The Last Word

The Last Word

Growing up, I was the youngest of four boys. I have often remarked that I am a “survivor” of being the youngest, a mark of pride given the amount of teasing I was subjected to growing up!

My brothers and I were raised to be well-educated and active in sports and the arts. As an athlete, I learned the value of hard work and goal setting from my track coach, which I then transferred to my studies. This value was reinforced by my parents, who would encourage me to continue to work hard, even after achieving success, by saying: “Don’t rest on your laurels!” As a result, I developed an internal motivation and perseverance that has sustained me through the years. Despite my motivation, school did not come easy to me in my early years due to many eyesight problems requiring corrective surgeries. In fact, I was held back in first grade in order to set a better learning foundation for my future, a decision my mom made and one that I am forever grateful for, although not so much at the time it happened!

These early experiences influenced my desire to pursue a career that would enable me to help students understand that learning is a process, that we all develop at a different pace, and that it is important to have a variety of interests, intellectual pursuits and abilities to be a well-rounded person.

While working 30-40 hours a week as a bank teller, I attended classes before work and evenings to earn my B.A. in communication studies from California State University, Sacramento. I went onto earn an M.A. in communication studies from West Virginia University, and a Ph.D. in organizational communication, with a concen-tration in management, from the University of Oklahoma. Each of my degrees focused on the study of individuals in organizations and provided me with an excellent liberal arts learning foundation. I concerted my studies with research to better understand the enterprise of teaching and learning. Although my background is somewhat eclectic, it has prepared me well to understand and appreciate the breadth of learning opportunities offered on the NU campus.

In June, after more than 25 years in higher education and positions including dean of graduate studies and research at Emporia State University,assistant vice president for academic affairs at California State University, Los Angeles, and dean of the College of Humanities, Education and Social Sciences at Gannon University, I was named Niagara’s vice president for academic affairs. I had known of NU as a highly regarded competitor while at Gannon. Each time I interacted with individuals and committees from campus, my appreciation for the university increased, confirming that Niagara is a special learning community — a community that intentionally emulates all of the traditions of a Catholic and Vincentian university. The day Father Levesque called to offer me the VPAA position will always be a benchmark memory in my career and life. I enjoy Father’s discerning leadership style and am fortunate to seek counsel from my colleague, Dr. Bonnie Rose, since she continues to serve NU as the executive vice president.

As vice president for academic affairs, I will be looking for opportunities to elevate the university to new levels of academic excellence, expand the diversity and scope of its programs and student populations, and increase its national and international profile, while advancing the university’s Catholic and Vincentian mission. I am pleased that Niagara’s academic philosophy mirrors my own: that all students should experience a liberal arts-based education. The ability to critically evaluate information, develop an informed opinion based upon knowledge and research, and clearly articulate an opinion both in writing and presentation is an invaluable set of skills and abilities that will sustain students for the duration of their careers. In fact, I firmly believe that the liberal arts thinker is more likely to have the skills to adapt to a changing marketplace as well as be a career changer when the marketplace dictates such events. I am happy to report that the exceptional tradition of providing a liberal arts-based degree at NU continues and the faculty embraces this philosophy regardless of college affiliation from within the university.

Before I came to Niagara, I was impressed with the university’s commitment to excellence in higher education and service to the student population and the region. Today, I continue to be impressed with the faculty, programs and members of the NU learning community. We are continuously working to refine current programs and strategically develop new programs to assure our students can remain competitive. The current academic vision for Niagara University includes: an increase of learning opportunities pertaining to global perspectives, diversity, and study abroad; expanding offerings to adult and nontraditional students; growth of current graduate programs and development of new ones; and the development of online and distance education initiatives. The premise of these initiatives is in response to the reality of competition in higher education requiring NU to diversify the academic portfolio of our curriculum in order to meet and exceed enrollment growth goals. I am pleased to report that the Vincentian mission and tradition of service that attracted me to NU also continues, as evidenced by our national recognition for service learning. I look forward to working with everyone on campus to challenge ourselves not to “rest on our laurels,” and I encourage alumni and friends of NU to contact me at downs@niagara.edu to discuss how we might work together in support of NU and our learning community.