Otterbein University realizes its potential by reaffirming core values


The second year of Kathy A. Krendl’s presidency, Otterbein University moved from quarters to semesters, and she kept hearing about the pain of new curriculum preparation.

“I decided I would be part of the pain and teach one of our first-year seminars,” Krendl says. “So I teach a first-year seminar on women in leadership. The first-year seminars are all thematically based. We have the same leadership objectives, but we layer on top of it curriculum content.”

Krendl started as a high school English teacher and has continued to teach, even as a college administrator.

At Otterbein, she’s used her seminar to expand the university’s footprint and commitment to women, which is particularly relevant at a school where the first two graduates were women and where Krendl is the first women president.

Six years later, she’s still teaching the Women in Leadership course at least once a year.

“There are not many presidents that teach on a regular basis, but it keeps me plugged in,” she says. “It’s been awhile since I was 18 years old and left home for college. It keeps me grounded in terms of what this is all about.”

Krendl hasn’t been afraid to step in and lead the university in new directions, to help it stay relevant for higher education. Just like she wasn’t afraid to step in, teach a class and experience the pain of curriculum preparation.

Here’s how Otterbein — which has annual revenue of $66 million and more than 300 faculty and staff — is recommitting to its core values.

A foundation for the future

When Krendl came on board, the recession was in full swing and costs were significant.

The affordability of higher education was in question across the country. The 18- to 22-year-old population was in decline. Fewer students were academically prepared for a college education.

It was time for a fresh look.

“We had been very dependent on 18- to 22-year-old students from the immediate region,” Krendl says. “That was not going to be a viable future for us. Everybody wanted to come to Central Ohio and recruit those students, who were well prepared and coming from strong school systems.”

Otterbein needed to diversify its population and create more support structures for its students. Instead of just focusing on undergraduate education, there was untapped potential in the graduate and professional studies areas.

“It was something that we needed to address in terms of building on our foundation for the future,” she says.

The current strategic plan was almost done, so Krendl says it was time to hit the restart button.

“Many institutions are repositioning from a defensive mode,” she says. “We’re trying to do it from a vision perspective and realize what we consider to be our potential.”

In order to reposition itself, Otterbein had to first build a foundation with vision and mission statements. Then, the university’s leadership was able to create a new strategic plan, master plan, academic plan and enrollment plan.

Krendl says it took a long time and a lot of discussions to lay that foundation of mission and vision. You can’t expect it to be an overnight project.

“I went from department to department here. I talked at senate. I talked with our alumni council. I talked with alumni at events. I talked with the board repeatedly. I talked with community members,” she says. “We really did a very thorough job of getting the voices included in the conversation.”

Influences from the past

As an outsider, Krendl was fascinated by Otterbein’s history. So, she spent time trying to understand the core and heart of the institution.

She found examples of inclusion and innovation. Otterbein was one of the first institutions founded with equal graduation requirements for men and women. African-American students were admitted prior to the Civil War, and Japanese students came from the internment camps during World War II.