Making a difference

“What I did this summer, by Dr. Carol Cartwright, president of Kent State University: 1. Traveled to Turkey … “

Getting a chance to speak with Cartwright is like trying to get an audience with the Queen of England. As president of the second-largest university in Ohio, she’s been in and out of board meetings and recently returned from Turkey on business.

Among her accomplishments during her 12 years at Kent, Cartwright is especially proud of the university’s international projects with Turkey, including a massive water resources and human sustainability project and an historic agreement with Turkey’s Bahcesehir Educational Institutions to improve its university and K-12 schools. It’s this spirit of innovation, combined with the desire to help Kent students succeed, that fuels Cartwright’s passion.

“I’m committed to making a difference, and Kent makes a difference in people’s lives,” she says. “It’s the reason I’m here and the reason I stay. I’m the symbol of that, and that’s what excites me. It happens in thousands of ways, in so many lives.”

Cartwright arrived at Kent in 1991 from the University of California at Davis, where she was vice chancellor for academic affairs. She oversees an annual budget of more than $385 million, and Kent’s eight campuses serve nearly 34,000 students from more than 90 countries.

Cartwright says one of her most important tasks is to guide the college as it equips today’s students to become tomorrow’s leaders.

“First, we have a commitment to the liberal education component at the baccalaureate level,” she says. “Employers want graduates who are good writers, who are skilled at quantitative thinking and who are good problem solvers. Students might change jobs several times during their life. We want to provide the foundation so they will be prepared to shift gears throughout their career.”

She believes in opening a real-world connection for students through internships, externships and links to faculty involved in research so they can see the practical application of their studies.

And if students can’t come to the campus, the campus goes to them via the Internet.

“This shows the university’s service commitment to students who have jobs and families,” she says. ” … It shows the university’s leadership in opening opportunities to students who might not otherwise be able to get a degree.”

Cartwright says the duty of the university president is to provide the environment and support to help people be innovative and to find new ways of promoting higher education. To do that, she serves on the boards of directors of the National Association of State Universities and previously chaired the board of the American Association for Higher Education and served on the board of the American Council on Education.

“You have to encourage creativity, then try to align resources with the innovation of the staff,” she says. “The fundamental role is to empower others in the organization.”

Cartwright has facilitated a link between university and corporate partnerships, and the university is involved in thousands of partnerships and research programs.

Highlights include faculty members studying water quality across North America and educating volunteers about environmental monitoring with “The Great North American Secchi Dip-In” project; the Cleveland Urban Design Collaborative, which is working to revitalize neighborhoods with the Urban Design Center of Northeast Ohio and the School of Architecture and Environmental Design’s graduate program in urban design; the formation of the Center for the Study and Treatment of Traumatic Stress at St. Thomas Hospital between Kent’s psychology department and Summa Health System; new degree programs, such a joint doctoral program in biomedicine with the Cleveland Clinic Foundation, a four-year doctoral program in audiology offered with the University of Akron and an interdisciplinary undergraduate program in biotechnology; and the industrial partnership that 40 companies have formed with Kent’s Liquid Crystal Institute and the Northeastern Ohio Universities College of Medicine to develop and patent a device that uses liquid crystals to identify disease-causing agents within cells in minutes instead of hours.

“I hope business leaders will look to universities as centers of innovation and be eager to sit down and look for mutual partnerships,” Cartwright says. How to reach: Kent State University, http://www.kent.edu