‘Building Bridges to a Vibrant Future’

The Wichitan

A speech delivered by Suzanne Shipley, the 11th president of Midwestern State University, on her inauguration, Dec. 11, 2015.

Suzanne Shipley gives her presidential address at her Inaguration as the 11th MWSU president. Photo by Rachel Johnson
Suzanne Shipley gives her presidential address at her inaguration as the 11th MWSU president. Photo by Rachel Johnson

As I luxuriate in the pomp and circumstance of this presidential inauguration…the uplifting music, heartfelt remarks and lovely flowers…I think of the good fortune that has brought me here today.

Until now, half of my life has been spent in Texas—growing up in Lubbock, being educated at Texas Tech and at the University of Texas, and making frequent trips here to visit my family. So although the last thirty years have taken me to other cities, states, and countries, my Texas roots have remained strong.

The warmth of the welcome Randy and I have received from staff, faculty and students has truly made coming to MSU a homecoming, even though the campus is new to me.

We owe a big thank-you to so many of you: To the folks who helped us make the Sikes House into our true home…to the wonderful students who hoisted these old-lady hips onto the top of the fourth quarter pyramid…and to our remarkable academic deans, with whom we are working on developing new directions for the future of our campus.

These experiences and others like them have reminded me that my Texas family, my education, the openness and friendliness of the people, the grandeur of our state’s natural beauty, have all contributed to making me make me the person I am today.

You could say I’m a living example of the proclamation by actress Janine Turner: “You can take the girl out of Texas, but not the Texas out of the girl.”

So it is a great honor for me to have the opportunity to return to serve as president of the only public liberal arts university in the state. Thank you all so very much for this privilege. I pledge to you my best effort at all times and my complete dedication to the task ahead.

My re-entry into Texas and into this new job has been fast and furious. But there is nothing more stimulating than meeting new colleagues and a new community, and taking on the challenge of crafting and implementing plans to lead a great institution into a vibrant future.

My first priority on arriving here was to collect information, to listen and to learn all I could about MSU and how it is regarded by the community, on campus and off. These tasks involved consultations with and surveys of everyone from faculty and staff, to students, alumni, board members and community leaders.

What emerged was a picture of an institution that is proud of its past –and also eager to lean into the fast-moving and changing future that is Wichita Falls, the state of Texas and the global community which already touches all of our lives in ways we may not even be able to articulate.

MSU has a record of proven success in this respect. To verify this, we only have to look at the accomplishments of some of our former students.

Take the example of Ashley Burson, a 2002 graduate in Sociology and Psychology who subsequently completed a Master’s Degree in Public Health at the University of Michigan. Her work took her to African countries such as The Gambia, West Africa, where she served as a Peace Corp volunteer evaluating the needs of orphans and vulnerable children.

Or consider how Andy Kocher, a student in the 1980’s, created a lifetime career out of a project he and two others developed in a class on entrepreneurial business. Thirty years later, he is the proud owner of the successful Star Brite Cleaners, which is franchising dry cleaning businesses throughout the state of Texas.

We are justifiably proud of their achievements. Now the challenge is to build on and amplify them by anticipating the challenges that MSU faces in its second century.

As the only university in Texas that is a member of the Council of Public Liberal Arts Colleges, MSU is in a unique position to prepare Texas students for meaningful and productive roles in the years ahead.

We believe that the liberal arts constitute a firm and necessary foundation for all of our graduates. These graduates are entering a world where the quality of personal relationships with diverse colleagues and communities can determine success or failure. As recent campus incidents across the country remind us, it takes conscious steps to ensure that values such as mutual respect, civility, cooperation and social justice are safeguarded. We are a community committed to inclusion and will dedicate the needed resources and efforts toward that end.

The lessons of the humanities and social sciences, of science and math, of all the liberal arts…help to form engineers and nurses, accountants and computer scientists, journalists and politicians who…are capable of succeeding in a diverse environment…and also are thoughtful, flexible, creative… and skilled at the work they have chosen. In a world in which the knowledge base can explode overnight, we have a significant role to play.

Seven short years from now, in 2022, MSU will celebrate 100 years of service to the people of Texas. But we need to start now, to think and plan strategically to meet the challenges of our next century.

As I studied the results of our information-gathering to develop a strategic plan, it struck me that one way to look at our immediate challenge is to view it as building a bridge that will connect us to the vibrant future that we all want and envision for MSU.

Bridges are engineering marvels that lift us above turbulent waters or difficult terrain. They link one place to another, one person to their neighbor. We have described ourselves as a family, a team, a community that depends on connections. To build our bridge to the next century, we will work together to pursue several priorities:

First, we will continue to promote a strong university community—one that attracts, retains and rewards top-quality faculty and staff who are committed to excellence. Creation of a marketing and branding program, along with benchmarks for success in our liberal arts mission, are additional key elements of this effort.

Second, MSU will reinforce its capacity to serve the state of Texas by aggressively increasing learning options that will attract new student populations. Aiming for the addition of 2,000 new students by the fall, 2022 semester, we will recommend creation of a campus site for working adults in northwest Fort Worth. We will also market our hybrid and online learning programs, and seek classification as a Hispanic-Serving Institution—increasing our access to resources and ability to offer families and students strong support.

Third, we will build on our well-established reputation for serving students seeking a full-time, residential liberal arts experience. This will include strengthening our student support system to ensure students remain in school, as well as developing a first-year signature experience and expanding opportunities for global learning at home and abroad.

Fourth, MSU will amplify its engagement with the Wichita Falls community—including Sheppard Air Force Base and the area’s public schools and community colleges. We want to play a key role in providing an educated workforce, stimulating economic development and serving as a leader in shaping the city’s future. Our plans also include developing premier programming in academics, the arts, and athletics for a wide range of stakeholders.

Finally, to provide a strong base for accomplishing these four major priorities, we will work intensively, both with the legislature and with current and new donors…to ensure that we secure the necessary infrastructure…while striving to keep the cost of a MSU education affordable.

When my career took me out of Texas, I had no idea where the succeeding years would take me.

What I did know, instinctively, was that my roots in Texas and its educational system would serve me well, wherever my path led. Now that I’ve come back, my personal dream is for us to offer the same opportunity to all of our students…to make them global citizens, flexible enough to succeed wherever they go, in any endeavor they choose.

As our former governor Rick Perry once said: “The foundation for future prosperity is built on the bedrock of good jobs and great schools. We are building a strong foundation one job at a time and one educated Texan at a time.”

Yes, it’s an ambitious task we are taking on: Constructing a bridge to a successful and prosperous–yet unpredictable—future. I am both honored and humbled that you have asked me to contribute to this effort. But I know it is the right one, and I know that working together, we can do it.