DBJ Executive Profile: Wright State president marks end of first year, says it’s ‘critical’ time for university


Wright State University President Cheryl B. Schrader.

Cheryl Schrader marks her first completed year as the seventh president of Wright State University.

In her first year, Schrader has spent considerable time cutting expenses and building up the university’s reserve fund. A surplus of over $7 million is expected at the end of this year, which will add to the reserves. But this comes after years of revenue declines — a combined $91.2 million loss in net revenue from 2013 to 2017, according to public records.

A recent economic impact study found Wright State adds $1.5 billion annually to the region’s economy and supports more than 20,000 jobs. It has about 17,000 students enrolled, and over 2,500 employees.

In her first year, Schrader also emphasized administrative transparency and campus conversation.

She has several previous administrative posts at universities. She is former chancellor at Missouri University of Science and Technology; associate vice president for strategic research initiatives, as well as dean of College of Engineering, at Boise State University; and associate dean for graduate studies and research of two colleges at University of Texas at San Antonio, among other positions at UT.

First job? I’ve had a number of memorable firsts. I got my first job with a paycheck as a papergirl beginning at age eight. The bag was so heavy it almost tipped me over. My first job as an engineer was with McDonnell Douglas Astronautics Company in Huntington Beach, California. My first tenure-track professor position was with The University of Texas at San Antonio.

Best piece of advice you ever got? The best leaders are those who are passionate about other peoples’ success.

If you were not involved in academia, what would you be doing? I have always wanted to be a leader at the National Science Foundation, which supports research and development and invests in people who transform the world economically and socially, with regard to quality of life. (Schrader has electrical engineering degrees from Valparaiso University (bachelor’s) and University of Notre Dame (master’s and PhD).)

What are the largest growth areas in education/workforce for prospective students entering adulthood to consider? There are too many to detail in one concise answer but … It’s clear there are growth areas in cyber security; industries related to health including those that serve rural populations and those afflicted by the ongoing opioid crisis; defense technologies that serve the government and many contractors in our area; and water quality. Where solutions are needed, jobs and income tend to flow.

I would be remiss if I did not also share that a liberal arts education is still unquestionably invaluable to today’s students and workforce. Liberal arts education should not be discounted because it does not tie as neatly back to a tech field or specific industry. Graduates with liberal arts degrees continue to be significant contributors to our region and the state and their influence touches virtually every industry today.

What are some projects upcoming for Wright State University? Wright State is in the midst of a critical strategic planning process that will shape the future of the university through 2025. Aimed at aligning university resources with shared vision and strategic priorities, the new and ongoing strategic planning process will create a plan that is measurable and helps guide practical day-to-day decisions and focus for the university. … We expect to take the strategic plan to the Wright State University Board of Trustees in October for approval.

What are the latest construction projects on campus that have recently completed/near completion? At the Lake Campus, the new Agriculture and Water Quality Center opened this February and the ongoing Extension Building project which will improve and expand space for both the nursing program and the library.

At the Dayton campus, the university is also re-investing in student life through the renovation of the second floor of the Student Union. The university … recently completed the Classroom Modernization project while work continues on the Laboratory Modernization project.

The university’s effort to relocate its Special Collections and Archives space is also ongoing through the Discover Your Story fundraising campaign. Currently housed in two separate library buildings, the campaign aims to relocate the home of the largest Wright Brothers Collection in the world, first-edition works by Dayton poet Paul Laurence Dunbar, and countless other Dayton and aviation historic treasures, into a new larger, enhanced facility.

What’s the best way for a company to do business with Wright State University? The Wright State Career Center is a valuable partner with both our returning employers and employers who are new to the university. Wright State takes pride in providing employers easy access to university talent and resources to help meet the recruitment needs of the employers we serve. … This includes internships and co-ops, service learning, philanthropy, and research and commercialization.

As employers strive to increase their visibility … on campus, Wright State is eager to help create the desired campus presence and provide the on-campus recruiting, career fairs, position postings, and connections with students and faculty. Faculty provide candidate recommendations and may be interested in connecting with employers to discuss case study development, research or special project ideas.

The Career Center is always open to new ideas suggested by employers and can be easily contacted at careercenter@wright.edu or 937-775-2556.

What’s the biggest hurdle facing institutions of higher education? The biggest hurdle facing higher education today involves a national conversation of the value of a college degree. This is why the state’s 14 four-year research universities have joined together in a campaign called Forward Ohio to highlight ways in which Ohio’s universities drive economic growth, enable student success, expand career and job opportunities, and improve society through research and scientific breakthroughs. … Students’ lives are enriched by raising their lifetime earnings. Getting people to see that higher education is an investment that pays widespread and perpetual dividends is important for us as a community, state and nation.

Last book you read? “The Wright Brothers” by David McCullough, and “Hillbilly Elegy” by J. D. Vance. Together they provide important insight into the people of this region and the grand potential I believe defines our future.

Favorite Dayton-area restaurant? Roost Modern Italian in the Oregon District.

Read the interview from the Dayton Business Journal (subscription required).

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