Washington State University Tri-Cities is poised to become a world destination campus in the coming years, said Ronald Brown, a chancellor candidate who visited the Richland campus Monday.
The school has good working relationships with private partners, the community is supportive, diverse programs are in place and the climate is amazing, he said.
"I heard you have 300 days of sunshine," said Brown while meeting with faculty, administrators, students and community members. "I'm anxious to take part in that."
But the future of the university depends on its students -- recruiting, retaining and then sending them out to be successful, he said. That means increasing student enrollment, helping students afford their education and giving them reasons to stay.
Brown is provost and senior vice president for academic affairs at Wayne State University in Detroit, a campus with more than 30,000 students and almost 8,000 employees. Prior to that he was dean of the College of Health Professions and Social Work at Temple University in Philadelphia. He is a pediatric psychologist by training.
WSU Tri-Cities, which has about 1,400 students, has sought a chancellor since Vicky Carwein left in September to become chancellor at Indiana University-Purdue University Fort Wayne. James R. Pratt is serving as interim chancellor.
At a public forum attended by about 75 people, Brown lauded the yet-to-be built Wine Science Center, which he said would make the campus a destination institution for the entire world, as well as the community's interest in the university.
Brown spoke of the university's enrollment goal of having 5,000 students by 2020 during his prepared comments. That goal can be met, he said, but it will mean enhancing the campus, such as with student dorms, amassing money for scholarships and making sure students get a quality educational experience.
"Research shouldn't just be an intellectual activity where researchers are engaged but with students engaged as well," he said.
Audience members asked Brown about what should be done to increase communication with administrators on the Pullman campus. He said the key is to groom leaders to interact with the main campus.
He also fielded questions on student retention, noting that Wayne State had 25 percent overall student retention when he arrived there in 2010. He's led efforts to provide more student advisers, build up funding, employ more full-time faculty to interact with students and evaluate individual schools within the university for retention.
The full effect on retention hasn't been measured, as that takes six years, but Brown said the one-year retention rate is now at 76 percent.
"It's probably the most important thing I've ever done at Wayne State," he said.
Danny Talbot, co-chairman of the chancellor search committee and an associate professor of education leadership, said Brown has a different style than Karla Hughes, the chancellor candidate who visited campus Friday, but he appreciated Brown's approach and his focus on students during his talk.
"The students are what we do and why we're here," Talbot said.
More than 100 people turned in evaluation forms for Hughes following her visit last week and more were handed out to people Monday attending Brown's public forum. Talbot said the feedback will play a role in WSU President Elson S. Floyd's final choice for chancellor.
A third candidate is scheduled to visit the campus on Feb. 28, though university officials have not revealed who the candidate is or any other details.