Longest Standing Utah University President Focuses on Growth

Published: March 14, 2019 | Read Time: 6 minutes

President Scott Wyatt and graduating student at commencementAs the longest standing university president in the Utah System for Higher Education, Southern Utah University President Scott L Wyatt is driven to improve the student experience through innovative programs, growth and reputation. As Wyatt finishes another legislative session advocating for higher education in Utah, administrative leadership reflects on SUU’s progress and what the future holds for the institution.

In the five years Wyatt has served as SUU’s president, the school has added several new degree programs, developed unique partnerships, increased online offerings, received numerous accolades and created exciting initiatives that put the student experience first. Along with these achievements, for the past four years SUU has seen consistent steady growth increasing the student population by 34% from 2014. SUU also has a 73% retention rate, which is a 9% increase in three years and the second highest retention rate for public schools in Utah.

“Everything we have been doing has been about improving the experience for the student and increasing the quality of their diploma,” said Wyatt.

Upon arriving to SUU in January 2014, President Wyatt spent his first 100-days on a listening tour. With more than 340 meetings, he sat down with students, faculty, staff, alumni, community members and government officials in order to learn what was at the heart of the school. "It's not about my vision or my ideas to make this a better place," said Wyatt. "It's about helping to facilitate a conversation and then together coming up with a refinement of the vision.” President Wyatt hasn’t stopped listening and has established his presidency on a foundation of collaboration and shared ideals.

For Wyatt, building a strong leadership team who share the same vision and passion for education has been one of the keys to success.

"President Wyatt knows how to pick effective leaders and then let them do their jobs," said SUU General Counsel Ann Marie McIff Allen.

With a strong and supportive team, Wyatt quickly established a strategic direction for the university, one that focuses on growth, reputation, retention and innovative programming.

“As an administration, we are committed to quality. I believe the administration has worked together to grow in a smart, sensible way,” said Marvin Dodge, SUU vice president of finance and administration.

“I think that the greatest achievements under President Wyatt have had to do with student persistence and success,” said Steve Meredith, SUU assistant to the president for planning/institutional effectiveness. “For example, our focus on retention and graduation has raised SUU to the upper end, statistically speaking, of comparable sister institutions. As size increases, there is a real fear that quality goes down. But in fact, under President Wyatt, we have seen significant increases in both areas, and I think that this speaks to his focus on what is in the best interest of students.”

President Wyatt looked beyond just the numbers when framing the university’s growth goals. SUU Provost Brad Cook said, “As we've grown, the admission scores of our students have climbed. We not only have more students, we have better students. SUU continues to climb in national rankings in all sorts of ways.”

Innovation and improving the student experience is the driving influence of Wyatt’s strategic vision. By implementing programs and partnerships such as the historic Dual Enrollment program with Southwest Technical College, the Jumpstart program, completing several new buildings, and increased online course offerings, Wyatt continues to challenge the status quo of higher education.

“We want to be a model of innovation,” Wyatt said. “We can’t expect our students to be creative and innovative if we don’t practice it.”

D’Mia Lamar, SUU’s student body president, is impressed with SUU’s administration and thinks they’ve done a good job listening and addressing the needs of the student population. “Our administrators truly care about students and the campus environment. Students feel at home at SUU. Whether that be through programming, or special interest clubs, or implementing a campus inclusion plan, SUU has taken strides to make sure students feel comfortable here. SUU is a home away from home.”

Never one to be impeded by traditional barriers, President Wyatt has worked to increase diversity by recruiting and appointing qualified and effective women into leadership at SUU because he recognizes that having these women around the decision-making table makes the institution stronger.

“One of the things I cherish most about President Wyatt is his commitment to diversity and his vision of SUU changing lives through education not only in Iron County, but globally. And he doesn’t just talk about inclusion, he practices it,” said SUU Athletic Director Debbie Corum.

As the first female Director of Athletics in the state of Utah, Corum honors that support, “He has supported me, and mentored me as a first-time AD, without bias, and I have watched him do the same in other key areas of administration within the campus,” she said.

Innovation is a recurring theme of SUU’s past five years and its future strategy. “Innovative solutions are at the heart of what President Wyatt thinks about. He is always trying to think of new ways to improve the student experience,” said Meredith. “I expect that SUU will make a significant effort at increasing access and affordability. Essential to this effort will be the expansion of online programs.”

“My hope over the next five years is that SUU can continue to offer its distinctive brand of education to as many people as possible,” said Cook. “There are so many traditional and non-traditional students who could greatly benefit from an SUU education.”

“The future is bright for us with the visionary leader we have in President Wyatt, and with him at the helm, we will be able to appropriately adjust to whatever challenges the future holds,” Corum said.

Wyatt’s priorities for SUU are summarized in the University’s vision statement: “Southern Utah University will receive national recognition for its innovations in learning, student success, and providing the best educational experience in the Intermountain West.”

During his time at SUU, Wyatt and the university’s faculty and staff have received national recognition for innovations in experiential learning, general education, and internship programs, led Utah’s colleges and universities in student enrollment growth, launched the University of the Parks initiative, opened a new veterans center, started a center for diversity and inclusion, and seen the construction or acquisition of more than $60 million worth of capital improvement projects, including a new business building, repurposed geosciences building, Kenneth L. Cannon Equestrian Center, flight school complex, and the Beverley Taylor Sorenson Center for the Arts, which includes the Southern Utah Museum of Art and the Utah Shakespeare Festival.

Wyatt is Southern Utah University’s 16th president. Prior to his appointment as president of Southern Utah University, he served as president of Snow College, in Ephraim, Utah, served as a member of the Utah House of Representatives, was a partner in the Logan, Utah law firm, Daines, Wyatt & Jenkins, LLP, Served as the Cache County Attorney, where his work focused on prosecuting homicide, domestic violence, and sexual violence cases, along with leading victim services and educational programs. Wyatt earned a J.D. from the University of Utah S.J. Quinney College of Law and a B.S. from Utah State University, with a dual major in Philosophy and Economics.

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