‘Today is a great day to become a Forester’

On June 1, 2013, a new chapter in Huntington University's history began.

The day came without pomp and circumstance that would come later. And yet, the day was momentous. It was the beginning of new leadership for the university, a change in its presidency that would guide the institution into the future.

It was the first official day for Dr. Sherilyn Emberton.

Unofficial Indiana roots

Dr. Sherilyn Emberton's road to becoming a Forester began years ago and far from Huntington.

A native Texan, she earned her Bachelor of Science degree in education from Stephen F. Austin State University, located in Nacogdoches, a small, central Texas town.

Emberton earned a Master of Education degree from the same school a few years later, and then completed her Doctor of Education degree at Texas A&M University-Commerce. LeTourneau University in Longview, Texas, hired her soon after.

But there were signs she would be led to Indiana.

God gave her a love of basketball which she both played and coached. And her favorite movie is, you guessed it, "Hoosiers."

"(God) was preparing me for something I didn't see at the time," she said.

Emberton always dreamed of being an educator. Her success in the field moved her through the ranks of the universities which hired her.

Her career took her from LeTourneau to Lincoln Memorial University in Harrogate, Tenn., to East Texas Baptist University in Marshall, Texas, where she served as the provost and vice president for academic affairs.

In her various positions, she has gained extensive experience in areas of diversity initiatives by raising gender equality at one institution and academic program development, having launched graduate programs in counseling, education, law, medicine, religion and sports leadership.

Eventually, her dream grew. God was preparing her for a new stage in life. Little did she know at the time that those plans would lead her to Huntington, Ind.

The Road to HU

It was others who first recognized the potential in Emberton for college leadership. They encouraged her to pursue a position of leadership, and eventually, to apply to Huntington.

In October 2012, Dr. G. Blair Dowden announced that he would be retiring as the 12th president of HU on May 31, 2013. Immediately, a public search began for his replacement. The Board of Trustees hired a national search firm, Carter-Baldwin Executive Search, to begin the process. A Presidential Advisory Task Force was formed to review applications and conduct interviews. On April 26, the committee made its recommendation to the board. It was a unanimous "Yes" for Emberton.

"Dr. Emberton is a highly-gifted leader with extensive higher education administrative experience, including positions at public, private and faith-based institutions," said Kelly Savage, board chair. "She will effectively guide Huntington University into the future with innovative ideas for program development as well as ground-breaking strategies to increase awareness of our institution."

Emberton accepted the presidency with enthusiasm and with an awareness of the significant responsibility she was undertaking.

"At that moment, you feel that honor and you feel that weight of that position," she said. "Then you move into absolute thrill and excitement (because you know) that you're going to join that family."

Joy filled the campus at the announcement of her hiring, and a sense of pride everywhere was felt the moment Emberton stated that "today is a great day to become a Forester."

"I made a conscious decision several years ago that if I was going to pursue executive leadership at an institution it would have to be an institution that focused on faith," she said. "I believe that Huntington University is going to continue to provide a rare opportunity to shape the faith-focused vision for the next generation of our students."

Emberton joins the university as its 13th president in its long 116-year history.

"Dr. Emberton brings an uncommon set of skills and abilities to HU. Her focus on student learning, experience in building high-quality academic programs and her vision for the future of Christ-centered education are just what we need," said Dr. Ann McPherren, senior vice president for strategy. "HU and other universities like ours are facing exciting challenges. Dr. Emberton's energy and fresh perspective will help turn those challenges into opportunities."

Y'all in the Family

Changes are in store for Huntington University. Yes, they come with a few more "y'alls" and a southern style, but Emberton said she is committed to furthering the mission of Huntington University however that may be accomplished.

"The thing that I am most excited about is her heart for Christian education and for students. In the time I have had to talk with her, she wanted to hear from students what they liked about Huntington and what they wanted to change," said Luke McConnell, a sophomore and 2013-14 student body president. "I hope that she will be able to help Huntington continue to be the awesome safe haven that it is for so many students."

With all of the duties that come with being president, Emberton is most excited about what she can do for students. She wants to hear from them even setting up a Twitter and Facebook account to interact with them and she plans to spend as much time as possible with students.

"One of the pledges I made to the students is when I'm on campus I will be with them," she said. "I want to be someone who is a part of their lives."

Emberton carries that sense of warmth and welcoming with her everywhere she goes. A Texas-sized heart is evident in every interaction with faculty and staff, community members and, of course, students.

Her résumé speaks for itself with experience in private and public institutions, the business world, profitable financial and program planning, the launch of academic and diversity initiatives and the poise of a seasoned professional. But what you may not see is the way she puts into motion every thought and every idea with distinct intentionality.

"To really get a sense of how she will impact HU you only needed to watch her interact with students, faculty and staff during her reception in April," said Jeff Berggren, senior vice president for enrollment management and marketing. "It had been a long and grueling day, … but you sensed no fatigue from Dr. Emberton's energy and enthusiasm as she met the HU campus community. It was handshakes, hugs and smiles all around. … She is a respected leader, a knowledgeable builder of programs but also an approachable person."

The Future Under Her Leadership

Over this summer, Emberton will make her transition to her new role and her new home in Huntington. She will live in the Bangs Memorial President's Home with her dog, Buddy. She is very close to her mother who may live with her on campus part of the year.

"She is loads of fun," Emberton said of her mother who is a retired teacher. "(Students) will adore her."

Over the first 100 days, the Presidential Transition Committee will assist Emberton in planning and fostering communication about presidential activities, campus events and community introductions. They will provide feedback to the president and the Board of Trustees through the first few months of her transition.

"We're looking forward to introducing Dr. Emberton to our community. It may take longer than 100 days for a new president to fully absorb HU's 116 years of mission and impact, but 100 days is long enough to make a lot of good friends on campus, in the northeast Indiana community and among our alumni," said McPherren, who is chairing the committee.

As Emberton begins her tenure as the university's 13th president, she hopes to continue the legacy that was begun by so many presidents before her.

"I hope to make it a better place," Emberton said. "I hope to make it a place to equip fantastic young people for (the Lord)."