Antioch President Karen Schuster Webb looks for new ways to improve the school
Originally published on Dayton Magazine
When Karen Schuster Webb moved from the San Francisco Bay area in January 2014 to step into the presidency of Antioch University Midwest (AUM), she literally received a chilly reception. “They told me the winters weren’t too bad, and then I came during the Polar Vortex,” she laughs.
Luckily, a bit of cold weather didn’t dim her enthusiasm for her new hometown or her work with AUM. “It was a privilege to become a part of the Antioch system. I was welcomed and embraced,” she says, noting that she was attracted to the university’s commitment to equality of access to excellence.
Webb is committed to AUM’s mission to become “the premier destination for adults” who want to pursue or complete their education. The institution is already known for its master’s degree in management and its individualized master’s degree that allows students to tailor a program to their own needs with a low-residency requirement that increases flexibility. Webb notes that the institution is moving into programs in health care and technology, and it hopes to become known in these areas. AUM plans to continue to “form [academic] concentrations that are market-driven,” Webb says. Students respond positively, regularly commuting 30 to 45 minutes to access these highly flexible programs.
Antioch University Midwest was formerly known as the McGregor School and then Antioch University McGregor. It became a stand-alone institution in 1988, and in 2007 it moved to its campus in Yellow Springs. In 2010, it was renamed Antioch University Midwest in parallel to other Antioch University Campuses in New England, Seattle, Santa Barbara and Los Angeles. Its mission is to “provide learner-centered education to empower students with the knowledge and skills to lead meaningful lives and to advance social, economic and environmental justice.” System-wide, the institution offers bachelor’s degree completion programs, master’s programs, doctoral programs and certificates.
The institution keeps its fingers on the pulse of the business community by forming partnerships with area businesses and attempting to be “good neighbors and good partners,” Webb says. She feels that this focus is a natural fit for the Dayton area. “The [institution’s] mission aligns with what the city is trying to do,” she notes. She describes the city as having a “meeting of the urban with a concern for the rural” that is reflected in some of AUM’s offerings. For example, a new course focused on philanthropy and funded by a donor allows for two to three projects a year to be completed, each focusing on the “well-being of the Dayton area.” She has become fascinated by the continual evolution of the Dayton area as it reinvents itself for each era. “I enjoy the spirit of Dayton; not just the teardown but the building on the foundations that are there,” she says. “I love the idea of moving the city.”
This focus on Dayton and its well-being comes naturally to Webb, who feels that moving to Dayton is “like coming home in many ways.” With a brother who went to collegel in Ohio and a husband from Terre Haute, Webb earned her Ph.D. at Indiana University and studied to become a linguist specializing in sociolinguistics and the study of dialects. This field of study makes her particularly sensitive to the culture of an area or a population, a valuable skill in higher education.
Prior to joining AUM, Webb held a variety of progressively responsible positions in a variety of institutions of higher education. She was associate provost for engagement and founding dean of the Shirley M. Hufstedler School of Education at Alliant International University, professor and dean of the College of Education at Southern University, associate professor and program director for language education at the University of Kentucky, and coordinator for freshman English at Howard University, among other positions and institutions. Her breadth of experience and willingness to work in a variety of institutional types makes her uniquely qualified to take the helm of an institution like AUM that is known for its flexibility.
Webb brings her appreciation of culture to her view of Dayton, and the city compares favorably to her previous life in San Francisco. “There are so many cultural activities” in Dayton, she says. “There’s nothing I found in San Francisco Bay I can’t find in Dayton.” Since her arrival, Webb says she has been “immers[ing] myself in Dayton as a city.” One way that she has done that is by serving on the board of the Dayton Contemporary Dance Company (DCDC). “I’ve been committed to dance since I was very small,” she says, explaining that she used to do both ballet and tap. Today, it is a pleasure for her to help nurture future generations of dancers.
Dayton also makes a good home base for her adult children, including a daughter who lives in the Bay area and a son who is currently in the process of choosing his own home city. Meanwhile, Webb’s presidency of AUM brings her full-circle as the daughter of a professor and dean, who grew up around higher education before making it her career.
In the immediate future, Webb looks forward to continuing to help AUM expand its reach into the areas of health care, management and business as it reaches out to students hoping to continue their educations. She is also working with AU Connected, the online branch of Antioch University that offers online bachelor’s degree completion programs in human services administration, liberal studies and management, as well as an online master’s degree in clinical mental health counseling. And she continues her personal commitment to mentoring other higher education professionals, especially women who are pursuing leadership roles.
Webb’s excitement about her work with Antioch University Midwest and her passion are palpable when she talks about her new institution. “The university is responsive to the needs of the community, and students leave transformed,” she says. “It’s the Antiochian way, to look at things in terms of our own values. It’s what makes us unique.” She looks at the current mission of the university as a way of building the institution’s legacy. “Our legacy is what we do every day,” she says.