign students here but in sending Southern students abroad, she said.

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