Dr. Scott Gordon arrived on campus Sept. 16 for his first official day as SFA’s ninth president. Since then, he has been busy familiarizing himself with Nacogdoches and getting to know SFA’s students, faculty and staff, and community members.
He sat down with Sawdust and talked about the university, his family and his thoughts on higher education.
What drew you to SFA?
There are a host of reasons why I decided SFA was the perfect fit for me and why my wife, Sherri, and I agreed Nacogdoches was the ideal environment for us to live.
Definitely the people and the welcoming, friendly and supportive atmosphere played a major role. The university’s mission also aligns with my beliefs. As a first-generation college student, I understand the importance and difference a college education provides. It transforms not only the lives of students but also their families, communities and regions. I want to be involved in that.
What was your first impression of the campus?
As I was researching and preparing to apply for the position, I saw many photographs of the beautiful campus. After arriving for an interview and seeing the campus in person, there were so many details that stood out. It was immediately obvious the university has invested in the future. From the new and renovated buildings to the well-maintained grounds and facilities, every feature was immaculate. As I interacted with administrators, faculty, staff and students, I was thoroughly impressed. The hospitality was genuine, and I instantly felt at home.
Introduce us to your wife and children.
Sherri has worked for more than 20 years as a cardiac surgery nurse. We have four children in their 20s. Lauren is a graduate of the University of Southern Indiana. She is married and has a son, Adrian, who is 9 months old. Benjamin has worked in the construction industry for three years. He is attending Ivy Tech College in Indiana. Logan is a junior at Belmont University in Nashville, Tennessee. He is studying the music and entertainment business. Ryan is a sophomore at Carson Newman University in Tennessee and is studying chemistry and pre-med.
Part of leadership is being able to bring people together. When different opinions arise, how do you work toward resolution?
This is my favorite part of being in a leadership position, as my philosophy is to bring folks together who have a diversity of ideas, thoughts and opinions, and engage them in constructive discourse. It has been my experience that ideas and resolutions that result from convergence are much more solid than those made by an individual in isolation.
What do today’s students expect their education to include?
Students want something different. They want active-learning approaches. They want to learn by doing. This hands-on, multidisciplinary approach is key to solving real-world problems and preparing students for the workforce, graduate programs, etc. SFA offers a unique setting — small class sizes, a student-to-faculty ratio of 18:1, an environment that fosters mentorship by faculty members and networking with professionals. These factors provide the perfect foundation for meaningful student experiences. Moving forward, we will continue to grow these offerings.
What do you believe are the biggest challenges facing higher education?
There are many, and they are all big. Just to name a few, we have changing demographics in several areas of the country, where the number of high school graduates and enrollment in college are drastically declining. This has resulted in unprecedented competition among colleges and universities for traditional students. Additionally, the public perception of higher education has eroded with the recent admissions scandals, rising costs and student debt concerns.
Higher education also has seen its share of disruptors, including for-profit universities and a proliferation of online, low-cost or free higher education providers, such as Massive Open Online Courses and edX. Furthermore, in some states, community colleges are offering bachelor’s degrees that compete with the traditional Bachelor of Arts and Bachelor of Science programs offered through four-year universities. There also is a climate of increased regulatory and compliance mandates that result in the need for a larger administrative workforce and human resources staff members.
Some of these challenges present opportunities for SFA to expand its reach by offering more online programs, encouraging dual credit enrollment in rural areas, creating additional scholarships and growing our bachelor’s and master’s degree options across all six colleges.
How do you plan to interact and be involved with SFA students?
I will be hosting open forums for students to attend, such as Breakfast with the President, and I plan to regularly meet with student leaders. I also will be in attendance at athletic and fine arts events, which will put me in the company of students, thereby providing opportunities for us to network. My wife and I also enjoy evening walks on campus, and I hope students will feel free to stop me, say hello and chat.
What is your proudest career moment?
At the top of the list is being named president of SFA. It is an honor and privilege to serve this outstanding institution and work alongside its stakeholders as we become the model of the new American university — a nimble, entrepreneurial, student-focused, regional, comprehensive university.
How do you relax and recharge?
I like spending time with my family, long walks, and water and outdoor recreational activities. I also enjoy afternoon naps on the weekends once in a while.
What are the first initiatives you would like to take on as president?
While I have many ideas for initiatives, I want to first meet with as many stakeholders as possible and ask them, “What is working well? What is not working so well? What are some of your ideas to make SFA better?”
I want to avoid what I call the “wet-dog scenario,” where I shake off all my ideas, and then people run and duck for cover. Before I develop initiatives, I must get to know the campus community, the issues we face and the culture. Change for change’s sake is never good. I plan to be deliberate, consultative and collaborative in making change.
How do you view SFA’s relationship with the Nacogdoches community?
In my initial discussions with folks in the community, including business, industry and government leaders, I have received positive feedback on the relationship between SFA and the Nacogdoches community. I also have learned during these discussions that there are opportunities to enhance and expand these relationships, and I will be working with area leaders to form mutually beneficial partnerships to further the success of SFA and the region.
Is there a person who had an impact on you as a leader?
Although there are several people who shaped who I am — far too many to list individually — I can say for certain, my parents, Barbara and the late James Gordon, had the most influence on my life.
Name the last two things you read.
- “Change or Die: The Three Keys to Change at Work and in Life” by Alan Deutschman
- “Contagious: Why Things Catch On” by Jonah Berger
There will be myriad events and activities you can attend on and off campus. Where are we most likely to see you?
Do you own much purple?
- I have a ton of purple, and I now have a special purple blazer!
What is a bearkat?
- A mythical creature Lumberjacks overpower, capture and defeat.
Keep up with Dr. Gordon on Twitter by following @SFAPresGordon