Journal-News Q&A: New Wright State president looks toward the future, new era


Wright State University president Cheryl B. Schrader at her desk in her office in University Hall.

Q: What’s your first month on the job been like?

Schrader: The first month brought some amazing facts every day – on how integral Wright State is to this community, on the educational opportunities and access it provides, and on the tremendous research being done in partnership with many other institutions – academic, business and military. It’s been wonderful to get up to go to work every day and figure out how to move the university forward.

Q: Wright State was recently named one of the best schools in the Midwest in a survey – thoughts?

A: I think sometimes Wright State might be a well-kept secret, so having that opportunity to be recognized nationally and across the state is important. Sometimes, we don’t understand the gem we have in our own back yard.

Q: Regarding the university’s budget problems, what have you heard from faculty, students and staff about their concerns?

A: I’ve been in meetings with faculty, staff, students, alumni, business and academic leaders from across the region, and finances of course have been part of the conversation. Great care has been taken not to impact the educational experience – tenure-track faculty were not involved in any of the layoff situations. And that’s our priority, to educate and improve the lives of our students.

Q: Can you gives us a snapshot on the finances?

A: We’re finalizing FY 2017, and things are looking very positive, with a much stronger FY 2018 than we anticipated. It’s good to know the measures we’ve taken had a great impact, and that helps people feel better about some of the decisions that had to be made. We’re looking at what we can continue to improve, and at where we can be more efficient and effective with the resources we have. We’re well on our way, due to a lot of good and hard work the last few months.

Q: Did you get the feeling when you got here that a lot of people expected you to pull a rabbit out of your hat and start working magic?

A: It surprised me, the intensity I was greeted with – “We’re really so glad you’re here!” It felt more intense than the typical new leader coming in. But the best part about it was finding how eager people are to work with you to make this institution all that it can be. So I hear: Yes, we want leadership we can rally around and work together with, and there’s an openness but also a willingness to work together as a team. And not just at the university, but around the community, as well. That takes off some pressure, too.

Q: At the very least, it’s better than people saying, “Hey, good luck with that.”

A: Correct … and as I mentioned, there’s already been a lot of good work from spring on to get us ready to move forward and find out what the university’s next 50 years will be like.

Q: Your learning curve has probably been pretty steep, especially regarding the relationship between Wright State and Wright-Patterson Air Force Base.

A: That relationship is a big part of what attracted me to the Dayton area. It taps into the founding of the university, the core of innovation with the Wright brothers, and also the research needs of the institution – it’s in the fabric of the university. I’ve had great opportunities to work with the military in past jobs, and had the chance to innovate and work with some national models, so we’re taking steps to build on that here – it’s tremendously important, with the work already occurring at Wright State Research Institute. The connections with the military and the Department of Defense are very active here.

Q: Back to finances, if we could – you mentioned things are looking better than expected; is it accurate to say that the worst is over?

A: I would say we’ve turned the corner, but there are still a lot of very important decisions to make, and you can imagine it will take more than 90 days to strategically put the right culture in place as we move forward. What I’m inheriting, though, is a financial situation better than what people would have expected out of FY 2017. The thing now will be to sit down and decide how to be very strategic about our resources and how to use them. How should we invest in those priorities and areas of excellence? This year we’ll complete our strategic planning and identify what Ohio needs Wright State to be for the next 50 years. We’ve had a short-term solution which now needs to become a sustainable business model. We’re much leaner now but it’s also time for us to lean in – we need to really embrace this business mindset to be able to deliver what the region needs.

Q: Along those lines, what would you like the community to look to Wright State for? The trend has seemed to be that many things were asked of the university and some went well, and others did not.

A: I think that’s a very good observation. Wright State has been very responsive to the needs of the region over the years, but perhaps we need to take a step back and determine what are the right areas of excellence, and focus on them.

Q: You seem to be suggesting that the university can’t really be all things to all people, so there will be a lot of interest in the things you choose to focus on.

A: I won’t be doing it in a vacuum — we’ll be planning with thousands of people, and not just on campus. It would be presumptuous of me at this point to state these areas when the team is still working on it. But you’re right that the university has been pretty good at adding things, but not so good at trimming things, so it’s hard to figure out what not to do. It can be freeing, though, when you have a shared strategic plan because it can help you say no to things and keep you from chasing shiny objects or things that are important but you’re not able to do well all at the same time. So it will be interesting to see — I have some sense of what those conversations may be, but I don’t want to say first what I think. There will be some tremendous ideas out there, and I don’t want to squash them.

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