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Introducing Dr. Anne E. Huot

October 31, 2013
Dr. Anne Huot
Dr. Anne Huot

A Conversation with the College's 10th President

After speaking to a crowd of faculty, staff, and assorted dignitaries at the L. P. Young Student Center’s Mabel Brown Room last spring, Anne E. Huot made her way up the stairs and down the hallway to the Mountain View Room. Having just been officially appointed Keene State’s 10th president, she had another stop to make – a meeting of the Student Assembly.

“I took this job for you,” she told members of student government.

It was a way of talking with them about her role in ensuring that the success of students will remain the College’s primary priority, she recalls in a conversation in her office in Hale Building on the opening day of classes, two months into her tenure. Ultimately, “what we do is about them, and not about us,” says Huot, who has also prioritized working to contain the costs of attendance so that a Keene State College education will remain accessible to students for generations to come.

Year One

First-year students are particularly on Huot’s mind, as she’s spent the previous few days taking part in the College’s orientation traditions: move-in day, parents’ information sessions, the Appian Way clap-in, New Student Convocation. She hauled students’ luggage into Huntress Hall, chatted with them at Zorn Dining Commons, and encouraged them, in her convocation address, to make the most of the 1,400 days ahead of them at Keene State. “You will never be as free as you are right now to boldly embrace the pursuit of knowledge,” she told them.

Sitting on the porch of the President’s House with a newspaper and a cup of coffee on the Saturday of orientation weekend, watching students wander up Appian Way toward a scheduled session, she thought about her own freshman year at the University of New Hampshire. She and her classmates moved into their dorms, and that was that. “There wasn’t a whole program around getting students acclimated and working to give them the tools they need to be successful and make good personal choices,” she says.

Like many Keene State students, Huot comes from the first generation in her family to go to college. Growing up in a working-class home in Manchester, New Hampshire, she learned from her parents the importance of a life of service. But they couldn’t teach her about entering college, about suddenly finding oneself, at 18, in a new place – a bigger place, in all senses of the word – living with new people. “What I remember is having to navigate a lot on my own,” she says. That experience has helped mold the particular kind of service she has pursued: service to public higher education.

It also returns her to her comments of last spring to the Student Assembly. For a college to be “all about the students,” she notes, means nurturing an academic environment that reduces the barriers to success.

Listening

Huot, who is in her first year at Keene State and also as a college president, has been on what she terms “a listening tour” as a way to get acquainted with the college community and understand its unique challenges and opportunities. She’s made a point of gathering stories from students, faculty, staff, alumni, parents, and friends of the College. She’s talked with Governor Maggie Hassan, Senator Jeanne Shaheen, and US Representative Annie Kuster, as well as Keene’s mayor, Kendall Lane. She attended a lunch of the Alumni Association’s Golden Circle – those who graduated 50 or more years ago. Her listening tour will continue through the academic year as she seeks to carry forward the College’s partnership with the City of Keene, connect with the regional and state-wide business community, and hear from Keene State friends and alumni.

What’s she been hearing?

“People are excited about this place,” she says. The core story she hears from graduates is similar: Keene State was a great community for living and learning. A wonderful professor went the extra mile for me. I wouldn’t be where I am today without my Keene State education. I love Keene State.

She’s building on those stories by soliciting information and ideas from faculty and staff through comment cards distributed at an opening day lunch, facilitated small-group sessions, and several coffee hours. How do we position Keene State as a leading liberal arts college in the 21st century? How do we increase students’ ability to succeed? How can we continue to provide and sustain critical learning experiences like international studies, internships, undergraduate research, and service learning? How can the College thrive in a time of declining population in the Northeast and strained financial resources? These are the kinds of questions Huot has been posing, as a way to jump-start information gathering and, eventually, build a vision with College stakeholders for what she calls “this chapter of Keene State’s book.”

Setting the Pace

The College is in a strong position to lead the dialogue about what a public liberal arts education looks like, what it means, and what its value is at the national level, Huot says. “We really have the whole package,” she notes – an integrated studies program, a highly residential campus, a good portfolio of majors, high-impact learning experiences, and a four-credit-hour curriculum. Now, she says, it’s time to brag. “We need to wave our flag and tell our story and tell the stories of our students and our alumni and their successes.”

The College community needs to get out the message about the value to students of a residential, “high-touch” liberal arts education, she says. It’s “a means by which they develop as people, they become civically engaged, they learn how to write, they learn how to communicate, they learn how to discern information in ways that are an envelope around whatever discipline it is that they’re studying.” The benefits of liberal arts extend far beyond those of individual growth: “It not only changes the lives of the students who come to school here, but it impacts our communities and it impacts the economicvitality of our communities, because an engaged citizenry is how communities evolve and change over time.”

Huot sees alumni involvement as an important part of Keene State’s success. “We want them to come back, we want them to be engaged, and we want them to continue to feel that this is a home base for them,” she says. She wants to build on the College’s strong relationships with its business partners, and ensure that those partnerships are balanced. She wants to nurture Keene State’s stewardship of the city of Keene, just as the city is a steward of the College.

“We can play an important role in New Hampshire’s education agenda,” Huot says.

The College has a strong history of attracting students from underserved populations. “Many of them are first generation, they come from working class families, they want the experience we have here, but they’re not sure how to access it,” she says. At the state level, Keene State can play a role in generating more college enrollment and a higher graduation rate. At the national level, the issue is containing the costs of higher education, a conversation Huot wants the College to be a player in as well.

The Scientist as Administrator

“We are products of our disciplines,” says Huot, thereby distinguishing herself as a product of the sciences or, more to the point, of the tradition of scientific method. She followed bachelor’s and master’s degrees in medical technology, the first from UNH and the second from the University of Vermont, with a PhD in cell and molecular biology, also from UVM. That led to work as a professor and then an administrator. Before taking the job at Keene State, she served for six years as provost and vice president for academic affairs at The College at Brockport, State University of New York.

Scientists, she says, make great administrators (and, not coincidentally, great cooks!). Her way of thinking is significantly influenced by the scientific approach to problem-solving. “I have an intellectual curiosity that leads me to ask all kinds of questions that are my way of probing issues,” she says. In other words, her training leads her to look at issues from multiple angles, to form hypotheses and test them. The data that results can refine or redirect the next step.

“Being a data-driven person adds to my capacity to change my mind,” says Huot. “I think that’s very important in administration. People need to see that you are who you say you are and that you’re going to do your business the way you say you’re going to do your business – and that there is a space to debate, civilly and respectfully, and to look at information and to discern that information in a variety of ways. . . . Another way of saying it is the continual refinement and improvement leads to answers that you wouldn’t get if it were simply a yes-or-no question. Science is hardly ever a yes-or-no question.”

Settling in

People who have visited campus in recent weeks may have noticed that, along with the occupants, the outside appearance of the President’s House has changed. Early in the summer, the uneven granite steps leading to the front door were replaced in accordance with city codes and standards set by the National Register of Historic Places – on which the house is listed. An overgrown hedge and other aging trees and plantings were removed on both the northern and southern lawns. The effect is to bring in more light for those inside the house and to reveal more of the house and its architecture to those outside.

An ornamental fence along the Appian Way side of the yard ensures the safety of four Havanese dogs – Inca, Pepper, Rosie, and Molly – who arrived on campus in early July along with their human companions, Huot and her partner, Dr. Joanne Cepelak, a retired college administrator and sociologist.

“We love it here,” says Huot, referring to the College, Keene, and New Hampshire. They’re “thrilled to be living on campus,” enjoying Main Street and downtown, and happy to be settling in to Huot’s home state. They hope this will be their home for a long time, and Huot foresees a long and fruitful tenure.

When she first began to consider the possibility of becoming president of Keene State, Huot told faculty and staff in her opening-day address, she thought, “Who gets to have their dream job, be of service in support of a mission you are passionate about, and go home?”

Welcome home, President Huot.

This story originally appeared in the Fall 2013 issue of Keene State Today.