By Cheryl Toomey, University Relations Graduate Assistant
Chancellor Angle draws from personal experience to lead campus
Chancellor Steven Angle recently sat down with Chattanooga Today contributor and UTC graduate student Cheryl Toomey to discuss his first year at UTC and his vision for the future of the campus.
What drew you to UTC?
I was drawn to UTC by opportunity, and because I knew a little about the University through a friend of mine, who had been Provost here, Phil Oldham. He said so many good things about Chattanooga and UTC that when someone called and said they wanted me to apply for this job, I seriously considered it. It was an incredible opportunity to really make a difference.
How important is the relationship between UTC and the Chattanooga community?
I think it’s extremely important – it’s one of the most important things that we can pay attention to. Learning in the classroom is very important, but how do you apply that knowledge, how do you go out and solve problems in the real world?
Having a connection with our community can help our students do that. The Chattanooga community can provide our students the hands-on learning and experience that helps them to see what it would be like to work in a particular field, to meet people to help them network, and to get them into a job. People in the community aren’t focused on disciplines, they’re focused on the problems of their company or organization. So I think that relationship is really important. There’s a chance to give back to this community, and when you’re not expecting anything in return, that’s when you get the most out of it. I think it’s a lesson that most people learn sooner or later that the dollar in your pocket is important, but it’s that warm feeling in your heart when you make a difference in someone else’s life that makes you really feel good.
What do you think can be done to make it even stronger?
I think we need to listen. We’ve got to show that we’re listening and we’re focused on our community.
I went to Howard High School and talked to the principal and said, “How can we help you?” not “Here’s what we can do to help.” Their students want to start a student government. We have an incredible student government. The quality of students on this campus who are engaged in student government is as good as any institution anywhere. They’ve started engaging with the students at Howard to try and help their students set up an effective, interactive student government to relate to the administration and faculty there. That isn’t anything I would have gone in thinking of, but because we listened, that’s a place we could start to help.
What have you learned about UTC in your time here so far?
I think I’ve learned a lot about our history here. I’ve learned about the history of the University of Tennessee and UTC.
I also didn’t realize the importance of athletics at UTC. I think I didn’t quite understand until I was named chancellor, and the newspaper said, “Chancellor named, now the search for an athletics director can get underway.” It was almost the sub-headline. If the university is the house, then athletics really is the front porch that everyone sees first. It’s a way they relate to the University.
What I did not understand about athletics, I think, besides the importance, is the quality and commitment of the people we have here, of our coaches and staff. They care about the students succeeding in their sport, but also as students. This last semester we had a 3.07 GPA average for student athletes. That’s really good. And we won five Southern Conference championships. Wow! The academic success staff that are associated with athletics, they really take it on themselves to work with these students to see that they are successful in the classroom.
I’ve also learned from getting to talk to some of our alums. The fifty year reunion this past year was really interesting, hearing them talk about who was in their class and who was not. I think that when I look at where we are now and see the lack of diversity then, I have a greater appreciation and understanding of how diversity is equated with success and excellence. In the past, it wasn’t always that way, but you can be proud when you look at how far we’ve come as an institution.
I think something that I didn’t appreciate as I looked at the job was the passion of all the people here at UTC and the depth of commitment and excellence across the board. Chattanooga is incredible, and we’re really fortunate to have passionate faculty and staff and students who want to see this be an even better place, who want to help our students, who want to help our community. The passion is so much deeper here than what I have seen at any place where I’ve visited or been associated with, and that’s a huge advantage to us.
What has most surprised you about the Chancellor position?
The dual role of internal and external. I knew to expect a lot of external relations as chancellor, but that really is such a huge part of the job. It’s a challenge. And our community isn’t huge, it’s not five million people, but it’s still a challenge. We have to make sure that we are listening and engaging. We have to make sure that we are listening to those people and organizations in our community we know have needs.
What do you feel is your most important duty as Chancellor?
I think the students are our number one responsibility. They are why we’re here. That’s job one. They’re why we exist, and that needs to drive us. So I think my most important duty is looking at what’s best for the quality of our programs and our student experience each and every day with every decision.
What past experiences made you the best person for the job of UTC Chancellor?
I taught chemistry, so I saw so many students that wanted to be physicians, and if they couldn’t get into medical school, they thought life was over. It didn’t mean they weren’t good or smart, it didn’t even mean that they might not have been good physicians, but it was too competitive, so how do they find a way to go on and find a sense of satisfaction?
The key is getting them to try hard. I think that we have to understand that everyone is a little different and everyone can find their passion in different ways. I think that the diversity of options needs to be there, so students can find what they love. For our students, that is really critical.
I had a student I advised in chemistry who said, “I just can’t get good grades, but I really want to continue,” and I said, “Yeah, but you’ve taken three years of Russian now and you get straight A’s, and you’ve taken history of Eastern Europe and gotten A’s, and your science is in the C/D area, maybe you should look at that.” He finished off with a minor in business, but he was the only one as Eastern Europe opened up in the ’90s that had a science background with the company that he worked with and he came back and said, “The world was mine because I was the only one who had had any science and liked it, even if I wasn’t good at it.”