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Chancellor finalist Cynthia Young speaks at UA forum – Arkansas Online

FAYETTEVILLE — Cynthia Young, one of four finalists for the University of Arkansas, Fayetteville chancellor position, has “been preparing for this moment my entire life,” she said during a campus forum Monday.
“I have the values, the experience, and the heart to lead this great institution to even greater heights,” said Young, founding dean of Clemson University’s College of Science. “I have two speeds, fast and faster, and when we do this together, we can put our foot on the accelerator.”
Young believes universities can maintain affordability and accessibility while also continuing to raise quality.
Universities “need to be high-quality, efficient and relevant,” said Young, who has a bachelor’s degree in education from the University of North Carolina, a master’s in mathematical science from the University of Central Florida, and a master’s in electrical engineering and Ph.D. in applied mathematics from the University of Washington. UA-Fayetteville is “special” because it has continued to “lift up lives” of Arkansans, as per its land-grant mission, while also driving transformational change, she said.
“Our job is a stronger [state], period,” and among the SEC’s 10 total land-grant institutions, UA-Fayetteville is the second-most affordable, behind only Mississippi State, with the second-highest endowment ($2.6 billion), behind only Texas A&M, she said. However, enrollment and graduation rates are in the middle of the pack, and “our goal should be a 100% graduation rate, [so] we can always be better.”
Young’s visit to campus Monday included meeting with students, faculty, staff and university stakeholders, as well as the campus forum, and the same plan is being followed for each finalist.
Interim Chancellor Charles F. Robinson had his campus forum last Monday, Jay T. Akridge, provost and executive vice president for academic affairs at Purdue University, had his Wednesday, and Daniel A. Reed, a presidential professor of electrical and computer engineering at the University of Utah, had his Friday.
More information on each finalist, as well as additional details regarding each candidate’s public forum, is available on the chancellor search website at: https://chancellor.uark.edu/chancellor-search/.
‘NO SUBSTITUTE FOR TALENT’
A college degree remains the top tool for “social mobility,” so land-grant schools like UA-Fayetteville need to “create more pathways to a valuable degree for more people,” which means growing enrollment, and UA-Fayetteville has a record number of students this year, but “you need to be strategic,” too, Young said. “You need to be thoughtful — if we commit to a plan, we’ll need to invest in facilities — but you also need to be innovative.”
For example, “you can leverage technology to keep the accent on the individual,” she said. “I say ‘Yes’ to keeping what is already great and also to embracing best new practices.”
Young wants UA-Fayetteville to be a “university of choice for top talent, [because] there’s no substitute for talent.”
That includes not only faculty and leadership, but staff members, doctoral students, and graduate students.
“We need to invest in staff, because the university doesn’t run without [them], and Ph.D. students are the engine of the boat,” she said. “We need to professionally develop graduate students [and] look at them holistically.”
DIVERSITY, EQUITY, INCLUSION
Angela Mosley-Monts, associate vice chancellor for diversity, equity and inclusion, attended each chancellor finalist forum and asked each finalist about their experiences promoting diversity.
“I’m very comfortable with what I heard from all of them,” she said. “They know the importance of diversity, equity, and inclusion.”
Diversity begins with an inclusive environment, but “representation matters,” too, said Young, who has prized diversity on leadership teams she’s assembled and focused on recruiting individuals from traditionally underrepresented groups into STEM fields and research. “We must do better, and that comes from hard conversations.”
“Diversity, equity, and inclusion have to be woven into everything we do,” Young added. “We want to be a place where everyone will thrive.”
“I feel diversity, equity, and inclusion is the centerpiece of everything we do, where we grow, and where we learn,” Mosley-Monts said. It’s critical for the university to be a place where “everyone is welcome and feels they belong.”
That has a “collective impact on faculty, staff, and students [for] the region, the state, the country, and the world,” she added. “We are producing the global leaders of tomorrow.”
‘CHAMPIONSHIP MENTALITY’
Young initially planned to become a high school math teacher, but a faculty mentor encouraged her to continue her education, which ultimately led to a career in academia, research and faculty leadership, she said. “I want to be around students, and student success is why we’re here.”
As an interdisciplinary scholar, Young developed mathematical models governing atmospheric effects in laser communication channels, and she’s been recognized nationally by the Office of Naval Research with the Young Investigator Award, according to the University of Arkansas. She’s authored more than 70 books and publications, and several of her college math textbooks remain in use throughout the country.
Young, who would be UA-Fayetteville’s first female chancellor if selected, led the effort to create Clemson’s strategic road map, SCIForward, and worked to increase student success and elevate Clemson’s status as an R1 institution — a college, such as the University of Arkansas, that meets benchmarks in research activity and expenditures as measured by the Carnegie Classification of Institutions of Higher Education — through increased faculty productivity and doubled external research funding, according to the University of Arkansas System.
Previously, Young spent 20 years at the University of Central Florida, where she served in several leadership roles including as vice provost for faculty excellence and UCF Global, associate dean for the College of Sciences, and co-founder of the UCF EXCEL student retention program.
R1 institutions not only drive local economies, but they work in concert with industry to benefit their states, she said. “We are interdependent: you go, we go.”
She boasts a wealth of experience in cultivating partnerships, both within higher education and outside academia, she said. “Partnerships are no longer optional; they are required.”
Philanthropy is “core to driving strategic initiatives, not on the fringes,” she said. “We need to put more fuel in the tank” through partnerships and philanthropy, because “we can’t cut our way to greatness,” and “funding accelerates discovery.”
Young, who was the faculty athletics representative at UCF, views athletic success as a recruiting tool for the university, as well as a catalyst for belonging.
“A championship mentality filters into everything you do, [and it] strengthens your national brand,” she said. “There’s a ton of momentum here.”

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