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Getting to know Shari McMahan, the woman chosen to be EWU’s new president, in her own words

Zoom screenshot
Newly-appointed Eastern Washington University president Shari McMahan listens to a question during her candidate forum in Cheney.

Excerpts from one of McMahan's public forums during her visit to Cheney on February 4

Shari McMahan is the provost and vice president for academic affairs at Cal State University-San Bernardino. She visited EWU's Cheney and Spokane campuses during her visit on February 4.

Shari McMahan: (introducing herself to the Eastern community) “I’m a first-generation college student, like many of our students and, in fact, I serve a college campus with over 80% first-generation students, so I feel the concerns that they have and the support that they need to be successful.”

Shari McMahan: “My greatest pride is in our people and the constituents we serve, our stakeholder groups and each other and how we treat each other on our campus.”

Shari McMahan: (on her health sciences background) “I fell in love with undergraduate research. I found that to be just an incredible high impact practice. When it all started and my discovery evolved is when I was clipping hair samples to look at lead levels and I was so amazed to know that the environmental burden of what we’re exposed to is stored in our bodies and we can look at that. I was just fascinated, so that just broke my interest and got me involved in the environmental health and the health science field.”

Many years ago, she came to the Pacific Northwest Lab in the Tri-Cities to study radiation and its effects on the body.

EWU's trustees were impressed by McMahan's preparation for her interview and her knowledge of Eastern.

Shari McMahan: “Granted, I don’t have a deep history or deep roots, but I see you like I see where I’m at. I’m in the Inland Empire and you serve the Inland Empire. And your needs are serving many of the constituents that I’ve served for the last six years plus in my career.”

She mentioned the university’s upcoming strategic planning process and how she wants to be a part of developing it. She also reviewed the current plan to measure how the university has progressed in implementing it.

Shari McMahan: “I see one of the goals is becoming a Hispanic-serving institution. So my question is what does that mean to you? I’ve lived in Hispanic-serving institutions for over 20 years. What can I bring that helps you get to that dream, what you believe an Hispanic-serving institution should be, because it’s not just the numbers. There’s a lot that goes into helping our students along the way.”

Shari McMahan: (on her priorities if she was to be hired) “First and foremost, student success. That is why we are all here, for our mission, to get our students a college degree and experiences in the workforce and create that passion and energy to become lifelong learners and to be successful in their own right. Within that student success area, I’ve been most involved with retention and graduation and closing equity gaps, because we not only need to see our students succeed, we don’t want to widen the gap. We have a lot of underrepresented students here that are not, have not the same equity. They were not given the same treatment along their life. They’ve had experiences in which we need to give them that added boost, help them so they can all see over the fence at the same height, right?”

Shari McMahan: (on keeping tuition levels low) “Tuition is wonderfully-priced at Eastern and we want to keep it that way. But we need to make it better. We need to get more students here. We need to continue to think how we look at our resources and how we build those funds back into the university through philanthropic activities, through international students, through certificate programs, through our auxiliaries, all of those activities, to help the university be able to keep it affordable.”

Shari McMahan: (on how she would raise Eastern’s visibility) “We’re doing such good work here, how do we be happy with our identity? How do we make our identity known and be proud of our identity as a regional comprehensive university, serving very diverse students and really capitalizing on the academic programs and the academic mission of this university and, again, cultivating those relationships when our students become alumni and then give back to the institution in gratitude and they’ve developed those relationships along the way.”

Shari McMahan: (on the relationship between the university and Cheney) “You know, we are one. We are an anchor institution. We support Cheney. Cheney supports us. How can we solidify that relationship? How can we move forward with that? But I think it’s being available and listening to their needs, getting in front of the council, talking about our needs and our relationship and building that relationship.”

McMahan says she believes in developing partnerships with private and public employers to make opportunities for her university’s students.

Shari McMahan: (at her current university) “Most recently, we met with the U.S. Space Force and in our cybersecurity, which is also a national academy, to build an apprenticeship program. We need to build models where we see our students out in the workforce and develop that. I’m a big proponent of building those opportunities for workforce development. We’re working on stackable certificates. We’re working on an agreement, with sole rights, for a major grocer in the Inland Empire to train their employees to go and get certificates stackable so they can get a degree as well. Those are the kinds of relationships that I like to support.”

McMahan says her current institution also believes in community service.

Shari McMahan: “I’ve served on days where we were out in the community and we do a Coyote Cares Day, because I’m a coyote currently, and we get all of our student body and our faculty and staff and we rent buses and we go out in the community and we serve that community. We are a Carnegie-engaged, classified, community-classified, engaged campus. We are out in our communities and how important that is for a campus, as an anchor institution, to develop those kinds of relationships.”

Shari McMahan: (on her current university’s policy toward working with newly-accepted students to get them ready through orientation days) “We greet. We not only greet our students, we greet the families, because we’re admitting the family and that becomes very important when you’re thinking about Hispanic-serving institutions and working with underrepresented students. We’re working with the families. So when they come in with their families, because we do both a family-parent orientation and a student orientation at the same time and we split them, they enter through a line, a significant line, probably as big as this building, of staff and administrators with pompoms, walking them to the university. It starts right there. You have to have that sense of belonging and that welcomeness as part of the universities.”

Shari McMahan: (on lessons she has learned as an academic) “I learned that nobody rises to low expectations, so we set the bar high and we provide that support. When I look at some of the highlights of my experience, I look at retention rates, graduation rates, getting out in the workforce and we call that whole term ‘social mobility.’ For me, it’s very important that we increase the social mobility of our campus community.”

One of the Northwest's most seasoned reporters is returning to his SPR roots. Doug Nadvornick will be heard frequently on KPBX and KSFC reporting on local news.