Top 10 Reasons I Wanted to Lead Winthrop University
By Dr. Jayne Marie (Jamie) Comstock, March 21, 2013
I’ve had a number of people in the last 24 hours ask me how I feel. I feel happy. I’m walking on sunshine. I don’t know if you know that song from the ‘80s, but once I started thinking that way, I can’t get that song out of my head. I’m just walking on sunshine. This is a dream come true for me, the culminating experience of my career, and I am deeply grateful for this opportunity.
One of the things that has happened to me that’s been so wonderful in the last few weeks is that I’ve received this groundswell of support from folks -- emails and cards and things that are all in this packet. I’m going to put them in a scrapbook.
It’s been wonderful to hear from all of you. I thank you so much for the kindness you’ve shown Larry and me, and I want you to know that this collective outreach has already made us feel like Winthrop University is our campus home and that Rock Hill is our new hometown. We feel very, very blessed to be here.
I am particularly honored to be selected as the 10th President of Winthrop University. We pledge to you--both Larry and I--that we will do everything that we know how to do to support, embrace, and advance the Vision of Distinction for this institution and we will do everything we know how to do to make sure that Winthrop University will remain one of the best institutions of its kind.
But since 10 seems to be the theme of the day, I think I should give you my 10 reasons for why I accepted the offer when it came my way.
Reason # 10 – I wanted to end my academic career where it began – in public higher education.
All of my academic degrees come from public institutions, and my full-time faculty appointments were at public universities, as well. I believe in the public higher education mission and I want to embrace that mission again. I want to talk about higher education as both a personal investment and a public good. I expect this to be my last job, and I want to end my career in service to that greater public good.
Reason #9 – I wanted to be associated with one of our nation’s best institutions!
Winthrop is considered to be among our nation’s top public comprehensive universities, and it’s consistently listed among the Top 10 (there’s that number again) public universities in the South. Clearly, Winthrop has already realized the vision to be considered one of the best universities of its kind. But I think there is still good work for us to do here -- that we can continue to make a difference for our students. If we work together, and we take the fine record that’s already been established and we build on that, then we know that “the best is yet to come” for Winthrop University and our students.
Reason #8 – The Winthrop University Board of Trustees is characterized by strong leadership.
As I have gotten to know the 14 board members over the last several weeks, I was impressed by their deep dedication to the Winthrop mission, their pride in Winthrop’s accomplishments, and by their sense of optimism about the future of our university. I feel fortunate to know that, as we plan for the future and the next phase of progress for Winthrop, we will have the collective wisdom of this group of Trustees to guide our way. Their level of commitment and vision has inspired me to spend every day living up to the confidence they have placed in me. Thank you.
Reason #7 – There is a groundswell of support for Winthrop University across the region.
During the interview process, I had the opportunity to meet many of our alumni and with Rock Hill and York County leaders in business, education, government, and community affairs. Our alumni and friends clearly see the value that Winthrop University brings to the region, and they are passionate about supporting our continued success. I share their enthusiasm about how our combined strengths and integrated efforts can create an exciting synergy that can only mean extraordinary things for Winthrop University and our community.
Reason #6 – I want to fly like an Eagle!
This phase of the presidential search process is called “the transition” – and when you have an organization this large, with this many people affected, the transition is kind of awkward for almost everyone involved. For me personally, it has created a sort of identity crisis – At ACE, where I’m currently working, I’m a lame duck…..at Winthrop, I am like a young bird confined to the nest and I can’t get out for a little while longer….and all I want to do is “fly like an Eagle.”
During my interview I had the chance to meet our athletic director Tom Hickman and I learned about our student-athletes. Winthrop athletes have good win-loss records and also have great records in the classroom. The graduation rate for our athletes is higher than our overall graduation rate and that means that the coaches in our athletic program have their priorities in order and that Winthrop knows how to inspire our Eagles to fly in their sport and in their major.
I don’t admit this too often, but I was once a cheerleader. Now you can count on me to be the #1 cheerleader for our Winthrop Eagles. But the truth is I think all of our students – not just our athletes – need the investment we can provide so that all of them can “fly like Eagles.” Don’t you?
Reason #5 – Winthrop’s academic program is top notch.
I am very impressed by the dedication to quality that permeates our entire academic division. And I can easily see that the mix of programs is both mission driven and market smart. At the state level, Winthrop is South Carolina’s top-rated institution on the states’ performance-rating accountability system, and at the national level, all academic programs that can be accredited have received and earned that specialized accreditation.
Our job, going forward, will be to sustain this level of quality as we add new programs at the undergraduate and graduate levels. And, that means staying on the cutting edge of best practices in program content and institutional effectiveness.
Reason #4 – Winthrop has a distinguished and dedicated faculty.
There is evidence of this faculty strength across all colleges -- arts and sciences, business, education, visual and performing arts, the university college and the library. Even in challenging economic times, the academic division has maintained small class sizes and an optimal student-faculty ratio, and you have continued to select the highest quality faculty to deliver on the promises we make to our students and their families.
I am pleased that my presidential role comes with a faculty appointment. Once I get firmly settled in to my new job, you can expect me to join you in the teaching mission. Although I moved into administration about 13 years ago, I have always considered myself first and foremost an educator. I am proud to be considered among the faculty ranks here at Winthrop.
Reason #3 – Winthrop’s focus on Global Learning.
Throughout my career I have developed and enhanced opportunities for international education. I am widely traveled myself – Larry and I are very fortunate in that way. I’ve been to England, Spain, Italy, Greece, Cyprus, Israel, Australia, New Zealand, several island countries in the Caribbean and the Pacific, places in Central America, and also to Taiwan and mainland China.
Many of these travels were in order to put together exchange relationships between the institution that I worked with and the institution abroad.
I have learned a great deal about myself through learning about others. And, I believe, as you all do, that intercultural competencies promote a strong sense of social responsibility and will prepare our students for a life as leaders in their chosen professions and in their communities. To me, ensuring that students have global knowledge, global attitudes and opportunities for global engagement is the key to ensuring that they have a quality educational experience.
Reason # 2 – Winthrop’s students are ready to live, learn and lead!
We have a diverse student body that comes from 34 different states and 37 different countries, and our student body mix is 40% minority. During my interview and also today, I have had an opportunity to meet many of our student leaders and several students from across our campus. They lived up to everything that is written about them. Our students are high achieving and civic minded. And, our faculty and student affairs staff work together to ensure that there is a seamless connection between the curricular and the co-curricular. Our students have literally hundreds of opportunities for leadership and service.
Just recently, I attended a conference, an ACE national meeting. And at that conference there was a session sponsored by the Corporation for National and Community Service. And during this conference session they announced the U.S. President’s Higher Education Community Service Honor Roll for 2013. And I think you all know that Winthrop was on it. So imagine my pride when they hand out this book, and there is Winthrop’s name. I want to be a part of Winthrop University because I share your desire to give back to our community and to lift up the lives of others.
Reason #1 - Winthrop University has captured my heart!
Someone once said that “It’s beauty that captures your attention, but it’s personality that captures your heart.”
I was initially attracted to Winthrop because of its fine reputation for quality public higher education that blends liberal arts, professional programs, student engagement, global education, and civic responsibility. Whenever I have a chance, I write and I talk about how I believe this approach provides the highest quality of education because it prepares students interested in professional success, democratic citizenship, and a personal life of meaning and value.
And then, of course, the physical beauty of Winthrop’s campus cannot be ignored. It’s just a magnificent place.
It was this combination of the compelling mission, and the reputation for quality, and the physical beauty of the campus that attracted our attention and made us think that this might be a place that we would like to come and dedicate our life’s work.
But, YOU - my new friends – you bring Winthrop University to life – YOU give this wonderful institution its personality. And, it is that personality that has captured our hearts.
So, the Number One Reason I wanted to lead Winthrop University is because it would give me the opportunity to live and work and learn with all of you.
I am absolutely convinced that Winthrop sits on a solid ground. We are poised and ready to face the current challenges in higher education today.
And, I am ready now to lead the next phase of development for this fine institution.
Thank you so much for your faith in Larry and me. Please keep bolstering us, like this, as we move forward together. We believe our job is part of a sacred trust. So, we are counting on you – we are really counting on you -- to give us your best advice, to stay focused on doing all we can for Winthrop students, and to stay grounded in Winthrop’s values of Service, Excellence, Diversity, Community, and Leadership.
And now if I might borrow a bit from popular culture – and Phillip Phillips – our goal – we want “to make this place our home.”