Deborah Curtis, installed Friday as Indiana State University’s 12th president, praised the university’s many partners and spoke of continued cooperative efforts to advance ISU and the community.
“This community has so much potential, with its esteemed higher education institutions, its location at the crossroads of America and its wealth of resources,” she said as she delivered her address during the inauguration ceremony at Hulman Center. “We believe that by working together, we can create a new period of economic vitality for Vigo County and the surrounding area.”
More than 100 delegates attended, representing the university’s network of partners — sister institutions, nonprofit agencies, corporate entities and student organizations.
“This is a great day for the university, and only the 12th time in our 153-year history that we have observed the installation of a new president,” said Ed Pease, vice chair of the ISU board of trustees and chair of the presidential transition team.
“Today is indeed special as we are inaugurating an alumna of Indiana State and our first female president.” Pease is a former ISU vice president, state senator and congressman.
Several speakers referenced Curtis’ being the first woman president at ISU, including U.S. Sen. Todd Young, who further stated, “We should strive to place even more of our talented women in university leadership, in corporate boardrooms ... and elective office,” a comment that drew applause.
During the installation, ISU trustee Jeff Taylor described Curtis as “a leader who possesses the traits we were looking for in our search process — boundless energy, tremendous dedication to students, visionary thinking and a sense of humor. We also found a woman of great intelligence but with a humility that is rare among university leaders.”
ISU trustee chair Dave Campbell said that Curtis, former provost at the University of Central Missouri and dean of education at Illinois State University, brings not only experience but “unbridled enthusiasm and a love of education that anyone who encounters her will quickly realize.”
After Curtis was presented with the presidential medallion, officially signifying her installation, she gave an address in which she thanked ISU partners, pointed to the university’s strengths and looked to its future.
Her sense of humor came through. At one point, she talked about her initial reaction when the inauguration committee asked if she had any concerns about the ceremony taking place on Friday the 13th. “Bring it on,” she responded. Later, she realized April 13 was also her 100th day as president.
She described her first 100 days as a fast-paced introduction to internal and external stakeholders, which she likened to “taking a sip from a firehose.”
Despite the fast pace, after more than three months as ISU president, “I can say this opportunity is everything I had hoped it would be and more,” Curtis said.
She described ISU as “the state of Indiana’s university,” noting that the vast majority of its students are from Indiana, and nearly 85 percent of graduates remain in Indiana to live, work and raise families. “Indiana State plays a significant role in the preparation of the state’s workforce and helps drive the state’s economy,” she said.
Curtis also made reference to ISU athletics and “welcoming in the next era of Sycamore athletics. ... Let’s commit to an expectation of excellence on the court, on the field, on the course, in the pool and anywhere our student athletes compete.”
She noted that a $50 million renovation will soon be underway at Hulman Center, which hosts many community events. “Indiana State looks forward to ongoing collaboration with the city of Terre Haute and our community partners to develop additional convention and meeting space to bring many more visitors to Terre Haute,” she said.
Among the dignitaries on the platform with her were former ISU presidents Dan Bradley and Lloyd Benjamin; Curtis thanked Bradley, who stepped down Jan. 1, for the accomplishments during his tenure. “We pledge that we will do all that we can to build upon that work to take our university to the next level,” she said.
In coming months, the university will work on fine-tuning ISU’s strategic plan in the areas of enrollment management; inclusive excellence; student affairs and advancement.
To meet ISU’s enrollment goals, “We will need to broaden the funnel to include more adult and online learners,” she said.
Under student affairs, she hopes to address student issues that include mental health, food insecurity, housing issues and financial well-being. “How do we plan to provide assistance when needed?” she said.
As far as advancement, “Increasing the private dollars raised and building the level of our endowment are essential to providing the margin of excellence we want to attain,” she said.
After the ceremony, Curtis said in an interview, “It’s really a thrill to be able to do this, but now it’s the sign that work is beginning. The transition is done, and it’s off to the races,” she said. University partners will be critical for ISU’s continued success.
Curtis and husband, Lynn, are the parents of five adult children and have nine grandchildren; all of their children and several grandchildren attended.
A presidential inauguration dinner took place Friday evening in the Sycamore Banquet Center. The net proceeds, estimated at more than $41,000, will support the Michael L. Phillips Student Emergency Fund, which helps Indiana State students with unmet financial needs.