The very first words that Dr. Thomas Evans spoke to the University of Incarnate Word family were of gratitude and praise. As he took the stage at the press conference introducing him to the community, the new president wanted to begin this new chapter the way he believes all things should, by saying “praise be to the Incarnate Word.” Evans, the university’s 10th president, joins UIW during a season of change and growth. Guided by the university’s Mission, Evans is committed to being the community’s steward, building on UIW’s legacy of service and achievement, while ushering in new ideas and approaches to innovation. “The Word” welcomed the opportunity to ask the new president about his insight, priorities and what the future could hold.
As you close a chapter of growth and success as president of Carroll College in Montana, how are you preparing to begin a new one at UIW?
I am learning as much as I can about UIW, including reading all the literature I can find or that has been given to me on the university. Additionally, I am working with Dr. (Denise) Doyle and Dr. (Kathi) Light to gather information that will help me better understand the people and programs currently in place at UIW. I feel that, first and foremost, it is important for me to understand its history while also getting to know its present state.
When you look back at your academic career, what makes you most proud?
It is difficult to pinpoint any one or two things in particular. What makes me most proud is the feeling I have when a student or faculty member is able to do or experience something they never imagined possible and recognizing that I may have had a hand in making that a reality. Their experience has usually stemmed from an academic program or global initiative I had influence in starting.
What do you think is the biggest challenge that today’s students face?
Access and achievement in the face of financial barriers is the first thing that comes to mind. Helping students understand the return on investment and gain financial literacy with respect to managing their investment is crucial for institutions to help students face such challenges.
How do you describe your approach to academic leadership? What guides that approach?
I am a firm believer that enabling others to achieve excellence is key to strong leadership. That is especially true at a time such as this when navigating uncertainty and ambiguous situations requires good thinking to solve complex problems. I reflect often on the principles of EDGE – Explain, Demonstrate, Guide and Enable – in leading teams and feel that demonstrating integrity and ethics while pursuing innovation and excellence is of great importance in a very public role such as a presidency.
What drew you to UIW?
More than anything, and this is important, is that it was the Mission of the university that inspired me. The fact that it is explicit in being a Catholic institution inspired by the charism of the congregation of the Sisters of Charity of the Incarnate Word is incredibly appealing. That it recognizes academic excellence while fostering global perspectives is brilliant for 21st century learning, and recognizing the value of lifelong learning is consonant with my beliefs. That, along with the location (and locations) of the institution, the strong momentum it has sustained, and the wonderful people in the community – almost always referred to as family – made it irresistible to me. I guess it is hard to say what didn’t draw me to the institution.
In your first year at UIW, what are your top priorities?
It probably goes without saying that listening should be a top priority for any new leader. That said, I do have some hypotheses about where Incarnate Word can and should go, and I look forward to discussing them with others in the community. Of course, I really want to get to know all of the different constituencies well and get a sense of what is important to each.
What do you hope to personally contribute to the university community?
I want people to grow in their love for the institution through a love for each other and, most importantly, for our students. Working in higher education is so rewarding to me when students and those working on their behalf achieve their goals. I hope to foster that same sense of vocation in the mission for all, so that the community, and most importantly the students and alumni, feel there is no better place to be or with which to be associated.
It’s a time of change and growth for the university. How are you hoping to support that spirit of innovation?
First, the fact that innovation is a stated value at UIW is an incredible asset and is another point that got my attention and drew me to the community. The value that UIW places on its diversity of programming lends itself so well to continuing to innovate in a time of transition. My hope is to foster a spirit in which that vantage point is maximized and not wasted. We have an opportunity to do something wonderful as thought leaders in higher education if we think and work creatively.
What would you like to say to the UIW community?
I would like to say thank you and for Cardinals everywhere to understand how truly grateful I am to have the opportunity to be with them at a most exciting time. The community has such a strong sense of “family” and a genuine mission orientation. It is because of the great work of the community that I am so excited to be in it.
Story by Marissa Rodriguez
Photos by Robin Jerstad