Wednesday, September 8, was Southern Adventist University President Ken Shaw’s 100th day in the position. On Tuesday, September 7, he sat down with Southern Accent News Editor Amanda Blake for an exclusive interview. Please note: The following dialogue has been edited slightly for length and clarity.
- How has your experience at Southern been so far?
It’s been delightful. I have really had the privilege and pleasure of getting to know the administrative staff in a very close way. As the faculty came for fall semester, I had a chance to interact with a number of them at a picnic and at several activities on campus. I really enjoyed a special dinner we held for new faculty, where each of them introduced themselves and talked about how God directed them to Southern. I just sat back and thought, “This is God’s school. He directed people with their passion and expertise to come to Southern and teach.”
- What has been the best part of your experience as president?
I love having conversations with students and listening to their stories — why they decided to come to Southern, their experiences here, how they appreciate the faculty members, what they’re learning and the internships that they’re getting. To me, that is the highlight and most important thing.
- How did your experience change as more students arrived on campus?
For June and July, it was unusually quiet. But I’ve been around higher education for a long time, so the summer is typically quiet. I was excited to see the SmartStart start and to have students back on campus. This is what the university is designed to do — to have thousands of students on campus walking the promenade and going to classes. I had the opportunity yesterday to hand out some popcorn up at the student center, and I really enjoyed the interactions with students.
- How many times have you gone down the slide?
I think — it’s hard to count now — probably half a dozen times.
- Where do you live? Is there a Southern White House?
There is not a Southern White House. I’m living in one of the university’s rental homes. Several years ago, a donor called the President’s Office and said she was interested in donating a house. She was put in touch with our advancement office. And after further checking, they found out this lady didn’t have a house to give, but she wanted to purchase a home and then donate it to the university. Well, I’m now in that rental home, and the university uses part of the proceeds to pay for scholarships for students. I love that story, and I love that part of what I pay in rent every month is going to help students.
- What have been your greatest struggles so far?
I don’t know that there’s been anything out of the ordinary other than we’re living in a pandemic. I think that’s the biggest challenge we have on the campus because it impacts students and faculty. It impacts all of us.
- Have you made any advancements in your goal to forge stronger connections with the local community?
I’ve had opportunities in the last three months to meet with a lot of the business leaders of downtown Chattanooga. I met with the United Way of Greater Chattanooga president, the Rotary Club of Chattanooga president and the Chattanooga Chamber of Commerce president. I’ve met with the mayor of Collegedale as well. Today (September 7), I hope to meet the governor. He’s going to be in Collegedale. So, I am starting to build these connections, and I know a lot of our faculty were already engaged in the community in some special ways. I want Southern to really be top of mind in the greater Chattanooga area when they start thinking about higher education and specifically Christian higher education.
[Shaw met Governor Lee on September 7, as confirmed in a later email to the Accent].
- Have you made any advancements in your goal to grow the university’s endowment?
We’re just beginning that process right now. We have a goal to hopefully grow our endowment from what I think is a little over $60 million right now to $80 million by 2025.
- Do you have any other major goals or plans for Southern?
I think we have the capacity to have more students here on campus, so I would love to start a few initiatives to increase enrollment. I’m working closely with Mr. Merryman, who’s our VP for enrollment, and we’re just finalizing some of those goals now. This school was designed to educate all our students across the Southern Union, so I want to be very intentional about that.
- What does it mean to you to be the first alum to serve as president?
I feel really honored. When I was here as a student, I had no idea that I would ever be in a leadership position such as this. I thought I’d be a math teacher for the rest of my life, but God has a way of moving us in the direction He wants us to go.
- What are some of your favorite memories that you made as a Southern student?
There are many. I loved being with and dating my now wife. I loved being in the band and touring. I have a lot of great memories. When you’re with a team in sports or in music, with your group of people, there’s something special about that.
- Is there anything else you would like to tell students about you or this upcoming school year?
I hear from students all the time as they’re getting ready to graduate, and they’re thinking, “I’ll never have an experience like this again.” That is so true when you leave the beautiful community that we have here at Southern Adventist University. To me, this is a special place because it’s not just about academic learning. It’s about spiritual learning. It’s about emotional learning. You might find a spouse here, and you’re generating friends for life. I come back here, and there are still people living in this community that I went to school with. And there’s a bond that just sort of brings us together. You guys are building that right now, and you’ll have that to rely on throughout your life.