Provost candidate Suzanne Austin delivers presentation to Mason community

Provost candidate Suzanne Austin (photo by Amy Rose)
Provost candidate Suzanne Austin (photo by Amy Rose)

The provost search committee brought Suzanne Austin for her formal public presentation to students and faculty for the provost position on Feb. 11.

Austin, currently the vice provost for student and faculty success at the University of Alabama-Birmingham, was the third of four candidates selected as a finalist for the provost position to present their vision, knowledge and credentials to the Mason community.

Austin’s academic background is in Latin American history and she is currently a professor of epidemiology at UAB. She believes her background as a Latin American historian gives her the global perspective that Mason is trying to convey in its vision of trying to be a “university for the world.”

“I have always – my whole career – had a very global and international perspective in what I do,” Austin said. “As I’ve read the documents, the strategic plan and thought about this, Mason really has positioned itself to become a global leader in higher education in the United States.”

Austin called back to her experience before UAB, when she held many administrative positions at the University of Delaware including associate provost for academic affairs, to speak on Mason’s global plan.

“Being part of this Songdo campus in South Korea is very exciting,” Austin said. “I spent most of my career at the University of Delaware, and they actually planned to participate in the Songdo campus. At some point, shortly after I left, they decided not to do that but I think that Mason was very smart to hang in there and in the end I think that the budget model and other pieces have worked out such that this will be an exciting opportunity for this institution.”

One of the key points that Austin focused on bringing to Mason was giving students more opportunities in experiential learning on and off-campus, the execution of which she oversaw at UAB.

“[At UAB] part of my job is figuring out how we can send more students abroad, how we can get more students into service-learning opportunities, undergraduate research and, of course, graduate research in getting students the opportunities they need,” Austin said.

A common thread throughout the presentation was the parallel Austin created between the growth paths of Mason and UAB. Austin highlighted both universities’ efforts to create a diverse student body, and added that when UAB was looking to improve graduation and retention rates of students, administrators followed the model that Mason had implemented.

After Austin’s brief presentation highlighting the four main pillars of Mason’s strategic plan – innovation, diversity, entrepreneurship and accessibility – the majority of time was given to the faculty to ask questions of Austin and engage in a discussion of ideas.

The main overarching concern of the faculty on hand was how Austin intended to help the university reach its research funding goal – Mason wishes to double the $100 million already raised in the next ten years -- as outlined in the strategic plan.

“The strategy to get to the doubling of research funding is going to be around making strategic decisions, or building on strengths,” Austin said.

Austin highlighted the university’s initiative to build various institutes to generate research funding, specifically a simulation modeling and gaming institute that Mason has made a priority and lauded the idea of focusing on building an institute for public health given the proximity to Washington D.C.

While Austin mentioned the benefits of branching out funding and extending Mason’s reach into many fields, the need to focus funding was a point that Austin stressed as important.

“The days of trying to do everything and be all things to all people probably are gone,” Austin said.

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