When Jo Ann Gora steps down as president of Ball State University next month, she leaves a campus much changed from her 2004 arrival, with more than $500 million in construction and renovation projects completed or under way.
Her greatest contribution, however, has been in creating a public university devoted to real-world experience for its students.
The most important changes are not the ones that are physical, Gora said in an interview. They are the impact we’ve had on the academic curriculum. Our emphasis has been on giving students an opportunity to engage in experiential learning; on opportunities that give them not just a transcript and grades, but a résumé full of experiences.
During her tenure, Gora staked out principled stands for academic integrity, environmental stewardship and state support for higher education.
(Lawmakers) have heard me say that the performance funding formula rewards growth, she said. Our strategy has never been growth; our strategy has always been to get better. The General Assembly and the Commission for Higher Education have supported the concept that what Indiana really needed was an institution that focused on undergraduate experience and offered students a unique experience that they couldn’t get at larger, more graduate-focused institutions.
Gora was in Fort Wayne on Wednesday for a farewell reception hosted by area alumni. Ball State has just over 10,000 graduates in the region; about 1,400 students from northeast Indiana were enrolled in the last academic year.
The search for her successor has been narrowed to three finalists. The new president will likely be introduced by month’s end. The challenge will be in finding anyone with anywhere near Gora’s energy, passion and commitment for Ball State.