New President Danilowicz committed to Radford University |

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RADFORD — This red plaid-clad Jeep buzzing around the Radford University campus belongs to incoming president Bret Danilowicz.

As his leadership at Radford University begins, Danilowicz said community engagement is one of his priorities. His recently redone 2004 Wrangler with tartan-covered doors and hood is proof of his commitment to the Radford Highlanders.

“It’s one of those things, when you come into a community…you basically choose whether you’re going to be an active part of the community. And if so, it might as well be known,” Danilowicz said. “People are going to know when that Jeep comes, I’m in town.”

Following its July 1 start date, other priorities for the Danilowicz presidency include stabilizing college enrollment, improving the quality of the Highlander experience, and expanding economic development in the surrounding eponymous town of Radford, he said.

“We need to make progress in retaining more of the students we take in as an institution, by graduating more,” Danilowicz said. “It’s important not only as a state institution, but it’s also important to Radford, Pulaski County, all of Southwest Virginia, and the students we serve.”

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This is a challenge facing higher education nationwide: student enrollment dwindles before 2020, then exacerbated by the pandemic. The undergraduate student body in the United States is now about 1.4 million fewer than before the coronavirus, according to data from the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center.

“Nationally, there is a huge shift in what students want. There’s a lot more online environment for students,” Danilowicz said. “We have to go through and understand what that balance between in-person and online should be.”

For Radford University, total enrollment is approaching 12,000 students in fall 2019, but has fallen to around 8,700 students enrolled for the fall 2022 semester, according to school data. The balance of learning opportunities between online and in-person instruction will depend on employers’ needs, Danilowicz said.

“Students continue to push nationwide toward an online environment. I don’t think that’s to our strength as an institution,” Danilowicz said. “We still need to focus primarily on Virginia students, and I would say the traditional experience, where there’s a strong teacher-student interaction.”

He said it was possible for Radford to partner with local employers and community colleges in an effort to strengthen career development opportunities for people beyond the skills that originally hired them.

“One of the things we have the ability to do is help these people, once employed, gain the lifelong learning they might need to further their professional development,” Danilowicz said. “That doesn’t necessarily mean a four-year degree from Radford University, but we can help companies provide that additional training, probably beyond technical skills.”

Tailoring education to employers’ needs aligns with Danilowicz’s hopes of aiding economic development in and around Radford. He said his presidential cabinet includes a new position for the university: vice president for economic development and business education.

“We want to work proactively with businesses, some trying to get them to relocate to the area, employing our students and offering internships,” Danilowicz said. “It’s sort of moving away from ‘everything we do is around a four-year degree or an advanced degree.’ What do employers need to be more successful businesses, and how are we adapting as a university to support this? »

Another economic development idea, Danilowicz wants to work with the city council to reinvigorate planning for an amphitheater, which he says would attract spendthrift spectators and involve students more in the community. This thinking fits into another Danilowicz goal: to improve the overall student and staff experience.

“I don’t believe higher education has done a good job with free speech and freedom of speech,” Danilowicz said. “Universities need to lead by example by getting people to participate and understand other people’s points of view, even if they don’t agree. It is important.”

Upcoming efforts to improve Radford’s experience include streamlining the general education system, which he says is another area where higher education can improve. Additionally, Danilowicz wants to reengage students after the disruptions caused by the coronavirus, he said.

“I don’t need to succeed as president. I need the institution to succeed,” Danilowicz said. “How can I give the institution the means to do better, to be more efficient? »

Seeking answers to that question early in his presidential journey, Danilowicz said he relied on the advice of university staff, city council, county superintendents and former Radford University leaders.

As Radford’s eighth president, the upstate New York native said he also brings past administrative and teaching experiences from University College Dublin in Ireland, Georgia Southern, Oklahoma State and, more recently, Florida Atlantic.

“I want to be a longtime president of this institution,” Danilowicz, 54, said, adding a saying among college presidents that it takes at least 10 years on campus to create an impactful legacy.

“I plan to get past that 10-year mark and keep going,” Danilowicz said. “As long as my wife allows me. As long as the community has me.

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