Dr. Dana Hoyt is nothing if not a hands-on President of SHSU. In addition to managing tasks such as education, public relations, fundraising, and administration, Dr. Hoyt also embodies the “up close and personal” experience that SHSU offers. She has danced with the Orange Pride dance team, taken part in a promotional music video, and competed with students in Wii boxing. Now in her fifth year as President, Hoyt has overseen massive growth in student enrollment, expansion of campus infrastructure, and the initiation of numerous academic programs. In December, she sat down with Professor Mike Yawn to discuss her background, her work as President of SHSU, and the future of the University.
I grew up in the Dallas/Richardson area. My family was active; my dad fished and hunted, and my mother also loved the outdoors. I competed in sports in junior high, but I was particularly interested in horses. I did rodeo and showed quarter horses in high school.
Well, I was interested in veterinary medicine. Of course, that ended up changing drastically, with me pursuing accounting instead!
Artfully. My interest in horses prompted thoughts of a career as a horse trainer, but my parents said, “Do whatever you want to do, but you have to have a degree, period.” I worked on a horse farm in Aubrey, Texas while I was working on my degree, and I realized that training horses was a tough way to make a living. I greatly enjoyed working with horses, and I think the job helped me gain confidence, but it also helped me focus my career choices and take my education seriously.
Not a lot, but I rode in the entry parade to the Houston Rodeo on Sam Houston Night the last two or three years. It’s been fun. The first year, they told me that if I wasn’t comfortable riding the horse, that I could ride in a wagon. I said, “Oh, no. If I am going to ride in an entry parade, I am going to be on a horse.”
That transition began before I started college. I wanted to do equine science, but the reality is, at the time, that would have been a tough field for females. There was a perception back then that women weren’t well-suited for bigger animals such as horses. I re-evaluated my career, and I looked into the possibility of a pre-dental curriculum, and I took mostly science courses my freshman year. But I also took a business class and enjoyed it immensely, and when I took accounting, I loved it! I realize that non-accountants think that is strange, but I did, and those classes prompted the change to a business-oriented degree.
The certification process was a bit different back then. I took the CPA during my senior year, and then began my MBA. I was able to work on my master’s degree full time, and I finished quickly. Then, I went into public accounting, but I also enjoyed the training programs in the business world, and I went back to get a second master’s in Information Systems. I ended up getting my PhD in Accounting and Information Systems.
My education helped me with the financial aspects of university operations and the technology side of things. I was also able to teach, and I loved that. It’s my first love, and I’d like to return to that at some point. The teaching, the research, and going through the tenure process was crucial. But the financial side of things has also been important. Out of 38 presidents of higher education institutions in Texas, I am probably the only one who doesn’t bring my financial advisor when I testify in the legislature. The different aspects of my background help me manage the various roles of the president.
Yes, much of our funding comes from the legislature. Most of our legislators in Texas have full-time jobs apart from working in the state legislature. Take the two who represent our area. Representative Otto is a CPA; Senator Schwertner is an orthopedic surgeon. They have their full-time jobs, and they also have to address a breadth of policy issues as legislators. I am passionate about education, and it’s my responsibility to some degree to ensure that it gets addressed by the Texas legislature.
It’s important to understand our alumni and donors. Some potential donors want hard numbers; others want a narrative or an intuitive sense of how their donation will help particular students or programs. You have to make the case in diverse ways. Probably most important is to listen and to be honest. Our Development Team is particularly good because they are honest and they listen.
I have worked at four different universities, and none has had the level of giving of SHSU. About 80 percent of our faculty and staff donate to the University—investing in the students, the programs, and the future. The support comes from across the board. We’ve had years in which 100 percent of our custodial staff donated. Donors are more likely to contribute when they know that faculty and staff are invested. You can’t overestimate the impact the faculty and staff giving has on our students.
I have always enjoyed marketing and public relations. I probably have a bit of a creative bent, and accounting isn’t the most creative outlet…
…Well, you see how that worked out. We have a great marketing team. We have people who do branding, which helps get our name in front of the public; program marketing, which is more targeted; public relations, which we discussed; and alumni relations. All of those require a different flavor. We have some real talent at SHSU, and it has helped us do good things.
Probably the political role. I am passionate about education. But the legislature regularly interacts with people from different backgrounds, all of whom feel their passion is the most important.
I adopt the 80-20 rule; eighty percent of the stuff you spend little time on. You review it and move it out. There is the twenty percent that you have to understand in detail or request additional information about before you decide on it. This isn’t an exact science. You acquire knowledge and skill over time. I think, for me, having the financial background allows me to understand some of the issues quickly.
Having a great staff is important. Ultimately, time management is the most important job of chief executives.
Yes. Those require travel and, of course, studying the issues. I am on the American Association of State Colleges and Universities Board, a U.S. Senate task force on higher education, and the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges, which is our accrediting agency. It’s difficult to balance those different demands, but it brings recognition to the University and allows us a larger voice.
Certainly it helped me understand risk management better. The YMCA, for example, has a huge number of people working with children under the age of 18, and that’s important from a risk-management perspective. Also, I learned a lot about volunteerism.
Well, we started the “Sam Switch” last year, in which I switch places with a student for a day. I love the Bearkat Marching Band, so I am encouraging the band members to apply for the Sam Switch. More broadly, I think it’s just important to be involved on campus, and being involved with students and campus life reminds me why I love my job.
Students have complicated lives. They work, go to class, participate in activities, and are adapting to a new time in their lives. It’s important to see how things affect them. I also try to reach out to faculty and staff, scheduling less formal lunches with them throughout the year, and that helps me learn more about their needs and perceptions. I try to build interactions into my schedule, so that I can learn more about the campus and the people who make it work.
The finance comes pretty naturally from my background, but I enjoy the creative aspects of my job, and I love strategic planning. SHSU is well-positioned for growth, and we’ll see it happen. We do an excellent job of educating students currently, but we’ll expand. I think we will grow to educate more non-traditional students than we currently do, and I think our Health Science program will be very successful. It takes time to develop plans and serve students in the right way, but I am fully convinced we will do it.
We have done a good job communicating the fact that more than half of our students are first-generation college students, but I don’t think people understand the beneficial impact that has on Texas in the long-run. For us to be successful as a state, we have to take families who don’t have a history of college education and help them get a college degree. We are able to do that successfully because we have the infrastructure in place to help those students—math labs, a writing center, cohorts—and because we have faculty who care. There is no substitute for faculty who will go the extra mile to help students, and we have that here at SHSU. You hear it from the students, and it helps them adapt to college life.
Well, it’s probably more of John having to adapt to my schedule. He loves to travel, and I don’t have much schedule space for leisure travel. He has been out of the country 39 times in the last 10 years, and I am looking at my schedule for the next year and saying, “I can travel this week or this week next year, and that’s it.” So that’s an adaptation he has had to make. But he has done a good job of it. Apart from that, it hasn’t been too much of an adaptation. I have a great work life, serving as President of SHSU, and I have a great home life, too.