Photo by Duane Tinkey
Photo by Duane Tinkey

Is it a bit intimidating to succeed Gov. Terry Branstad in this position?

Well, of course it is, because those are big shoes to fill. And it’s an honor to be able to serve this institution and to know that I’m coming behind someone who is so well-known in this community. It’s been fun, because I’ve had an opportunity for him to introduce me to the community in a way that a new president in another setting probably would not have had.

How did you decide on higher education as a career?

I decided to major in psychology because I had a real interest in working with special-needs kids. I saw myself becoming a clinical psychologist and putting my shingle up to practice. Along the way, though, as I was finishing up my Ph.D. at Emory, I heard of this medical school in Atlanta that had only been in existence for a few years. ... So I thought, OK, this is perfect; I’ll be able to start my practice by building referrals, and also to teach. So I began as an assistant professor in psychology and behavioral sciences at Morehouse School of Medicine, right out of graduate school.

What opportunities came out of that?

Once you’re in a small school like that, you have an opportunity to do a lot. So 20 years later, I was vice dean for the medical school, and I was associate vice president for academic and student affairs.

What took you to Nashville?

One of my former students actually was tapped to be president of Meharry Medical College. He invited me to come join him to be his executive vice president and provost. ... So it was very deliberate in terms of preparing myself to move in this direction; I took several leadership training programs. Having the second-in-command spot was sort of the finishing touches on that because I got to do all the (administrative roles) I hadn’t done before.

What do you enjoy the most about being an administrator?

Being in a role like this has an impact that is long-lasting, to be able to shape the next generation of leaders and educators. The fact that this is an academic health center, I feel even more satisfied that I can be in a position of leadership to shape the next generation of health-care providers.

Does your training as a psychologist come in handy?

I was called the VOR – the voice of reason – often in my previous roles. I think I have a big-picture view, and I can also focus on the details, which is a skill set that I think any administrator should have. Having sat in most of the seats in an academic institution, it puts me in a better position to support those units.

Is funding a concern for DMU?

DMU is healthy financially, and that was really good for me to see as a person looking at this opportunity; there are so many institutions that are struggling. There is always a challenge in terms of having enough funds to support the students in scholarship dollars. ... At the same time, I’m going to focus a lot of attention on growing additional, new revenue streams, whether it’s additional external support for research or growing the endowment, which is what every institution should focus on.

Other things on your plate this year?

I come in during a year when we have an accreditation visit; that will be in January 2012. ... I’m pleased with the progress that’s been made there. ... We also will have an opportunity this summer to begin another strategic planning process. I think we have a golden opportunity here now; we need to take a hard look at who we are as an institution. The inauguration will be Sept. 24, and I hope to be able to talk about the vision for the future in the inaugural address.