On the eve of fall quarter instruction, Shari McMahan, Eastern’s 27th president, delivered her inaugural welcome address to a full auditorium at EWU’s Showalter Hall.
The optimistic, upbeat speech reminded EWU community members that, in spite of pandemic-related disruptions and other challenges, our shared values and commitment to Eastern will ensure that the university remains a vital, vibrant institution.
“Every program, every department is making an impact on our region and our country. The stories are endless – our students, staff and faculty are achieving greatness,” McMahan said.
Eastern has been recognized as a top school for diversity in the state of Washington, she said, and some 40 percent of our incoming students are first-generation.
“Being an Eagle is about social mobility. Eastern is ranked number one in the state on CollegeNet’s social mobility index,” McMahan said. “Our graduates obtain marketable degrees for high-paying jobs. They don’t just move on, they move up and promote generational change and contribute to our region’s economic vitality.”
Since arriving at Eastern in late June, McMahan has had a flurry of meetings with Eagle alumni, supporters and regional community leaders, while at the same time working to get to know students, faculty and staff.
She and her team have hosted several listening sessions and conducted a campus-wide survey to learn more about the Eastern community, its strengths and its apprehensions.
“I knew coming out of the pandemic and into endemic conditions and as a new president, it was important to get a real view on what challenges students, faculty and staff are facing and hear the ‘hard feelings,’” McMahan said.
Covid-related isolation and communication “silos,” tight budgets and low staffing are among the concerns she hopes to address. Such confidence-depleting frustrations, she said, have been felt by many other organizations in the wake of the pandemic. But she’s confident Eastern can work through them.
“We will rebuild the EWU experience and we will do it together. I know this is possible because according to our all-campus survey, across students, staff, and faculty, campus community was ranked as the number one strength of EWU.”
McMahan listed three keys areas as the near-term priorities: increasing enrollment through new recruitment and retention strategies, prioritizing budget needs, and improving faculty and staff morale.
McMahan added that she plans to meet with every department in the coming months to seek input for a new strategic plan to be developed next year.
“We will need bold, innovative plans across multiple departments, and we will need to be all in together,” she said.
When you come to Eastern, McMahan added, whether as a student, a staff member or a faculty member, “you become an Eagle for life. You become part of the 140-year-old legacy of this institution. From its roots as Cheney Normal School to today’s Eastern Washington University, you become part of its story, its family, and its future.”