On Thursday, Feb. 13, 2020, Maryville College’s Presidential Search Committee announced the college’s 12th president, Dr. Bryan F. Coker. Coker is currently vice-president and Dean of Students of Goucher College, a small liberal-arts college in Baltimore, Md. Previously, he has also held positions at Jacksonville University in Florida and Morgan State University in Baltimore. Coker graduated with his undergraduate degree at Rhodes College in Memphis and his doctorate at the University of Tennessee Knoxville.
Maryville College held three welcoming sessions throughout the day on Feb. 13 for students, faculty, staff and the community to come and meet Coker. At these sessions, Coker gave a speech detailing his journey in academics as well as his future hopes for the college.
Dr. Mary Kay Sullivan introduces Maryville College’s 12th President, Dr. Bryan Coker.
Photo Courtesy of Zoey Higgs.
“I know that Maryville College is well-positioned and ready for the future, ready to truly thrive,” Coker said in his speech. “The strategic plan sets forth a clear path for the future, and I am wholly comfortable in taking that plan forward.”
This strategic plan was included in the five critical areas that the search committee was looking for during the search for the president. The others included fundraising and friend-raising, building reputation, enrollment, innovated programs, supporting in building the sense of community, and celebrating diversity.
Connecting is something Coker finds very important. While he does not begin his official role until July, he tries to stay in touch with his future home so the community can get to know him. He is active on various social media platforms — his new Instagram is @maryvillecollegepresident — and is in contact with Dr. Tom Bogart on learning about Maryville College.
During a phone interview, Coker went over some of his plans to meet these key areas. Building community and the strategic plan go hand and hand to Coker. The most important part of this plan is that the campus is behind it.
Dr. Coker gives his first speech to the Maryville College community.
Photo Courtesy of Zoey Higgs.
“That’s what’s key. You have to be sure that the plan you have is one that the community supports in meaningful ways,” Coker said. He wants to affirm that everybody is genuinely behind the plan, not just by verbally saying yes, but with actions behind it.
With the plan including transformative education experiences, Coker understands that finding the students’ voices and that the college lives out its mission through connecting with communities is necessary. This will include connecting with the city of Maryville and other local areas through service. He plans to find the best way Maryville College can help those in the local area who are in need.
On the topic of celebrating diversity, he was asked how he plans to support the minorities on campus, some of them including veterans, commuters, and ethnic minorities.
“Supporting diversity in all forms is a passion of mine and very much a part of what I have done on every campus where I have worked, and that’s not going to change in the least,” Coker said. He believes that the first thing that needs to be done is to assess the campus climate.
This assessment, he said, can be done by data. Still, he also stresses the importance of being present and learning from different perspectives.
“You have to learn about what is their [students’] experience at the institution, how do they feel supported, and how do they feel they are not being supported,” Coker said. Based on this, he expects to make a plan on what needs to be done differently and also what can be made better. Coker made sure to emphasize that this plan looks different on every campus, and it is not a “one size fits all.”
Coker understands that higher education institutions are sometimes not quick to innovate, and he hopes to help bring Maryville College up to speed. He praised local media for catching an essential line in his interviews and announcements.
“Keep an eye on Maryville College, we’re going places,” Coker said, and he truly believes that it will.