Sep. 19—New Northeastern State University President Rodney Hanley said he seeks to serve those "left behind by higher education."
He recalled being such a student as the first generation in his family to attend college.
Hanley, who became NSU's 20th president Aug. 1, shared his experience and goals with Muskogee leaders Monday at the Rougher Village field house.
He said he joined the Illinois National Guard to earn money for college. He went on to become a college professor, dean of science, provost at two universities and president of Lake Superior State University before coming to NSU.
"I think one of the things that have been a driving force in my professional life is that it's really important for me to serve populations that have been historically and traditionally left behind by higher education," he said.
Hanley said it was important for him to serve a college with a high percentage of first-generation college students. He said more than 60 percent of NSU students are first-generation students.
He said he also admired the way NSU works with its large percentage of Native students.
"When I was a professor at University of North Dakota, I remember looking at some demographic data and came across a startling fact — that you can count on three fingers the number of Native American professors of engineering in the United States," he said. "There is not a state in the country that is not clamoring for more engineers, and we've only produced three Native American professors of engineering. I want to do my part in helping develop that diversity within institutions."
Colleges should serve their communities, he said.
"It's important that Northeastern State University strengthen the additional bonds we have with our community partners, but also look for new ways to develop partnerships with school districts, businesses and corporations to help get what we do out to the community," he said.
Hanley said he sees growth potential at NSU's Muskogee campus.
"The health-related program we have at Muskogee is prime for expansion," he said. "One of the areas I have been looking at is looking for ways we can expand that program to meet community needs."
The Muskogee campus has offered programs in occupational therapy and physicians assistants since 2012 and is to begin a respiratory therapy program in 2024.
"I toured the facilities last week and it was amazing to see the level of usage from the community, from little kids to senior citizens, at the campus," Hanley said.
He said NSU can give back to Muskogee and area communities.
"It's the work we do," he said. "Working at universities, we change lives. But we do more than change lives. We change the trajectory of an entire generation of a family. When you think of the type of student who comes to us, a lot of first-generation college students, a lot who are financially disadvantaged, when they go through Northeastern State University, their future has radically changed at that point."
Hanley told city leaders he sees a strong foundation, good leadership and good financial underpinnings at NSU.
"But it was only after I got here when I began to feel the warmth of the people of Tahlequah, Muskogee and Broken Arrow," he said. "I began to think this was a doggone good decision."
Muskogee City Manager Mike Miller said he's pleased to meet Hanley.
"He sees a pretty positive outlook," Miller said. "We love being partners with NSU Muskogee as far as workforce training. A lot of the best employees in the city are NSU graduates. We love seeing the Muskogee campus grow."