Meet SCSU’s new Interim President
Jaylen Carr – Sports Editor
As of June 1, the current Chief Executive Officer of Housatonic Community College, Dwayne Smith, will become the interim university president.
The university was notified through email by Patrick Dilger, the Director of Integrated Communications and Marketing, on March 31, stating that Smith would become the new interim president of the university. Smith found out from Terrence Cheng, the president of the Connecticut State Colleges and Universities (CSCU) system.
“I was asked by Terrence Cheng, the president of the system, and I was excited about the possibility,” Smith said. “We are doing great work here at Housatonic and the Bridgeport region, so it wasn’t something I sought out. But certainly, it is a tremendous opportunity for me to continue my vision for higher education.”
Smith said he was pleased and ecstatic to be selected for the position.
President Joe Bertolino said once he told the university about his departure, he began to discuss with Cheng about having an interim president until a national search to find the 13th university president.
“I was hoping that we can have someone who is familiar with Southern and familiar with our core values,” Bertolino said. “The first person that came to mind was Dwayne Smith.”
Bertolino said Smith believes in our social justice mission and has experience in leadership positions. “I floated the suggestion to President Cheng, and President Cheng then had a conversation with him to gauge his interest.”
Smith has spent almost 40 years of leadership at different institutions serving as the interim president of Harris-Stowe State University, a historically black college and university (HBCU) in St. Louis.
“He led an HBCU, and I think that it certainly brings a perspective to a campus that aspires to be a social justice institution,” Bertolino said.
When the news broke that Smith would be the interim president, Bertolino said he was delighted.
“It’s nice to pass the baton to someone that you respect and you know will do well for the students and for the institution,” Bertolino said. “I was relieved because it makes my transition a little easier as well.”
Bertolino said it was a lot of smiles and laughs when he met Smith for the first time.
“It is not just a professional relationship, but we have developed a friendship,” Bertolino said. “He is easy to talk to; he is easy to get along with.”
The relationships that Smith has built-in Bridgeport will help Southern because the university’s goal has been to become a more significant presence in Bridgeport, Bertolino said.
Smith said he wants the university to know that he is collaborative in his approach and accessible.
“I’m student-centered,” Smith said. “The number one priority is to move students through the academic pipeline with the ultimate goal of having them to reach their highest promise.”
Smith said ensuring every student can have the excess to seek a post-secondary education has always been essential because of his family background.
Due to discriminatory laws in the South, Smith said the elders in his family, particularly his mother, did not have the opportunity to get an education. “Everyone can have an education; they have a right to a post-secondary education with the right mindset, and the right type of support has really been my mantra, and that has been embedded into me in various types of positions.”
Students on campus reacted to the news of Smith becoming the interim president.
“I found out that Dr. Smith was going to be the interim president when it was announced on Instagram and social media, and email,” History and political science major Kyle Thaxton, a junior, said. “We had always been speculating before because we were just curious. We didn’t know if it would be from the inside, so internally from Southern, or if it would be someone externally.”
Student Government President Thaxton said he is excited to meet Smith and likes his higher education experience.
“Seeing a person of color be able to ascend to that leadership at Southern with our social justice message, I’m happy that our leadership is going to be diverse,” Thaxton said. “I’m happy that we are going to have a strong, experienced leader.”
Public health major Angela Corsino, a junior, said she heard about Smith becoming the interim president from Bertolino’s Instagram.
“I am not from the area, so I’m not sure who Dr. Smith is. I figured if President Joe had a hand in picking him out, I’m sure he’s a great guy and great for the job,” Corsino said.
Public health major Grace Jaworowski, a senior, said she read about the Smith’s news through Instagram and thought it was excellent that the university found someone qualified for the job.
“I didn’t hear about it. I don’t know who he is,” Biology major Tamana Phinn, a junior, said. “I’m wondering what his values are and what he is going to do for Southern.”
Bertolino said his last day is June 30, and Smith will visit the university in the coming weeks.
Smith said he is excited about the new professional and personal opportunities.
“I’m very passionate about higher education,” Smith said. “I’m still ecstatic and enthused about the possibility of serving yet another institution.”