Q&A with Ken Shaw, incoming Southern President

Presidential Candidate

On March 2, Southern Adventist University announced that Ken Shaw was selected as the 27th president of the university. Get to know Shaw in this exclusive interview with the Southern Accent where he shares a bit about himself and what he looks forward to as he takes on the position of incoming president. 

  1. For those who did not get to meet you during your visit a few weeks ago, could you share a bit about yourself?

I grew up in Greeneville, Tennessee, with three brothers and a sister. …I attended Little Creek Academy, a self-supporting high school in Knoxville, Tennessee, where academics were taught half of the day and work was required the other half. I enjoyed milking cows, working on their farm, building houses and working in the garden. Southern Missionary College was where I pursued my degree in mathematics with minors in religion and physics.  Prior to starting my senior year, I married my high school sweetheart, Ann.  She had just finished her degree in nursing and began working in Chattanooga while I finished my undergraduate degree.

After graduation, we moved to Hendersonville, Tennessee and I began teaching at Madison Academy as their mathematics, physics and computer programming teacher.  While teaching, I completed my master’s degree in mathematics from Middle Tennessee State University.  After a few years, we moved to Athens, Georgia, where I completed my doctoral work in mathematics education at the University of Georgia.  

I spent 25 years at Florida State University, serving as a professor, campus dean and academic dean, and then moved to Texas where I have most recently had the privilege of serving as president of Southwestern Adventist University (SWAU) for the past seven years.

  1. For the past seven years you have served as the president of SWAU. What made you want to apply to work at Southern? 

Several people reached out to us and encouraged us to apply. Though we were not initially interested, we felt God impressing us to apply for the position. An added bonus is that we will be closer to my family and Ann’s family.  

  1. As a Southern alumnus, how do you feel about rejoining the Southern family? 

For me, it was a privilege to even be considered for this important job. And now having been offered the job, it is both humbling and exciting. Southern Adventist University’s family consists of the wonderful student body, alumni serving communities around the world and the talented faculty, staff and administrators that give of themselves each day. I am excited about connecting and reconnecting with the Southern family.   

  1. How are you going to apply your previous work experience to fulfill the requirements of this job?

God has always provided me with a foundation of experiences that has assisted me in my future roles. I have held a variety of leadership positions in higher education, in the community and in the church. Understanding that every position is different and every situation has its unique characteristics, I have found that using one’s experiential knowledge coupled with a strong trust in the Lord for wisdom is key for success. 

  1. As you take on the position of president, what are some of the plans you are most excited to put into action?

It is too early for me to speak about specific tangible university action plans. I must first understand the progress that is occurring and the plans that are set for the future. I am excited about meeting the administrators, faculty and staff and getting to know them better. Moving an institution forward is best done collectively.

  1. What are some of the challenges you expect to encounter and how do you plan to tackle them?

There are many headwinds facing higher education today. Here are two challenges: Enrollment decline and the cost of higher education. There are more than enough students for all of our Seventh-day Adventist colleges and universities to thrive. Clearly defining Southern’s value proposition and then sharing with families and churches how a Southern experience can have eternal consequences on the lives of students will help reverse the trend of declining enrollments. Increasing the university’s endowment will provide additional ongoing support for student scholarships to help defray the cost of education.  

  1. What is something you want students to know about you?

I have a profound respect for students; I tell those around me that when a student walks into my office, I stand up out of respect. I desire that we will have a culture at Southern Adventist University that is Christ-centered, where we all value one another — administrator, faculty, staff and student alike.

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