20 Questions

(PHOTO BY NEAL BRUNS)

Vicky Carwein

By Bonnie Blackburn
The new chancellor of Indiana University-Purdue University Fort Wayne, Vicky Carwein, is one well-traveled woman. She’s visited all seven continents but has chosen to make her new home here in the Summit City. The native of tiny Gwynneville, Ind., was the first in her family to go to college and now heads the region’s largest university. Follow along as we play 20 Questions with the woman who is as comfortable with change as she is trekking the wilds of Antarctica.

We understand you do a lot of traveling. What’s your favorite location and why?
I went to Antarctica as the calendar year turned form 1999 to 2000. It was a two-week trip on a very old Russian research vessel, and it was like you were on another planet. We spent Christmas Day there, and it was light all 24 hours. It’s so disorienting. The landscape is sheets of ice.


What’s your best packing tip?
I never check a suitcase. I can go about 12 (days) with a roll-on suitcase. I hate lugging big suitcases and standing in line to pick up a checked bag.


Why the fascination with travel?
I grew up in a very small town in Indiana. I wanted to see the world. I wanted to experience other cultures, taste other foods. My dad served in World War II, and as I’ve traveled, I visited World War II battlefields and cemeteries. My honeymoon was in the Palau Islands where the Battle of Peleliu took place.


How important is the role of IPFW in developing good citizens?
Obviously, the fundamental mission of IPFW is to educate the citizens of Northeast Indiana. We want to educate the well-rounded graduate by providing discipline-specific content and a beginning expertise in their chosen field, along with a founding in the arts and sciences. We want them to think critically and solve problems.


You’ve stressed research in your previous administrations. Why is research so important?
‘Research’ has a lot of aspects to it. You think about the research that led to the discovery of penicillin — that research is so important to the world. Research is so important to our quality of life and the wellbeing of the world.


Is higher education for everyone?
Probably not. I think it is for everyone who has the desire, and IPFW provides access to students. But clearly not everyone who starts college finishes, and retention is something we will be looking at. It’s a fact that people who have a college degree earn more over the course of their lifetimes than those with a high school degree.


Who are easier to deal with: business people or faculty members?
[Laughs.] I would have to say there are obviously unique aspects in every group you deal with. It depends on the group. The trick is putting the two together in the right way … to achieve the goal.


Your background is in nursing. How did you get into educational administration?
It wasn’t a career goal. I’m very, very comfortable with change. The environment I work best in is where things are growing and changing.


Three of the top universities in Fort Wayne — IPFW, the University of Saint Francis and Ivy Tech — are all headed by women. Have women finally broken through the academic glass ceiling?
There are a lot of women presidents around the country at big-name universities. It’s time.


You are starting at IPFW at about the same time Indiana’s governor, Mitch Daniels, is taking over the helm of Purdue University. Which of you is more nervous?
I don’t know! I’ve only met him one time. I had 30 to 40 minutes with him. I was impressed with him. I began to read about him and how Indiana is one of only a few states with a budget surplus. I certainly have a respect for that.


IPFW relies heavily on adjunct (part-time) faculty members, who are generally experts from other fields in the community. How can you make the role of the adjunct more appealing?
In my previous (university), there was certainly no way we could have offered the depth and breadth we did if not for the adjuncts. We don’t pay (them) hardly enough, and yet we get a lot of time, energy and expertise and those gifts to the university are invaluable.


IPFW’s 50th anniversary is coming up. What will your contribution be?
I don’t know! I haven’t been told yet. Irene Walters is the most creative mastermind of these events. She has really put this campus on the map. I plan to do whatever she tells me to do!


What kind of a student were you?
I was one of those kids who never got in trouble, never acted out. I was an average student. Music was my big thing. I played piano and clarinet. I got the high school music award.


Who are your heroes?
As I get older, I think I have more of a sense of their sacrifices, so I’d have to say it’s my parents, Earl and Lillian.


A trial balloon has been floated lately of making IPFW into a separate university. What are your thoughts about that?
Having worked and lived across the globe, there is tremendous power in the brands of Purdue University and Indiana University. A major attraction (that drew me) here was that (IPFW) was connected with Purdue and IU. The names have global recognition. To disaffiliate with that … would be difficult.


What has surprised you about Fort Wayne?
People told me it would be this way when I came, but the welcome I’ve had across the board — and the strong connection people feel with the university — has been great.


What’s your favorite place on campus?
The new Student Services center — all the vibrancy in that area is wonderful. You always run into students there, and it’s just vibrant.


Who was your favorite teacher?
Angela McBride. She was a professor of nursing in Indianapolis (I had) when I came back to do my doctoral work. In fact, I’m hoping to reconnect with her. She was one of the women who inspired me to think that women can do anything we want to.


What’s the best advice you ever got?
Not to make knee-jerk decisions. Gather the facts, and make a decision. Being thoughtful. My husband says not to base your decisions on emotion.


How are you spending Thanksgiving?
My husband, Bill Andrews, and I are going to North Carolina to see our daughters. Bill makes the best bread stuffing. It’s just bread, butter, butter, butter, onions and green peppers.

Posted: Wed, 11/21/2012 - 2:27 pm
Last updated: Wed, 01/23/2013 - 2:20 pm