COOKEVILLE – Lori Mann Bruce, the new provost at Tennessee Tech University, feels that she is starting at the “exact right time of the year.”
“In my opinion, it’s the best time of the academic year,” Bruce said. “Everybody’s approaching graduation. It’s hectic. It’s exciting. And students are a little stressed, but also excited about the end of the academic year.”
During Bruce’s first week on campus, she has been struck by how beautiful the campus is in the spring time. But it is her time during meetings this past week that has impressed her even more.
“People are very student focused,” she said. “I’ve been to a lot of meetings that are about budgets, schedules and other topics related to running a large university, but I can say in every meeting, in every conversation, the focus has been on what’s best for the students, and that’s been very impressive to me.”
For Phil Oldham, Tennessee Tech’s president, Bruce fits well with Tech’s student-focused nature.
“Dr. Bruce has the experience and skills to excel in her position, to lead Tech’s academic efforts,” Oldham said. “And on top of that, even after more than 20 years in higher education, she remembers the core reason a university exists is to serve students, to help them realize their full potential. I think she will help us create the Tennessee Tech of tomorrow.”
The provost is responsible for academics at the university and is Tech’s highest-ranking academic officer. In this role, Bruce works with the university’s 10 deans in overseeing Tech’s colleges and library, along with six other units, ranging from Distance Education to Military Science.
Higher education currently faces numerous challenges, including how colleges differentiate themselves to prospective students. Bruce thinks this is an area that Tech can excel in because the university is “perfectly poised” as a leader in high technology, STEM-based disciplines. For her, it’s clear that these disciplines are where the job market is going, and where Tech is well positioned to serve students, industry and the community as a STEM-infused, comprehensive institution.
“I think having a value proposition is important,” Bruce said. “In today’s world, people have so many options available. A typical first-time freshman, for example, has so many different pathways they could choose from. We need to help them understand the value of higher education so they choose a pathway that’s for their long-term best interest, and how Tech can uniquely help them be on a pathway for success.”
Distance programs are another area that Bruce thinks can be used the enhance a Tech education.
“I’m a big supporter of distance programs, online programs and hybrid programs,” Bruce said. “That’s one thing students want more of: online interaction. We’re in a cyber-intensive culture these days, and as a technological university, we can serve as leaders in that arena. One challenge is clearly defining what online learning means.”
According to Bruce, for some it means taking classes remotely and never coming to campus. For students on campus, it may mean taking an online class for scheduling purposes.
“It’s a trend that’s not going away, so we need to embrace it and strategically respond to it,” she said.
As provost, Bruce can encourage online education by making sure there are no barriers to it.
“We need to make sure that our policies and procedures do not somehow inhibit or frustrate faculty and students,” she said. “And then, ensure there’s something to motivate them.”
Bruce is the first woman to hold the provost and vice president of academic affairs position.
“I come out of a very male-dominated discipline,” Bruce explained. “There were times when I was a student [in electrical and computer engineering], I was in classes of 150 people and I was one of the only females in the room. From that perspective, I sometimes forget that I work in places that are not traditionally where females would work.
“I didn’t think about it when I was applying for the job,” she continued, “but I have had a number of people walk up to me and say, ‘Oh, you just don’t know how much this means.’ I hope that I do inspire the next generation of engineers and scientists, professors and administrators.”
Bruce previously served as the associate vice president and dean of the Graduate School for Mississippi State University. Prior to that she served as the associate dean for research and graduate studies in the Bagley College of Engineering at Mississippi State. Before moving into administrative positions, she served as a professor of electrical and computer engineering.
In deciding to come to Tech, Bruce said one factor was President Phil Oldham.
“President Oldham is a strong leader,” she explained. “He has a clear vision, a vision I support and agree with for Tennessee Tech. For me, it’s exciting when you have great leadership and someone who clearly has the best interests of the university at heart.”
Bruce, a native of Lincoln County, Tennessee, was approved by the Executive Committee of the Tennessee Tech Board of Trustees at its Feb. 15 meeting.