Sheryl Tucker presented her vision for the future of the university in a bid to take on the provost position left vacant by former Provost Morris Stocks. She outlined topics like undergraduate research, alumni relations and diversity in today’s address to students, faculty and staff.
“I want to develop a shared vision for excellence in academic affairs to transform lives, communities and the world,” Tucker said.
Tucker was the first of four finalists for the position slated to present in an open forum.
Tucker is no stranger to the provost position. She currently serves as vice provost for two Oklahoma State University campuses – the flagship campus in Stillwater and another in Tulsa. She is also the dean of that system’s graduate college, working across three campuses. She plans to use this leadership experience to benefit not only the Oxford campus but all schools in the University of Mississippi system.
“I will model the way for you, and I will challenge the status quo,” she said. “Nobody likes to hear the issues when you have no solutions, so I am a solution-oriented leader.”
She works to come up with creative solutions through collaboration, citing examples of working with her team to resolve difficult issues.
As a former leader of the Graduate Research Fellowship Program at the National Science Foundation, Tucker emphasized the importance of research programs at the undergraduate level.
“Undergraduate research leads to student retention,” she said.
She cited the current undergraduate research opportunities in place through the Sally McDonnell Barksdale Honors College as an example of something she would like to grow at the university.
Tucker also discussed her passion for interdisciplinary research. She said some of her research was intentional through partnerships, while other opportunities were unexpected.
“Our little Sheltie had an eye problem, and we were recommended to go to the university’s vet school,” she said. “I met a veterinary ophthalmologist there, and we struck up a conversation because of the dye she used in our dog’s eyes. She said, ‘I need a molecular spectroscopist,’ and I said, ‘Oh, really? Because that’s what I am!’”
Tucker said she embraces interactions like these because they bring people of different expertise together.
She also noted a desire to foster and strengthen alumni relations, taking them past just financial interactions and onto a more personal level.
“Some graduates want to give back, and maybe at some point in their career, they could do that by giving funds,” she said. “But we really need to focus on those who could give their time and their talents to us now.”
She noted implementing programs like job shadowing, internship exchanges and mentoring programs as ways to further improve alumni relations.
“We need to do a better job as institutions at connecting those alums back to our institution,” she said.
Tucker also expressed wishes to continue working on campus diversity.
“I am a very strong advocate for diversity and inclusion,” she said. “I’ve created a welcoming environment for underrepresented students.”
Among her efforts to combat this issue were institution-wide initiatives to help mentor students. Although the funds for this came from the National Science Foundation, Tucker was able to expand the program to include both STEM and humanities students.
“I believe very strongly in building community and giving them opportunities and projects where they can see success.”
The search for a new provost began last school year when former Provost Morris Stocks returned to the faculty of the accounting school.
Larry Sparks, vice chancellor for administration and finance, currently serves as chair of the provost search committee.
“We have a wide, diverse committee,” he said. “We looked for representation from all aspects of campus, including faculty, staff and students.”
The committee was able to narrow down a vast list of resumes to a smaller number who underwent an extensive interview period. They selected four candidates to come to Oxford to present through on-site interviews and open forums.
“The idea is to meet with as many constituencies as possible to get input on strengths and weaknesses so we can provide all of the information to the chancellor, who will make the final decision,” he said.
The remaining finalists will be announced 24 hours before their open forum, with presentations this Thursday, next Tuesday and next Friday.