Introducing SCSU's new leader
Friday, September 28, 2007
It didn’t take long for Earl Potter to determine St. Cloud State University was right for him – and vice versa.
"The first day I liked the way it felt to be on this campus," said the university’s 22nd president. "Students I’ve talked to have told me the same thing – they’re excited about being here. That’s powerful affirmation that we’re making a difference by offering a fine education to a broad range of learners.
Many on campus and in the broader community have agreed Potter and SCSU are a good fit. His packed schedule these first few months indicates Potter intends to learn from as many of those individuals as he can. It’s a steep learning curve, "sort of like drinking water from a fire hose," he said.
Employees across campus have been buzzing about their shared experience of looking up to see Potter in their office, locking their names into his memory and asking them to tell him about what they do and how things could be better.
"President Potter is exactly what we need at this time – a breath of fresh air," said Presidential Search Advisory Committee and College of Education faculty member Christine Imbra, who was seeking the strong leader, seasoned academic and willing decision-maker she and others see in Potter. Committee members correctly perceived Potter to be an unusually intent listener with an impressive memory – an analytical leader who sifts carefully through evidence before sharing his conclusions.
"He assembles information very well, and he’s able to process things he hears from multiple corners and assimilate that information into a clearly articulated vision," said Bob White ’70, St. Cloud, president of the SCSU Foundation. "There’s no mistaking he’s leading."
President Potter understands the University shouldn’t be an island in the community, White said. "He’s working on a master plan, and a huge piece of that includes ways the University should be involved with a multitude of community stakeholders."
St. Cloud Mayor Dave Kleis ’89, who meets regularly with the new president, agrees Potter is a quick study and a bridge-builder. "I’ve been very impressed with his emphasis on the University being a greater partner with the city," he said. "He believes the University does well if the city does well, and the city does well if the University does well."
SCSU faculty member, Debra Leigh, a leader of the Community Anti-Racism Education Initiative (CARE) is impressed with Potter’s "sincerity and concern about the issues that he knew he would face – a person who genuinely cares about people."
Robert Lavenda, faculty member of the College of Social Sciences, values President Potter’s grasp of complex issues – "being prepared at all times for anything that might happen."
"It’s clear President Potter has hit the ground running with the community and with legislative affairs," said State Sen. Tarryl Clark, St. Cloud. "That will serve St. Cloud State well."
Potter’s education – predominantly in the discipline of psychology – no doubt helped build his listening and relationship-building habits. He also points to experiences that have influenced his character and his priorities. "There are a lot of bricks in this wall," said Potter, who grew up in North Kingstown, R.I. One of those "bricks" was his early experience with international study.
While an undergraduate student at Williams College, one summer Potter was one of six students chosen to teach English as a second language in Hong Kong. "They gave you a round-trip ticket to Hong Kong, but for $200 more you could go around the world," he said. It was 1967, and Potter traveled across Europe and Asia. The experience taught the young member of a centuries-old New England family that the importance of international education goes beyond things related to international affairs.
"It teaches, through experience, that you can make your way in different cultures," Potter said. "More importantly you learn that your own way of looking at the world is not the only way. It’s going beyond just acknowledging others are not the same; it’s about learning to look at the world you know from an entirely different perspective . . . an experience that humbles and lays the foundation of respect for all peoples."
That early life-altering experience still resonates as he considers the future of SCSU. "A lot has been done to make this a global community," he said. "This is really special about St. Cloud State. We have some programs going on that are having a profound impact on students, and I want to build on that."
"We can take great pride in making a difference – in many different ways – in the lives of students as we help them discover their curiosity and their potential," Potter said. He believes in offering a good mix of academic excellence and life-altering opportunity to support intellectual and emotional growth for the whole person. The first in his family to go to college, he attended Williams with the aid of scholarships and part-time jobs. An honors student elected to Phi Beta Kappa, he also benefited from activities such as glee club and the football team.
"In our Search Advisory Committee meetings President Potter articulated a broad role for higher education – institutions preparing students for life, not just a career," said former Alumni Association President Kevin Gohl ’81,
Potter sees the University as an engine for change and intends to do a better job of building a common understanding of its cultural and educational impact on the region.
To reach this objective SCSU will have to be recognized as a key asset that drives the economic and cultural well-being of this region, Potter said. "It will be unmistakable that this is a ‘university town’; the city will have the character and feel of communities that attract and hold talent, and our University will be at the center of that city."
Building on our strengths: SCSU as a force for transformation
Excerpts from President Earl Potter’s opening address to the campus community Aug. 27