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Q&A with Rita Baron '99

Rita Baron '99 became the new chair of the Drury University Board of Trustees in October. Baron, principal of Baron Design & Associates, has been a member of the Board of Trustees for more than a decade. Now, she’s ready to lead the university’s governing body during a time of renewed optimism and momentum.

What is your vision for the university in the near term, and in the long term? 

We have developed an extremely strong vision for delivering on the institution’s mission in the near term. We are accomplishing this in four key ways: the 2019 launch of our new Your Drury Fusion experience in the traditional undergraduate program; improving our offerings in non-traditional evening and online programming; implementing the first components of our campus-wide master plan; and delivering on the promise of the ‘Go Beyond’ Campaign for Drury University to provide financial support for these initiatives.

The long-term vision for Drury University is to continue – and build upon – our century-and-a-half long tradition of transforming the lives of aspiring individuals who are seeking to improve themselves through education, both in pursuit of their life passions and their chosen professions and careers.

What do you consider your top priorities as board chair during your term? 

We

share several broader institutional priorities with our management team, faculty, and staff, really with the entire Drury Family:

Priority One is, and must continue to be, academic excellence. For Drury, that means being distinctive for providing an academic program that visibly empowers every student to develop intellectually, gain marketable competencies, and earn credentials in specialized areas including their majors, minors, and chosen certificates that prepare them to pursue their life passions and their career goals.

Priority Two is optimal enrollment. That looks like around 1,600 students in our traditional residential program and a continued expansion of our non-traditional programs with a 3-5 percent growth target each year in those areas.

Priority Three is the continued enhancement of Drury University resources, in all areas: human resources, physical resources like facilities, technology, etc., and financial resources in support of the institution’s mission.

I see all of these contributing to Drury University’s vital position in the marketplace. We are quickly approaching 150 years of uninterrupted service to both this region of the nation and also to students coming from greater distances around the world who are seeking out what

Drury has to offer: intellectually challenging, hands-on experiential learning which promotes their life passions and the professional competencies they need in the marketplace, supported by smaller classes and distinctive mentoring and guidance.

And finally, it is a shared priority that we continue to promote and sustain an environment that contributes positively to all aspects of a student’s development: intellectual, social, emotional, physical, spiritual and moral. That also includes their well-being and safety. Every student who attends this university is part of the Drury Family. Our university environment must continue to reflect that family atmosphere.

A priority specifically for the Board of Trustees and our interactions, is that we continue moving forward in maximizing the benefit of board member’s engagement, expertise, and talent in support of our major strategic initiatives. We have made great strides in doing this under the leadership of previous Chairman Lyle Reed and I will work to continue that progress.

How would you describe the working relationship between the board and President Cloyd and his leadership team? 

Dr. Cloyd has established a new level of expectation for all of us at Drury. He has successfully led our entire community in the development of a solid vision for the institution, while infusing a greater sense of accountability and confidence. From his first day at Drury University he has focused on assembling a team of talented leaders capable of tackling the institution’s greatest challenges. His working relationship with the board is open, candid, thoughtful and thought provoking. He loves a challenge and doesn’t shy away from challenging us as a board to our highest levels of engagement.

There's great momentum right now with the announcement of the campus master plan and the coming launch of Your Drury Fusion. In your mind, what will be the key factors in maintaining that energy and ensuring these new initiatives are successful? 

Key to maintaining our energy and momentum will be SUCCESSES at each milestone along the way and sharing and celebrating those successes as a family. Because those successes are all tied inextricably to the important mission and purpose of this institution, and the commitment of everyone involved in this effort.

What's your message to alumni these days? What should they know about their alma mater? 

I encourage you to dig in and really look at the things that are taking place here. There’s much more going on than you’re probably aware. If you have remained connected, find a place to deepen your commitment to Drury and maximize your role in support of Drury. If you have been less connected for a while, I encourage you to reengage with an expectation that you will find something truly worthwhile and meaningful as a Drury family member.

What's something that's surprised you about Drury that you didn't know before you joined the board? 

When I was a student at Drury I was totally ignorant of the board's role. It was not until I was asked to serve on the board that I saw how much the Trustees are passionately devoted and committed to the mission of the university. During my first board meeting, I realized what an honor and privilege it is to serve with an amazing group of dedicated individuals. This gave me the energy to support and continue the cause.

Being on the board of a private university is a significant volunteer commitment - even more so as Chair. Why did you want to take on this challenge?

 It's truly an exciting time of growth for the university and it's an honor to be a part of this momentum. So, I am willing to do whatever it takes to support our leadership for success today and in the future.

How has Drury shaped both your life and your career? 

Drury University gave me the foundation to establish myself and the skills to empower me in my career. With its liberal arts education, Drury helped me look at my life and career from a different perspective, to be creative, and to eagerly confront challenges.