President Berry welcomes students with Q&A

Maggie Eubanks, News Editor

Question: What’s your favorite thing about working at ULM?

Answer: It has to be the people—the students, the people. It’s meaningful to me because I was a student here. I have two degrees from here, so being able to be here and play a small role in the community I grew up in is extremely rewarding to me.

Q: What is your biggest goal for ULM this semester? This year?

A: My goal is the same each year: continuing changing lives and provide opportunities for students and staff so they can continue becoming the best version of themselves. It’s about the impact this university has to provide opportunities for our graduates to go anywhere in the world. That will continue to be my goal—to give people the opportunity to become the best version of themselves.

Q: What do you see as ULM’s biggest strengths and weaknesses?

A: ULM is, to some degree, kind of a hidden gem, so we have to do a better job of marketing and communicating what we have to offer. But on the other hand, we don’t want to be too big. It’s our size and our ability to get to know each other and know our students that really make us special. We want to increase enrollment, but we don’t want to be too big either.

Our strength is our faculty and staff that really care about our mission and our purpose. I said the first year I became president that it’s time for us to own who we are, where we are and what we must do. We’ve got a lot of people that believe in that and believe in changing lives.

Q: What sets you apart from past ULM presidents?

A: That’s a great question. One thing is I have two degrees, so I am an alum. I’ve spent over 30 years on this campus, and I’m in my 28th year as a faculty and staff member. But I was also here six years as a student—that’s 34 years. I grew up in this community and came here as a student. This place changed my life. Also I’m an introvert. I’m a computer nerd. So I talk computer programming, and it’s unusual for people in that field to move up to a leadership position. 

Q: What is the biggest thing you’ve learned since becoming president?

A: It’s certainly a lot more than I ever imagined. I think the thing that I wasn’t expecting that was a big learning experience for me is the range of emotions that I go through in a single day, week or month. The university is just a family of around 10,000 people, and when you have that many people and you have the expanded community, there are very sad things that happen almost daily. As a leader, I go through that range of emotions, and that’s not something I ever anticipated or ever thought about. But I’ve learned a lot by experiencing that and going through that. I think it’s helped me learn more empathy, more patience, the importance of meeting people where they are and being there for people.

Q: How do you reach out to local students while also relating to students not from this area? 

A: I think it’s important to be available and be present. I try to go to as many student events as possible, you know, international student events or being in the HUB or the cafeteria every day. I want to be there for students and learn who they are and where they’re from. At the end of the day, we’re all human beings wanting to be a part of something bigger than ourselves. Striking up a conversation and learning about each other and just being as authentic as I can and let people get to know me while I get to know them. We’re all very different and the diversity is very positive for the university, and learning about those differences is how we grow. 

Q: How do you continue to increase diversity around campus?

A: It goes back to really creating a welcoming environment—creating an environment where people feel like they can become a part of it and they can see themselves there. I think we’re making significant progress with that. It goes back to being authentic, being who you are and getting to know people. In the long run, when our differences are accepted and celebrated, that’s when you have the most success.

Q: Will ULM continue to have options with online learning or make the full jump back to only face-to-face learning?

A: ULM was kind of a leader in online learning in the state, even before the pandemic, to meet the needs of nontraditional students, students who—for some reason or another—really can’t go through the traditional collegiate experience. But I think direct-from-high-school students benefit a lot from the on-campus, face-to-face education experience. So we won’t be pushing online learning for traditional college students. But it’s really to provide a service for our nontraditional students to improve their careers.

Q: What do you hope that students carry with them when they leave ULM?

 A: I hope they leave us feeling like they’re a part of something bigger than themselves. I hope they feel confident and well-prepared because they are more ready than they realize. 

Q: What message do you have for students going into 2023?

A: Something that I tell students during the recruiting process is that I hope every student knows and they believe and they accept that they are just as bright, just as capable and they are as—if not more—successful than any student in the world by going to ULM. They can go anywhere. They can be anything. They can do anything they want to do if they do their part while they’re here. 

To be successful in college it takes determination, dedication, it takes getting out of bed and going to class, and it takes being open to learning. If you can do that, you can be more successful than anyone else. I hope all of our students would know they are really capable of anything, and they’ve just got to be willing to accept it. Sometimes that’s the biggest challenge because it’s easy to get distracted in college, but if students can stay focused, the world is theirs.