As Winthrop University awards degrees to nearly 700 undergraduates in two commencement ceremonies Saturday, it also will mark the investiture of President Dan Mahony.
Mahony, 51, took office in July as the 11th president on the Rock Hill campus of more than 6,000 students and nearly 280 faculty. He said he chose a low-key ceremony to save money for other campus needs and to engage students in the process.
“We need to focus on things that we need to do,” he said about the investiture plans, “and not on things that it would be nice to do.”
Ten months after taking on the job, Mahony talked with The Herald in his Tillman Hall office about settling into the job, healing hard feelings from the past and moving the campus forward.
He moved to Rock Hill with his wife, Laura, and two children, Gavin, 16, a sophomore at Rock Hill’s Northwestern High School, and Elena, 14, a student at Rawlinson Road Middle School.
Mahony, a former academic dean at Kent State University in Ohio, said growing student enrollment, increasing employee compensation to more competitive levels and holding down the level of annual tuition and fee increases while raising more money for scholarships are among the school’s goals.
He has been working on a long-range strategic plan, and said a discussion of “how big we want to get” is one the most important he has engaged in with Winthrop trustees.
“That really impacts almost everything else you do,” he said.
Mahony said leaders don’t want to grow too large, because “part of the advantage that Winthrop has is its size.”
But growing enrollment to 7,500 within 10 years seems appropriate, he said. He said that will likely be from a combination of online programs, some targeting older, nontraditional students who can’t get to campus, as well as new graduate and certificate programs and undergraduate recruiting.
“There are about 40,000 people in this area who have some college but no degree, so I think there’s an opportunity to reach out with some programs that will allow them to complete that degree,” he said.
He said freshman enrollment was up 7 percent in the fall of 2015, or about 80 students. He expects to grow that through more “strategic” undergraduate recruiting targeting York County, surrounding counties and some out-of-state areas.
Winthrop also is evaluating the potential for new programs. In some cases, Mahony said, smaller 15-hour certificate programs that offer students some expertise in areas like data analysis or cyber security, which are in demand among employers, “make the most sense.”
Mahony took over last year, after the short and turbulent tenure of former Winthrop president Jamie Comstock Williamson, who was fired by trustees in June 2014 after just 11 months in office.
When he took on the job, he was charged by trustees with addressing low employee morale. He said he has invested time over the past year talking to and listening to faculty members and others.
“They are very passionate and committed to the university, but there also were still some hard feelings about everything that had happened, and they needed an opportunity to express that and to be listened to about that,” he said.
He said Winthrop is working to address faculty or staff compensation, earmarking $200,000 in the current budget to hike salaries in areas where they are not competitive with pay at similar schools.
A committee has been studying the employee compensation issue, he said, and he expects the effort to make employee pay more competitive will continue to be part of budgets over the next few years. He also said he’d like to see a more proactive effort for greater diversity in hiring.
When he arrived in Rock Hill, Mahony talked about ensuring a “quality experience” on campus for students. He said he now believes students have many opportunities for this: interacting with faculty members, receiving support outside the classroom and getting involved on campus.
“This is one of the things that I think is our strength,” Mahony said. “... I find the students here to be far more engaged than the students I’ve been around before.”
One way Mahony has worked to improve student involvement focused on increasing attendance at Winthrop Eagles basketball games during the season from November to March.
His idea for a Game Changers scholarship involved getting 25 donors to each give $100 for each men’s and women’s team home basketball win.
Scholarships of $500 were awarded to three students who attended a home game where Winthrop won; two students received $6,050 scholarships at the end of the season, for a total of $33,050.
And attendance at the games showed a noticeable improvement, based on observations, he said. “I think we’re the only institution that has ever done this,” he said.
Mahony said he expects tuition and fees will continue to increase, as at many other institutions, though he said Winthrop leaders aim to hold the level of the increases down to around 2 to 3 percent each year.
And he said the school will need to work to raise more scholarship money, because even small increases may be too costly for many students.
He also said he’d eventually like to teach a class in sports management, his area of expertise, something his predecessors did not do. He said that might happen in a year or two.
“I just like to teach,” said Mahony. “There is just something different about connecting with students in the classroom. It’s fun to be in a classroom.”
Jennifer Becknell: 803-329-4077
For the first time, Winthrop University will hold two undergraduate commencement ceremonies Saturday at Winthrop Coliseum, Rock Hill. Investiture activities for Winthrop President Dan Mahony will take place at both events.
The ceremonies are:
▪ 10 a.m., for students in the College of Arts & Sciences and College of Visual and Performing Arts.
▪ 3 p.m., for students in the College of Business Administration and Richard W. Riley College of Education.