Ana Patterson, the first woman and first Hispanic president of Southwestern Adventist University, explains how her years as part of the community and her time as a full-time mother prepared her for new role as president.
Question: Congratulations on your appointment as president of Southwestern Adventist University, replacing Ken Shaw, who has moved to Southern Adventist University. What makes you the most excited about your new job?
Answer: Thank you. It is a great honor to be selected to lead Southwestern Adventist University. I have been a part of this campus since 2012 and have held roles as a professor for the Department of Business Administration, Enactus faculty advisor, and most recently the position of special assistant to the president.
What makes me the most excited about my new job is that I get to work with a team that shares a vision to provide quality, Christ-centered higher education and prepare young adults to enter their careers prepared and ready to serve others.
I believe that you are the first woman, and first Hispanic person, to serve as president of Southwestern—and one of the few women presidents of any Adventist tertiary institution. In addition, you are one of the youngest presidents. Do you feel that you are representing a new generation?
During the selection process I did not focus on the “firsts”—I was focused on representing who I was and how my experiences have prepared me to lead. My prayer was that God’s will be done for the school.
It wasn’t until after I was named that I began to see the impact of what representation has meant to a new generation of leaders. I think that leadership is an awesome responsibility and a gift that can be developed in our young adults. If a young person can look to me and feel that they can also pursue opportunities to lead, then that is a blessing!
What would you like to achieve as president of Southwestern?
A primary goal is to strategically support continued growth in enrollment, academic offerings, and student life. In addition, I would like to see a vibrant campus environment where young adults can find friends, mentors, and most importantly, Christ.
What do you think are the biggest challenges right now for Southwestern?
I think the challenges SWAU faces are the same as most private institutions of higher education. The needs of young adults are changing—they are highly concerned about cost, or they are unsure of what career path they want to pursue and if they even want to attend college.
With every challenge there is an opportunity. We can work with students to find ways to make their education financially feasible, and we can provide support through our Pathways to Student Success Office for students to explore their career choices, internships, or campus employment. Some may think that being a small campus is a challenge, but it is also a strength because it allows us to provide a more individualized experience.
How has Covid changed student life at Southwestern? How has the beginning of this school year been going so far?
Over the past 18 months we have all learned a lot about how to live in a pandemic! Our students have lived through an abrupt online transition and hybrid learning over the past year. This fall we are excited to be back on campus and our focus is to deliver in-person instruction. Of course, we have all learned that certain protocols are in place to keep everyone safe, and overall our students have adapted well.
Our campus motto this fall when it comes to Covid-19 has been to communicate concerns and practice compassion.
How is the enrollment at Southwestern? Has it fallen in recent years? Has it fallen as a result of the pandemic?
Enrollment at SWAU has seen an increase over the past two years. This fall we have seen an increase in overall retention and in our on-campus enrollment. I think that our location has been a benefit. We are in a rural setting, but we still have easy access to the metroplex. After online and hybrid learning, many students are eager to be back in the classroom and participating in campus activities. The campus is full of life!
You earned your BA in healthcare administration from Southwestern in 1999 and your MBA from Southwestern in 2012, so you are a long-time member of the Southwestern community. Basically, you arrived in Texas from New York City in 1995 to attend college and you never left! What advantages does this give you in your new job? Do you think it also has disadvantages?
While I did stay near Keene, my experiences were not limited to the campus community. I live in an adjacent city where my family owns a business and my children have grown up. I have had the opportunity to work with many local organizations and form relationships with community leaders in the area. I think this is an advantage because I had less of a learning curve from that standpoint. My teaching experience provided a huge advantage because I feel that I have a unique understanding of our student body.
I have not worked at another institution and that may be seen as a disadvantage, but I am always willing to learn and connect with colleagues on other campuses.
Which of the jobs you have held has prepared you the best for this new role?
Hands down, the job that has prepared me the best for this role is being a stay-at-home mother when my children were younger. Mothers have to problem solve, think on their feet, consider the needs of others, and keep the best interests of the whole at the forefront. Being a mother is my number one job and it has taught me more than any other role.
What do you think makes Southwestern unique among its sister Adventist institutions?
I can’t really compare SWAU to other institutions, but I can share what I love about it.
This is a very special community of employees and students. Our campus is friendly and hospitable. Our faculty are dedicated to the academic success of their students. Our staff go above and beyond to ensure student needs are met. Our students are eager to learn and willing to serve. They are diverse and represent a variety of cultures, ethnicities, and backgrounds. However, when you see them at a vespers program, afterglow, or student association event they are ALL Knights!
What are your biggest plans and goals for Southwestern Adventist University?
I am very optimistic about the future of our campus. We are in the process of implementing a new enterprise resource planning system that will transform our digital capabilities and improve efficiencies in the services we can provide across campus. We want to meet the needs of our students and our academic departments and will be exploring next steps on several projects.
What are your career goals? Is this what you saw yourself doing when you were young?
I am right where I need to be right now. My next career goal is to complete my PhD and continue to serve at SWAU.
As a child, my favorite thing was being a student! I loved everything about going to school. In high school my goal was to be an author.
Can you tell us about your family? What do you like to do when you are not working?
I have been married to my husband, Greg, for 25 years. We met as students attending Garden State Academy in New Jersey. We have three teenagers, Dominick (18), Sophia (16) and Christian (13). We enjoy traveling, trips to the beach, fishing, and boating. My husband has a green thumb and I do my best to help him in our garden. I love to cook, and we enjoy sharing meals at home together and with friends.
Ana Patterson received both her BBA and MBA from Southwestern Adventist University. She began teaching in the Department of Business Administration in 2012. For seven years she served as faculty advisor for Enactus, connecting students and business leaders through entrepreneurial-based service projects. In July 2020, Patterson was selected to serve as special assistant to the president, where she has been coordinating the campus response to Covid-19 and assisting with various marketing projects. Mrs. Patterson has served on several community boards including the Johnson County Children’s Advocacy Center, Keene Adventist Elementary School Board, and the Johnson County Hunger Coalition.
Alita Byrd is the interviews editor for Spectrum.
Photo courtesy of Ana Patterson and Southwestern Adventist University.
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