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Ball State’s New Provost: “Not Just A Job”

By Stephanie Wiechmann, IPR News | Published on in Education, Local News
(Photo: Courtesy of Susana Rivera-Mills)

Ball State University will soon have a new provost – the first permanent hire of the position since 2016.  As the school’s “chief academic officer,” Susana Rivera-Mills will have a big say in how the 100-year-old school interacts with current and future students.  IPR’s Stephanie Wiechmann reports. 

“Even though we have 30,000 students, I always call them ‘my students’…”

That’s Susana Rivera-Mills, from her office at Oregon State University, where she’s the current vice provost for academic programs and learning innovation. She says she appreciated Ball State University’s values in the job description for provost, which drove her to apply.

The El Salvador native came to the US when she was 12, and spoke no English. She then became a first-generation college student, earning a bachelor’s, master’s, and doctorate.

“You know, it’s not just a job. It’s actually very personal to me to make sure that, in fact, the promise of higher education is accessible to everyone who seeks it, and that they’re able to succeed once they have access to it.”

Now she’s headed to Indiana, where only 35 percent of Hoosiers 25 and older hold a degree beyond high school, according to US Census data. That means many Hoosier future college students will also be first in their family to go to college.

“We also have to learn to engage not just the student, but their entire family. We assume everybody understands what we’re talking about when we’re talking about things like financial aid, and Pell Grants, and scholarships that are available. And that’s not something that first generation families are familiar with. Those are very complex systems.”

Rivera-Mills has spent the past several years at Oregon State looking at barriers for student retention and graduation – from big things like financial aid to suggesting changes to individual core classes with high fail or withdrawal rates. She says any school, even Ball State, could benefit from such work, which uses student data.

“Most universities who have been around for a while, as Ball State has – we tend to begin to lose sight of exactly what students are experiencing. So it’s always very good to be able to take something like curriculum and look at what the data’s telling us and talk to students. Say, ‘What’s the experience in these various classes that you’re taking and are there any barriers that you’re encountering that we need to pay attention to?’”

Rivera-Mills will begin her duties in July.


Correction: A previous version of this story incorrectly stated Rivera-Mills’ current title at Oregon State University.  We regret the error.