The very first thing a new acquaintance learns about Huntington University’s new president, Sherilyn Emberton, is that she’s not from around here.
You can probably tell, she joked in a soft Southern drawl.
Emberton, who was born in Irving, Texas, started as Huntington University’s 13th president on June 1. She has an extensive background in higher education and has developed a reputation among her colleagues as an innovator.
She also happens to be the first woman to fill the position in the university’s 116-year history.
Because women outnumber men in college attendance, Emberton said that trend should be reflected in administrative roles as well, but it hasn’t.
A report by the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities in 2009 reflected that.
While the percentage of female presidents in U.S. colleges and universities has increased since the 1990s to 23 percent, only 5 percent of 111 CCCU presidents are female, the report said.
Men may outnumber women in administrative roles, but it’s an arena where women have generally done well, said IPFW Chancellor Vicky Carwein, one of only two women to ever hold the position there.
She cited women who hold high-ranking positions at Ivy League and Big Ten universities.
I’m obviously very pleased and very happy for her, Carwein said.
Emberton and other administrative officials at Huntington University are quick to point out that, although she’s the school’s first female president, women already hold key roles at the university, including Kelly Savage, chairwoman of the board of trustees, and Ann McPherron, senior vice president for strategy and graduate/adult programs.
Dr. Emberton coming in kind of completes a nice lineup, said Jeff Berggren, the university’s senior vice president for enrollment management and marketing. They’re all there for good reasons other than gender.
Emberton replaced G. Blair Dowden, who retired in May after serving as the university’s president for 22 years. Before coming to Huntington, Emberton spent three years as provost and vice president for academic affairs at East Texas Baptist University in Marshall, Texas.
After receiving her doctorate in education from Texas A&M University-Commerce in the late 1990s, Emberton started working at LeTourneau University as director of teaching education. She went on to become dean, then associate vice president for academic affairs.
After LeTourneau, Emberton moved on to Lincoln Memorial University in east Tennessee, where she worked across multistate campuses on new initiatives before taking her position at East Texas Baptist University in 2010.
Emberton helped start four graduate programs at East Texas, which initially had none. She communicated well with various groups and successfully worked to bring them together, said Samuel Dub Oliver, president of East Texas Baptist University.
At East Texas Baptist, Emberton was an excellent strategist with a winsome personality, Oliver said, able to accomplish day-to-day administrative tasks while pushing out larger initiatives. She was the first woman to serve as provost at the university, Oliver said.
She’s the type of person who can handle that with ease, Oliver said. She’s just someone who wants to get in and serve faithfully.
Emberton followed Oliver, who is in his first presidency, closely. While in her position, she decided to participate in a program consisting of 12 public and 12 private school provosts to see whether she had presidential potential.
Through the program, she got the opportunity to apply to Huntington.
It was just a right fit, she said.
Emberton is adjusting well to life in Indiana. She brought along her terrier, Buddy, although she’s slightly afraid he’ll get lost in a snowdrift when winter comes. She thinks the scenery is beautiful, and she’s discovered that sugar cream pie is everything everyone says it is.
Plus, she loves basketball. In fact, before she got into higher education administration, Emberton spent some time as a high school basketball coach.
In her first month as president, Emberton is working on a couple of priorities, including the creation of a new campus in Peoria, Ariz., and a partnership with Parkview Health to create masters and doctoral occupational therapy programs.
Her varied background brings a unique perspective to Huntington, Berggren said. And having an enthusiastic, high-energy personality doesn’t hurt, either.
You can kind of tell that things are going to get done, he said.