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Fall 2023 Edition
Alumni & Friends Magazine

What Matters is What's Working

OHIO’s new president focuses on the University’s greatest strengths

Robin Oliver | October 2, 2023


Some newly minted university presidents arrive with a pre-written agenda, ready to make their mark. Others come with a playbook modeled after past successes or a roadmap for a lengthy “listening tour” of sit-down meetings that will fill their calendar for months to come.

But Dr. Lori Stewart Gonzalez, who began her tenure as Ohio University’s 23rd President on July 1, breezed into Cutler Hall that holiday week not with a power suit and a playbook but rather with comfortable (but cute) shoes, a blank notebook and the kind of “Let’s go!” energy that a teenager has as they pass through the gates at Universal Studios for the first time.

Make no mistake, President Gonzalez is far from naïve. With more than 30 years of experience as a faculty member, dean, provost and president at regional and national public universities, she has a stack of tested playbooks taller than the Rip Ride Rocket. What that kind of experience has taught her is that you won’t learn the park by studying the map—you have to walk through the gates and see it.

President Gonzalez visits Dr. Patrick O’Connor, a professor of anatomical sciences in the Heritage College of Osteopathic Medicine, in his lab.

President Gonzalez visits Dr. Patrick O’Connor, a professor of anatomical sciences in the Heritage College of Osteopathic Medicine, in his lab. Photo by Eli Burris, BSJ ’16

“There’s just no substitute for investing time meeting with researchers and students in their labs or attending an experiential learning event and seeing the kind of experience our students are getting,” President Gonzalez says. “There are certain things that are similar across all universities, but we have truly unique research initiatives, experiential learning programs and student leadership opportunities that make OHIO, OHIO, and I won’t be able to effectively move this university forward without digging in and learning about those things.” 

With that in mind, beginning with her second week on campus, President Gonzalez dedicated several hours a week to putting miles on those comfy shoes as she made her way around campus and out into the community and the region, simply experiencing OHIO’s work and impact. What’s more, she asked OHIO to share what she was seeing and learning across its social media channels so alumni and prospective students could also get a glimpse into some of the important work happening in research, discovery and outreach.

Her visits ranged from touring high-tech labs, such as the Institute for Sustainable Research and the Environment within the Russ College of Engineering and Technology and the Plant Biology Genomic Facility in the College of Arts and Sciences, to attending a Southern Ohio Copperheads baseball game to see student organizers from the College of Business in action, to visiting the Heritage College of Osteopathic Medicine’s Primary Care Mobile Clinic. She even caught up with Gov. Mike DeWine for a joint visit to the Ohio State Fair.

Dr. Gonzalez speaks with students in an Institute for Sustainable Energy and the Environment lab in the Russ College of Engineering and Technology.

Dr. Gonzalez speaks with students in an Institute for Sustainable Energy and the Environment lab in the Russ College of Engineering and Technology. Photo by Ben Wirtz Siegel, BSVC '02

Sparking Positive Change

Ultimately, President Gonzalez’s goal is to discover and understand OHIO’s greatest strengths. She’s less concerned about its weaknesses. And this glass-half-full outlook is the approach she has asked faculty and staff to take as the University defines its next strategic priorities.

“Several years ago, I was introduced to an approach to creating organizational change called ‘appreciative inquiry,’” Gonzalez says. “The idea is not to focus on solving problems in the organization, but rather on celebrating successes and building on them to create further success.”

The practice challenges leaders and participants to use positive inquiry to drive positive change. That’s exactly the challenge and charge President Gonzalez presented to four work groups convened this fall to explore strategic goals in the core areas of teaching and learning, research and discovery, outreach and engagement, and people and place.

Their work, she says, is intended to be forward-looking and ambitious—to generate ideas that recognize the University’s strengths and then set the bar ever higher. It’s also intended to be active and iterative. Although President Gonzalez plans to present the results in the summer of 2024, she says she won’t wait to move from idea to action when a great need arises. She also doesn’t want this planning process to be a distraction from continuing the amazing research and programming she has been introduced to over the last several months.

“I want to make sure we continue investing in our distinctive research and programs,” Gonzalez says. “OHIO has tremendous momentum, and it’s important to me that we don’t see this presidential transition as a time to take a pause. We need to keep moving forward and build on this moment.” In other words, slip on those comfy shoes, Bobcats, and let’s go! 

Ohio University President Dr. Lori Gonzalez

Photo by Dylan Wayne Townsend, BSVC '24

23 Things to Know About OHIO’s 23rd President Lori Stewart Gonzalez

  1. She is the first woman to serve as President of Ohio University.
  2. She was born and raised in the small Appalachian Kentucky town of Mt. Vernon.
  3. Her family owned a feed store serving farmers in Rockcastle County.
  4. Her father attended Berea College and impressed on his children the power of education and the responsibility they had to use their education to serve communities.
  5. All three of Dr. Gonzalez’s siblings, two sisters and a brother, hold advanced degrees.
  6. She earned an undergraduate degree from University of Kentucky, her masters from Eastern Kentucky University and a Doctor of Philosophy in Communication Sciences and Disorders from the University of Florida.
  7. Before moving to Florida to earn her doctoral degree, she practiced as a speech-language pathologist in her Appalachian hometown.
  8. Dr. Gonzalez sees communication as foundational to human connection and viewed her clinical work as helping people create and sustain connection.
  9. She has held faculty appointments at Southern Illinois University, University of Kentucky, Appalachian State University, University of Tennessee Health Sciences Center and University of Louisville.
  10. Before moving into administration, Dr. Gonzalez served as Faculty Council Chair at the University of Kentucky.
  11. After transitioning to leadership, she was Associate Dean and then Dean of the University of Kentucky College of Health Sciences for 11 years.
  12. Her only son, Clay, lives in Michigan and works as a music composer and conductor.
  13. As Dean, Dr. Gonzalez helped to increase research success in the UK College of Health Sciences, moving the National Institute of Health ranking from 44th to 12th over five years.
  14. During her time as Provost at Appalachian State University, she helped lead the development of a transformative strategic plan that made sustainability a campus imperative.
Attendees at a Southern Ohio Copperheads baseball game speak with President Gonzalez.

Attendees at a Southern Ohio Copperheads baseball game speak with President Gonzalez. Photo by Dylan Wayne Townsend, BSVC ’24

  1. While serving as Interim President at the University of Louisville in 2022, Dr. Gonzalez helped secure the largest gift in the University’s history—$47 million for a new vision for the health campus.
  2. While she is always looking for green items to add to her wardrobe, she loves wearing black.
  3. She’s been married to her husband, Randy Gonzalez, for more than 30 years.
  4. She prefers dogs over cats.
  5. She and Randy have collected art pieces  from local artists in each area where they have lived. They are already the owners of an original Athens block.
  6. While in Louisville, Dr. Gonzalez served as a Board Member of the city’s Fund for the Arts.
  7. She loves football and will host a Presidential tailgate at every OHIO home game this season. She also became a huge baseball fan during her time in Louisville.
  8. As the mother of a young musician during Clay’s high school years, she served for two years as co-President of the Lafayette Band Association in Lexington, Ky.
  9. In her letter of interest for the position of President, she wrote this about the way she approaches her career: “I believe that when we serve in public education, we have an obligation to honor the public’s investment with hard work, honesty and a commitment to serve the public good.”

Main image caption: Members of the Marching 110 surround OHIO's 23rd president, Dr. Lori Stewart Gonzalez. Pictured: Back row, left to right, fifth year Logan Newhouse, BMUS, on snare drum; senior Nate Homan, BMUS; fifth year Melanie Jenkins, BA, on euphonium; senior Arielle Lyons, BSJ, on trombone. Front row, left to right: senior and field commander Eric Steere, BSJ, on trumpet; President Lori Stewart Gonzalez; fifth year Bailey Buell, BFA, on trumpet. Photo by Ben Wirtz Siegel, BSVC ’02