Pictures were yet to be hung. The furniture was sparse. She was still moving in. But among the things well in place and front and center on Dr. Sylvia Carey-Butler’s office desk in the University of Wisconsin Oshkosh Center for Equity and Diversity office was a small slip of paper with a few names written down.
Carey-Butler’s Post-It note contained a growing list of students — the people who, in her first few days as assistant vice chancellor for the academic support of inclusive excellence, she had an opportunity to bump into at student event or two, to personally meet and to say hello to – students like the hundreds and hundreds of others she is eager to help succeed in her critical UW Oshkosh leadership position.
“I was missing students,” said Carey-Butler, explaining her motivation and excitement in accepting the UW Oshkosh post and adding to an impressive career of achievement in higher education.
“At the end of the day, when I think if inclusive excellence, I think of it as a partnership — a contract, if you will — between the student and the institution,” she said. “We’re going to help each student, no matter their color, race, ethnicity, gender or sexual orientation to reach his or her full potential… If I did not feel that my student centered leadership style would be something that would be embraced, I wouldn’t have accepted the position.”
Carey-Butler joins UW Oshkosh as its first permanent assistant vice chancellor for the academic support of inclusive excellence in nearly five years. She was preceded by Muriel Ann Hawkins, who retired from the post in spring 2009. Irma Burgos, director of the center of Academic Support and Diversity, had served in the role on an interim basis.
Carey-Butler brings to campus 30 years of experience in higher education, most recently marked by her dual-positions as interim director of the United Negro College Fund (UNCF) Institute for Capacity Building and UNCF’s Director of the Enrollment Management program, in which she worked with 38 private, historically black colleges, focused on strengthening curriculum, building enrollment.
“I believe in the field of dreams… If you build it, they will come,” Carey-Butler said. “I’m not concerned about the recruitment of students of color. I’m concerned about the retention and graduation of students of color because reputation will speak for itself.”
Carey-Butler knows challenge on multiple fronts. Aside from working to increase the success rates for students of color at institutions in throughout New York state and in Pennslyvania, she has also served as assistant provost and dean of honors at Dillard University in New Orleans, LA., in both calm and storm. She coordinated student programs and worked to increase faculty engagement in the wake of Hurricane Katrina’s devastation of the campus.
Her published research has involved examinations of the experiences of black males at not-for-profit colleges and universities and successful student engagement inside and outside the classroom. She has been deeply involved in community service and civic engagement in each of the campus and broader communities she has served in, working with Boys and Girls Clubs in Pennslyvania to faith community strategic planning groups to the Red Cross – an agency she has personal connection to, having received aid from it when, as a child, her family of 11 was displaced by a house fire.
“My whole notion of civic engagement goes beyond the work I do,” Carey-Butler said. “I don’t see myself in this work as just a part of the campus. I’m going to look for ways to be engaged in this community.”
Carey-Butler moved to Oshkosh with her husband, who retired from the military after a 30-year-career that involved service around the globe. They have an 18-year-old son who is attending college out of state. She said when the position at UW Oshkosh opened up and caught her attention, with her family’s support, she gravitated toward it given the state higher educational system’s national reputation for inclusivity.
“The University of Wisconsin System is known for its work around inclusive excellence throughout the country,” she said.
Carey-Butler said she plans to be intentional and focused as she moves into her new role.
“I’m going to take my time,” she said, stressing her commitment to forging new strategic partnerships. “I want to learn the community. I want to know what’s worked and what hasn’t. I’m developing my 90-day plan. I want to be very thoughtful in how I enter the community and in my approach. I want people to know that, yes, things are going to happen, but they aren’t going to be immediate.”
She also said she hopes opportunities to teach at UW Oshkosh develop, as she has, in some way, been at the head of the class on every campus she has ever served. Carey-Butler has taught freshman seminars and honors student courses on research methodologies.
“I will create time specific for students, but I also plan to go to the students,” she said. “I will be at sporting events, different programs, theatre events — I will get out there and be a part of this community.”