Edward Serna wants to redefine the role of interim.
“People think of interims as stopgaps,” said Serna, who assumed the role of interim chancellor at the University of Arkansas – Fort Smith Sept. 1. “We don’t want this to be thought of as a stopgap year or a transition period. Fort Smith and our students deserve more. This community wants action and innovation, and we’re going to give them both this year.”
Fittingly, his first week on the job included the unveiling of the UAFS Promise, a fixed tuition program conceptualized by Serna that he says will prove a “game changer” for the university and the community it serves.
But the UAFS Promise is only the beginning. Serna said the university is in the process of developing more innovative programs to drive recruitment of diverse student populations including veterans, non-traditional students, and community college students.
“We’ve already taken steps toward recruiting these students through our unmanned aircraft systems associate degree,” Serna said. “If we were going to start a UAS program, we were committed to doing it right, and we have the personnel in place to elevate this program to the national level and break into new markets.”
Other areas of focus under Serna’s tenure include continuing a First-Year Success Center to be opened in fall 2019, aligning marketing and admissions, and increasing engagement with the campus community to drive development of new programs and ideas.
“We have talented employees who are passionate about helping students, and I want them to know that my door is open,” Serna said. “If you have an idea on how to do something better than we’ve been doing it, I want to hear it. Good ideas come from all levels of the organization, not just administration.”
With 15 years’ experience in program management and consulting, Serna brings a unique background to his role as interim chancellor. Prior to coming to UAFS, Serna served as a program manager in unmanned aircraft systems through his work with Science & Engineering Services in Huntsville, Ala. He also previously spent seven years as a strategy and organization associate at Booz Allen Hamilton, where he served as a consultant for the U.S. Army and NASA.
He also served as an adjunct and full-time faculty member at different institutions, which instilled in him a passion for higher education.
“When I started teaching, I was hooked,” Serna said. “I saw the impact I could make in these students’ lives. I knew then that higher education was where I belong.”
At the end of Serna’s year as interim, he hopes to see an enrollment increase with a “healthy and sustainable” mix of student populations, increased engagement in the community, and a thriving campus culture of collaboration and innovation.
“Ultimately, this doesn’t need to be just a year of action, but a year of reflection about who we are as an institution,” Serna said. “More than half of our students are Pell-eligible and/or first-generation students. We’re a former community college, so workforce development is part of our organizational DNA. We’re a regionally unique school, and we need to develop regionally unique ideas and programs.”