At the Helm: Looking Ahead with President Carter

Laurie Carter came to Shippensburg University as the institution’s seventeenth president with a spirit of collaboration and a desire to communicate. She wants to involve the entire campus community to jointly focus on the university’s future. 

"When folks ask me what my vision is for Shippensburg University, I always pause, because vision for a university does not come from one individual. It comes from the community,” Carter said. “So, our vision will be a vision that is established based upon many conversations that will take place over the course of the next few months.

“After those conversations, we’ll really sit down and set the path, the clear path, for the future of Shippensburg University.”

Since she arrived to campus on August 7, Carter has stayed true to her words. Socializing with students, meeting with staff members, chatting with the larger community as she walks the local rail trail—she is soaking it all in. When the fall semester kicked off, she launched “Convo with Carter,” providing fifteen-minute sessions for anyone on campus to chat with her during open office hours. More than forty sessions booked up within the first two hours of the announcement, with plans to do additional sessions in the spring.

As the president of a university and the mother of a new college student, Carter’s focus is on student success. But that can only be accomplished with the dialogue, advice, and counsel of the entire community, she said. “Student success requires the input, the collaboration, the output of every single member of the community. I take student success very seriously. Unless we’re all working together, we won’t be able to achieve what the students need from us.”

With that in mind, Shippensburg University Magazine wanted to know what questions our community had for our institution’s newest leader. Here’s what you asked, and how she answered:

Has a university presidency always been something you’ve wanted to pursue, and why?

Gabby Binando, junior

I can’t say that it has been something that I’ve always wanted to pursue. My career sort of took on a life of its own, and I was enjoying it. At a certain point, folks started saying to me, “You should be a president!” So I think other folks started thinking about it long before I did, and even after they started saying that to me it took years for me to get to the point where I thought, OK that would be something I would aspire to at some point in my life. 

What has been your biggest takeaway about Ship since accepting this position?

Jodie Vanderman Driver ’00

That its future is bright. There is so much potential here. I am excited about the opportunity to work with everyone in the community to really help it fully realize its potential. ...The possibilities are endless in terms of the community collaboration, and everyone wants it. That was one of the things that struck me during my interview, that so many people talked about wanting to strengthen ties with the community, because you don’t see that everywhere, you don’t hear that everywhere.

President Carter, you’ve done an amazing job of being accessible, visible, and approachable since arriving at Shippensburg. What are the most important things you have learned from conversations you have had with Ship students and faculty during your first weeks on campus?

Dr. Steve Burg, professor in and chair of the History/Philosophy Department

I have learned that the campus is prepared to work together as a community to do what’s necessary to move Ship forward, and that’s very encouraging. 

What would you tell a prospective parent as to why their child should choose Shippensburg University?

Chris Morton, chair of the Military Science Department

My son is a freshman in college, so what concerns families very often are the finances, the majors, and the career opportunities, and then whether their student will feel at home. Shippensburg is an affordable institution with very high-quality programs.

We have programs that rival the best in the country, so part of a high-quality program is preparing students for a career. Our students are graduating with skills that will allow them to seamlessly transition into the workplace and be successful there. Parents need not worry about their student floundering when they get into the workplace, because they’ll really be prepared.

And then there’s such a strong sense of community here, that as soon as the student hits the campus we’ve got our arms around them. We are a home away from home for all types of students; whatever their passion is there is probably some part of their major or club or organization that fuels that passion. All of those pieces come together. And there are faculty who are teaching classes, they’re not being taught by graduate students. It is a university that provides parents with all of the pieces they are hoping for in a collegiate experience. 

How do you see the university evolving over the next several
years with regard to institutional commitments to academic programs?

Dr. Christopher Woltemade, professor of geography/earth science

We are interested in developing programs that are going to meet the needs of students and the surrounding region. That’s what regional institutions do. We will continue to look at majors that will meet the needs of today’s student and tomorrow’s student and provide what the region needs in order for it to continue to move forward. We are paying attention to what’s going on around us so we know the programs that we should be thinking about and that could benefit our students. 

Knowing that our students will have to consider increasingly the world outside the fifty states, how would you like to internationalize our campus?

Dr. Agnes Ragone, professor of modern languages

Internationalization is really important for the students to understand our role in the global society. How we do that is through study abroad opportunities, exchange programs, but even components of particular courses that talk about the global society and how students can better navigate them. We also have an international faculty, faculty from all over the world, and they bring their perspective to our students and help them understand their role in a larger society.

How do you feel about the relationship between Ship students and the community?

Brandon Christmas-Lindsey, senior

Well, I have experienced that relationship on the day that we had the Ship Serve event, and we had 300 or 400 people working all over the region and in the community. There is a real interest in and commitment to serving the community in a broad and significant way, and I want to foster that. 

Is there a way to make student activities more diverse on campus?

Najee Surratt, senior

Sure! Engage more students in the planning of student activities. I had a conversation with Maddie Scarr, the president of the SGA. She talked about how diverse the Student Government Association is this year, and it hasn’t always been that way. She is encouraged by the level of engagement of community members in the SGA process, and I think as a result of that, there will organically be more involvement across the board. But the goal there is, students have to get involved. If they’re not involved, then their perspective is not brought to the table.

How can you help students manage their time better?

Kiara Sabur, freshman

We do that in a variety of ways. There’s the Learning Center. As we are looking at a first-year experience, time management will certainly be a part of that process in helping students make the adjustment from life in high school to life in college, where you have a lot more free time and have to figure out how to prioritize things a little differently. So if we have a solid first-year experience that lays the foundation, we then have the Learning Center and other support networks across the university that will really allow students through the course of their career to feel supported and guided in these areas if they get off track. 

How can Ship make the transfer student experience smoother by ensuring credits transfer from community colleges?

Nolan Currie, sophomore

We’ve actually already started talking about that and have a plan to make that process a little more user friendly.

In the past several years, campus morale has dropped dramatically... How will you help Ship heal, where our family members will trust one another and work together in a more positive manner?

Dr. Alison Dagnes, professor of political science

I hope I’m doing that by listening to folks, and then taking what they have to say into consideration. We’re not always going to agree on the course of action, but everyone should at least feel as though they can play a part in the process of moving forward. I also think it’s really important for folks to look ahead. The past is the past, and quite frankly, there is little we can do about it. But, there’s a lot we can do about the future. 

Colleges are struggling with enrollment as it relates to the traditional student. What ideas can we implement at Ship to increase enrollment with the nontraditional student and enhance recruitment efforts for traditional students?

Javita Thompson, assistant director of community engagement

That’s a very good question. I could go on for days about it. We are looking carefully at all populations. For traditional students, increasing enrollment has to do with being more creative in our approaches. The high school population in Pennsylvania is shrinking, so that means we probably have to look outside of the state for traditional high school students. We also can do some things that will increase our percentage of students coming from inside the state, and that has to do with scholarships, financial aid, and other processes, and we’re looking at all those.

The nontraditional student, the adult learner in particular, is a huge market we’re looking to tap into, and we’re looking to do that in the most creative ways possible, meeting the needs of that population. So that would probably mean expanding our online offerings and working very carefully to craft programs that are going to help that population achieve their goals. 

How can alumni support the university’s efforts to recruit and retain students?

Rachel Jarabeck ’98

We need to engage alumni in a variety of ways, primarily in having them help us spread the word about all the wonderful things that are happening at Ship. And then, even engaging them in the recruitment process, and that will depend on where they are, what the particular needs are in that particular region or state, and how that will best serve the university. We’re no longer going to take cookie cutter approaches to how we’re engaging the alumni, but rather really studying what will be most effective for specific populations.

What is one action that everyone can take to make Shippensburg University a great place to live and learn?

Dr. Samuel Forlenza, assistant professor of exercise science

One action—everyone can pull together and share positive messages and stories about the wonderful things that are happening here.

Where do you want to see this university in three years?

Ruben Bourdeau, senior

I want to see enrollment stabilized, reinvestment in our outstanding academic programs and support services for students, and strengthened ties with the town and surrounding communities.