ROLLA, Mo. – In the midst of one university in the state apparently doing everything wrong, Cheryl Schrader, the chancellor of the Missouri University of Science and Technology (S&T), seems to be doing everything right.
While Missouri’s flagship campus has seen protests by students, athletes, and faculty; dealt with resignations by the head of the university and the system; and has achieved national attention for the continuing tumult surrounding the college, Missouri S&T has flourished under Schrader’s leadership with a concrete focus on diversity, inclusiveness and an ability to work with both the private sector and the General Assembly.
Schrader became the 21st chancellor at S&T in the spring of 2012 after working in private and public universities around the country, and has worked in the private sector as an engineer. She came directly from Boise State University and acted as an associate vice president and provost within the administration. Before that she worked at Rice University as an adjunct professor, and became a tenured professor of electrical engineering at the University of Texas – San Antonio, while also getting her first taste of administrative work.
Her first thoughts of entering academia were fostered during her undergraduate and graduate studies and Valparaiso University and Notre Dame University, respectively. A professor of hers suggested she would be a good professor.
“He saw something in me that he saw in himself and that just opened a world of opportunities for me,” she says. “I had not considered that likely because I had never seen a female engineering professor.”
When Missouri S&T began hiring, she jumped at the opportunity. With decades working in academia and having spent the last 10 years in the echelons of the Boise State administration, she knew she had the chops for the job, but her experience as an engineer and in engineering education made a school renowned for its engineering school a natural fit.
“Missouri S&T has quite a legacy and at the time I came nearly four years ago, the university was really poised to move to the next level,” she says. “There was a lot of momentum built up and I thought I could bring value with me. It was attractive to me because of the reputation of the institution, because of the opportunities and frankly this is just the type of institution that can and will thrive even with the challenges that are facing higher education today.”
While many of those problems include student debt related to a higher cost of education and an increase in campus activism, Schrader sees different problems as well, like fulfilling a job market that has turned hungry for skilled workers, especially in the fields of science, technology, engineering and math (STEM), in midst of recovery from the Great Recession.
“By 2022, there will be 161,000 STEM jobs to fill and that’s due both to job growth and also an aging workforce. That’s a real challenge,” she says. “The real key to meeting that increased demand for STEM skilled employees is education.”
Schrader went on to add that of those 161,000 STEM jobs, over 125,000 of those will require a bachelor’s degree or higher.
“They’re looking to us, so we’re trying to work as hard as we can to continue to produce that top quality graduate that people have come to expect from us while also providing additional access and trying to grow to help meet the state’s needs,” she said.
To fill that demand, the university has become both more popular and more diverse in recent years. For Schrader, being a woman brought a new perspective to a campus that last decade had a male to female student ratio of five to one. She is also the first ever female chancellor of the university.
“I’ve been in male-dominated industry and institutions all my life, I kind of know what it’s like to be the person in class who doesn’t quite fit in,” she says. “So I can relate to the students, the staff, the faculty who may also come from underrepresented groups. There’s quite a large number of groups that are underrepresented in one way or another, so I do think it gives me an understanding and the insight in how to look for barriers so we can remove them.”
Since 2000, enrollment at S&T has doubled in the past 15 years from 4500 to 8900 in the Fall of 2015, Schrader says they have “essentially added another campus at Rolla.” In addition to that increase, the university is getting more diverse. S&T currently has over 2000 women on campus, a five percent growth this year over last year, and women now make up nearly a quarter of the students on campus. Since Schrader has taken over, the number of women faculty has increased 19 percent, and she, along with the administration, have actively tripled the number of women who are department chairs.
The university has also garnered an eight percent growth in minorities from last year as well, with a record number of Asian-Americans, multiracial people and Hispanics attending the university.
However, she is not interested in diversity for the sake of diversity. To her, it’s about hearing all ideas and finding what idea or ideas merit the best course of action.
“The power of diversity overall is when you bring people together who have different perspectives, you very often come up with much stronger solutions,” she said.
One example of that diversity came last November in the middle of protests at the University of Missouri that received international media attention and called into question the ability of leaders at that school to both maintain order and provide for the needs, demands and requests of their students. As the debate reached its climax in Columbia, Schrader reached out to African-American students at her university. They requested to have lunch, she granted that request and she says they had a “fruitful” discussion about the status of African-Americans on campus.
Although Schrader stressed that she did not want to second guess the actions of the administration at Mizzou given the difficulty of the situation, she found reaching out to students something important. She also personally connected with constituents at that time and made sure students, staff and faculty were all aware of the progress the university had made on diversity in recent months. Beyond just that crisis, the school has created more outreach programs to underrepresented minorities, created a chief diversity officer that reports directly to the chancellor and has made inclusion a core value of the institution.
“[One] thing that’s important is communication and being very sensitive in the ways in which you communicate,” she says. “So understanding, from the perspective of the people you are trying to reach.”