FARMINGTON — Edward Serna, the current interim chancellor at the University of Arkansas-Fort Smith, has been appointed the next president of the University of Maine at Farmington.

His appointment as the university’s 15th president was announced Tuesday afternoon at a reception at Mantor Library, where he was greeted by university officials, students, faculty and staff.

“I’m excited,” Serna, 48, said to the crowd. “I’m eager to get on the ground and start talking to people. I want to talk to you about what you love about this place, what drew you here, but also what troubles you. I want to talk about great ideas you have but also concerns you have.”

Serna, who traveled with his family to Farmington for the announcement, is scheduled to start July 1 and will earn a salary of $190,000.

He takes over from Interim President Eric Brown, who was named to a one-year appointment following the departure of former President Kathryn Foster. Foster left Farmington in 2018 to take a job as president of the College of New Jersey in her home state.

She was earning $181,608 at the time of her departure.

Serna has a bachelor’s degree in business administration from Winthrop University in Rock Hill, South Carolina; a master of science in industrial management from Clemson University; a master of management information systems from Auburn University; and a doctorate of education in higher education administration from the University of Alabama.

He is currently the interim chancellor at the University of Arkansas – Fort Smith, which has an enrollment of around 6,600 students and an annual budget of around $80 million, according to a news release from UMF.

Farmington has an enrollment of around 2,000 students and an annual budget of $40.8 million.

Students, staff members and university officials listen Tuesday as University of Maine at Farmington President Edward Serna outlines goals he will pursue as the new head of the university. Morning Sentinel photo by David Leaming

In a news release Tuesday, the University of Arkansas-Fort Smith also announced Serna’s departure and mentioned a number of accomplishments in his one year as interim chancellor, including the implementation of a new master’s in education program, the university’s second graduate degree program, and initiatives to increase access to existing degree programs.

At UAFS, Serna implemented an Associates to Bachelor’s Program to help students at two-year institutions transition to getting their bachelor’s degree at UAFS, and established the UAFS Promise program, guaranteeing flat-rate tuition to students who stay on track to graduate in four years.

In remarks Tuesday, University of Maine Chancellor James Page mentioned the Promise program as falling in line with things the University of Maine System also is working on to provide tuition support to students who maintain a certain level of academic achievement.

The program is just one example of how Serna has demonstrated he is in touch with some of the challenges facing higher education nationwide, he said.

“You’re welcoming a president who is familiar with the challenges that we have here in the state of Maine, familiar with the kinds of approaches you have here in Farmington and are going to build on and is certainly familiar with the values in terms of service to students, region, state, scholarship and the mission of education,” Page said.

Although his career was built in the South, Serna said he grew up in Connecticut and is eager to return to New England with his wife, Lauren, and their two young daughters, Caroline and Anna Kate.

In Arkansas, Lauren Serna also works for the university system and currently is associate director of development with the UAFS Foundation, according to the news release from UAFS.

“We really talked about the kind of community we want to raise our kids in, and this is just a wonderful small New England town and it’s a great college town,” Serna said. “We just really felt it would be a great fit for us.”

During remarks Tuesday, he said he isn’t “coming in with ideas right out of the gate,” but is eager to meet with faculty, staff, students and campus leaders to see what needs to be done.

However, he did mention a few issues he wants to tackle, including increasing access for new and diverse student populations, expanding master’s degree programs and creating new partnerships in the community.

Students and staff members Tuesday said they are excited about the change, especially after recent concerns about the school’s response to sexual assault.

University of Maine at Farmington President Edward Serna addresses students, staff members and university officials Tuesday on campus as his appointment as president was announced. Morning Sentinel photo by David Leaming

In January the Bangor Daily News reported the stories of two women who said the university mishandled their reports of sexual assault, leading to UMF promising to take steps to improve student safety.

“I think of the word ‘hope,’ because with all the events that happened, like the rape, this is like a new light,” said Morgan Wellman, a senior at UMF. “It brings a lot of hope.”

“I don’t know much about him, but he seems genuine and passionate about his job,” said Vanessa Brown, who is also a senior. “I know he’s going to make good changes for the school, so that makes me excited. There are good things about the school, but also things that are concerning; and the fact he wants to talk to all of us, I think, is very positive.”

Bryce Cundick, the library director at UMF, said the university has experienced a lot of turnover in leadership with Foster’s departure, the search for a new vice president for student affairs at UMF and the search for a new leader of the university system, “so we are sort of at a key moment trying to figure out what the future of the institution is going to be.”

“At the same time, I think because of what we’ve gone through this past year, I’m more hopeful than I was a year ago, and that’s despite the Title IX mess that happened,” Cundick said. “I think Interim President Brown did a good job handling that as best as he could. It’s key that wherever we go from here we maintain the trust of students and the people of Maine.”

Title IX is a federal law prohibiting gender discrimination, including sexual harassment and assault, in education and requiring schools to take steps to address and respond to sexual violence.

Serna, when asked about his plans to address Title IX concerns on campus, said it’s something he plans to discuss Wednesday with Brown.

“That’s going to be an important conversation, because Eric has done some tremendous work this last year,” he said. “I want to make sure we continue that work next year, and that we’re listening and hearing what the students are telling us.”

Before serving as interim chancellor at UAFS, Serna was the chief of staff and vice chancellor for external funding from 2016 to 2017 there and the director of grants management and compliance from 2015 to 2016.

He previously worked as an assistant professor in the College of Business at Athens State University in Athens, Alabama, and was a program manager for Science & Engineering Services L.L.C. in Huntsville, Alabama, where he managed a portfolio of prototype development, training and contracts and logistics for the U.S. Army Project Management Unmanned Aircraft Systems Office.

Serna was selected from among four finalists for the job. The others were Teresa Brown, provost and vice president for academic affairs at the State University of New York at Fredonia; Thomas Edwards, provost and chief academic officer at Thomas College in Waterville; and Donna Wilson, provost and executive vice president at Lock Haven University in Pennsylvania.

 

Rachel Ohm — 612-2368

[email protected] 

Twitter: @rachel_ohm 

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