The University of Montana must build its students’ confidence and bolster their hope for the future, a finalist for the school’s new vice provost for student success said Monday.

Sarah Swager
Sarah Swager

Sarah Swager was the last of four finalists to give an on-campus presentation making her case for the new position in UM President Seth Bodnar’s cabinet.

UM plans to announce its selection within a week. The other finalists include Maureen Powers, Charles Lopez and Daniel Moon.

The new vice provost will work with other members of the cabinet to oversee student affairs and guide key university auxiliaries, including UM Dining, UM Housing, campus recreation and Curry Health Center.

Born and raised in Sheridan, Swager graduated from the small high school there in a graduating class of 29. She was not prepared to attend the much larger private university where she enrolled to study art and said she understands the challenges students face when moving to new places.

“I found that when I went to college, I was a bit of a fish out of water. I went to a college back East, a private liberal arts college, I was probably underprepared in ways I didn’t know until much later,” Swager said Monday.

UM can become more inclusive and student-centered, she said, by focusing on high-impact practices that promote deep learning and student engagement, connections with faculty, mentors and fellow students, and, most importantly, improving a student’s hope for their future.

“If a student feels confident and feels hope that they can actually get to their end point, they’re more likely to get there,” Swager said.

Selling what the university has to offer is a major part of recruitment – whether the potential students are Montanans or from out of state, she said.

Providing students better connections with faculty and both a professional and academic adviser will improve student satisfaction, Swager said. Creating partnerships statewide with tribal and community colleges to smooth the transition from school to school is another goal.

The four finalists for the new student success position have extensive background in student services, enrollment and student retention, and program and curriculum design.

Moon is the vice president for budgets and personnel at the University of North Florida, overseeing the budget for academic affairs and budget development.

Lopez is the vice provost for undergraduate studies and student success at Eastern Washington University, having helped increase the four-year graduation rate from 22 percent to 25 percent. He helped integrate a general education program that includes a yearlong first-year experience for freshmen.

Powers is the executive consultant at Barry University in Miami, Florida, and was chosen to design and deliver developmental workshops for professional staff on student success, engagement methods and other strategies. She designed focus groups on commuting safety with college students and sexual harassment and sexual assault.

Swager is the vice president for student affairs at Carlow University and worked at Randolph College, formerly known as Randolph-Macon Woman’s College, in Virginia for 13 years. She managed major institutional change from single-sex to co-education and worked to preserve traditions and keep the college’s doors open.

Adrea Lawrence, chair of the search committee, said the new position will bridge the gap between student affairs and academic affairs.

For faculty, resources for students can come across as peripheral, but with students who are actively engaged in every aspect of a school, it’s vital to have a leader and supervisor focused on spreading the word about services, Lawrence said.

“We have some really amazing people and services on this campus, and it would be nice if we all knew about that,” she said.

The people of Montana are adventurous, she said, and the University of Montana administration needs to question and think about what makes Missoula a unique place to find adventure and provide students an exceptional college experience.

“What does that adventurousness look like here? How do we support that in the context of going out in the world and being a citizen of the world in a bold way?” she said.