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UNT’s new provost looks to increase retention, graduation rates

UNT’s new provost looks to increase retention, graduation rates

Jennifer Cowley works at her computer. Cowley is the vice president and provost of academic affairs. Zoee Acosta

UNT’s new provost looks to increase retention, graduation rates
August 30
17:41 2017

UNT’s new Provost and Vice President of Academic Affairs, Jennifer Evans-Cowley, began her position on July 1 of this year. Almost two months in to her new role, Evans-Cowley has begun to take note of what UNT needs and what areas should be focused on.

“It’s fantastic to be back,” Evans-Cowley said. “It’s been a great transition. The UNT community is very warm and welcoming.”

A UNT alumna, Evans-Cowley was announced as the new provost on March 16 earlier this year. Replacing Finley Graves, Evans-Cowley worked for sixteen years as a faculty member and administrator at Ohio State University.

Since starting her position, Evans-Cowley has begun working on initiatives to enhance UNT by concentrating on different areas. Some of these topics include improvements to student connectivity – where a project called Smart Campus has begun, online education, which will eventually lead to a newly upgraded virtual teaching platform and a newly emphasized enrollment plan which aims to increase student retention and graduation rates. Many of these items are underway or have already begun, Evans-Cowley said.

“I’ve started to work on [these initiatives] but two months in, there’s only so much I can do,” Evans-Cowley said. “It’s moving ahead in the right direction. It’s all a work in progress.”

Evans-Cowley had an opportunity to meet faculty, staff and students Thursday afternoon at the Union Ballroom. With a crowd of about 100 people, Evans-Cowley reiterated the plans she has for the university: to elevate the research front and focus on enrollment and digital strategy.

“I look forward to all we are going to accomplish together,” Evans-Cowley said.

Evans-Cowley also said she is impressed by the sense of community at UNT, citing how the university came together in the wake of the disaster with Hurricane Harvey.

Speaking before her, UNT President Neal Smatresk said Evans-Cowley’s experience of working in the real world prior to academia gives her practical insight. Smatresk mentioned how Evans-Cowley’s alum status can aid her in understanding the university, making her a valuable asset he doesn’t wish to lose.

“Lack of stable leadership has haunted this institution,” Smatresk said.

He hopes Cowley will be here to stay.

While an alum, UNT has changed since Evans-Cowley was last here. One thing Evans-Cowley is trying to do is familiarize herself with the fresh university setting in order to appropriately learn exactly what UNT needs.

“Right now I am learning the UNT context and how things work around here,” Evans-Cowley said. “While I learn the ropes, I’m listening to other staff members. A lot of members here have good ideas and I have ideas too, but I want to be able to tailor my ideas specifically for the UNT community.”

Bob Brown, vice president for finance and administration, is working closely with Evans-Cowley to review the UNT capital improvement program. He said she is a kindred spirit and a comfortable fit for the UNT environment and culture.

“I think it’s been going wonderfully well,” Brown said. “She has a strong background in capital planning and management. She understands how to set goals and make plans.”

Barbara Bush, the faculty senate chair who served on the search committee for the new provost, said the search committee looked for applicants with certain characteristics. Ones that Evans-Cowley fulfilled.

“[We look for] a person who has an understanding of how institutions work,” Bush said. “Someone who appreciates the role that faculty have in campus governance. And as someone who represents faculty, I think that’s extremely important. I believe she shares those qualities.”

While she knows she has much work ahead of her, Evans-Cowley said she is pleased to be back at her alma mater.

“Once I saw this position was open, it was too good of an opportunity to pass up,” Evans-Cowley said.

Featured Image: Jennifer Cowley works at her computer. Cowley is the vice president and provost of academic affairs. Zoee Acosta

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Celeste Gracia

Celeste Gracia

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