As longest standing university president in Utah, SUU’s Scott Wyatt focuses on innovation

Southern Utah University President Scott Wyatt stands in front of Old Main building on campus, Cedar City, Utah, circa 2015 | Photo courtesy of Southern Utah University, St. George News / Cedar City News

CEDAR CITY — As Southern Utah University President Scott L. Wyatt – the longest standing university president in the Utah System for Higher Education – finishes another legislative session advocating for higher education in Utah, the SUU administrative leadership took the opportunity to reflect on the university’s progress and what the future holds for the institution.

According to a media release from the university, Wyatt is driven to improve the student experience through innovative programs, growth and reputation. In the five years that he has served as the university’s president, SUU 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 percent from 2014. SUU also has a 73 percent retention rate, which is a 9 percent increase in three years and the second highest retention rate for public schools in Utah.

Read more: Southern Utah University develops ASCEND model, increases student retention to institution high

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

Wyatt is SUU’s 16th president. Prior to his appointment in Cedar City, he served as president of Snow College in Ephraim and as a member of the Utah House of Representatives. He was also a partner in the Logan law firm Daines Wyatt & Jenkins and 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 Juris Doctor from the University of Utah S.J. Quinney College of Law and a Bachelor of Science from Utah State University, with a dual major in philosophy and economics.

Upon arriving to SUU in January 2014, 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,” Wyatt said. “It’s about helping to facilitate a conversation and then together coming up with a refinement of the vision.”

Wyatt hasn’t stopped listening and has established his presidency on a foundation of collaboration and shared ideals. According to the media release, for the SUU president, 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 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.

Steve Meredith, SUU assistant to the president for planning/institutional effectiveness, said he believed the greatest achievements under Wyatt have been in the area of student persistence and success. He said:

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.

SUU Provost Brad Cook said that as the university has grown, the admission scores of the students have climbed as well.

“We not only have more students, we have better students,” Cook said. “SUU continues to climb in national rankings in all sorts of ways.”

Southern Utah University President Scott L Wyatt poses with a graduate during May 2018 commencement, Cedar City, Utah | Photo courtesy of Southern Utah University, St. George News / Cedar City News

Innovation and improving the student experience is reportedly the driving influence of Wyatt’s strategic vision. By implementing programs and partnerships such as the Jumpstart program, completion of several new buildings, increased online course offerings and the historic dual enrollment program with Southwest Technical College, 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.”

Read more: Historic partnership between SUU, Southwest Tech receives final approval

D’Mia Lamar, SUU’s student body president, said she is impressed with the university’s administration and thinks they’ve done a good job listening to and addressing the needs of the student population.

“Our administrators truly care about students and the campus environment,” Lamar said. “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.”

The media release states that as a university president who won’t be impeded by traditional barriers, 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,” said Debbie Corum, SUU athletic director. “And he doesn’t just talk about inclusion, he practices it.”

As the first female director of athletics in the state of Utah, Corum said she 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.”

Looking forward

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,” Meredith said. “He is always trying to think of new ways to improve the student experience. 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.”

Cook echoed these sentiments, saying he hoped the next five years would bring continued expansion of the university’s offerings to as many people as possible.

“There are so many traditional and non-traditional students who could greatly benefit from an SUU education,” he said.

Corum said she thought the future is bright with Wyatt leading SUU.

“With him at the helm, we will be able to appropriately adjust to whatever challenges the future holds,” she said.

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