Q&A with Baylor alum (and new university president) Dr. Linda Schott

Baylor College of Arts & Sciences alumna Dr. Linda K. Schott has been appointed the next president of the University of Maine at Presque Isle. She  was a double major in German and history at Baylor, receiving her BA degrees in 1979.

We asked Dr. Schott to look back a bit on her time at Baylor, and to describe the challenges ahead as a new university president.

Which were some of your favorite classes and professors at Baylor? Any good stories you can share?

My favorite faculty member was Dr. Stan Campbell, a professor of history who passed away a year or so ago. Dr. Campbell and I shared a background of having lived and worked on ranches as well as a love of history. He challenged me intellectually but also cared for me as a person, offering me support and encouragement when I experienced difficult times. Dr. James Vardaman was also a wonderful faculty member and mentor. I particularly remember traveling to the Baylor Program in Vienna with Dr. Vardaman. What a gift it was to have Dr. Vardaman teach us European history while also showing us the sights of Vienna, Salzburg and Budapest. I also learned a great deal from other members of the history faculty: Dr. Rufus Spain, Dr. Gary Hull, Dr. Hugh Davis and Dr. Patricia Ward Wallace.

I also worked closely with faculty members in the German department, particularly Jochem and Chris Burckhardt. They were both great teachers. Because of them, I got a scholarship to the Baylor in Vienna Program, and it was while traveling after that program — while sitting in a train station in Paris — that I decided I wanted to continue my education and get a PhD.

I generally stayed squarely in the arts and humanities, but I did have to take two science classes that I ended up enjoying greatly. One was historical geology. I can’t remember the faculty member’s name, but I have often thought that I might have been a geologist or archaelogist if I had discovered those areas of study sooner. The other class was physics with Dr. Ken Wang.  I did miserably in that class at first, but Dr. Wang worked independently with me each week, and I ended up with an A in the class. That class was the first time that math made sense to me because I could see how it actually explained things in the real world. I’m still grateful for the extra time Dr. Wang spent with me that enabled my eventual success.

Was a position in higher education administration your original career goal, or did you start out on another path?

I never even dreamed of a career as a higher education administrator.  Neither of my parents had graduated from high school, so although I knew I wanted to go to college, I didn’t really know much about higher education. I always loved school, however, and early on decided that I wanted to be a teacher. As I went farther and farther in school, the level at which I wanted to teach also developed — from middle school, to high school, to college.

While at Baylor, I remember seeing Dr. Campbell sitting at his desk with his feet propped up, reading a book, and thinking, “Now this looks like a career I could enjoy!” So my goal in graduate school was to become a college professor, preferably back in the area around San Antonio where I had grown up. I was fortunate to teach at Texas State University in San Marcos for one year, then three years at Texas Lutheran University in Seguin, and then 15 years at the University of Texas at San Antonio.

While at UTSA, I took on entry-level administrative positions — directing the American Studies Program and serving as the founding director of the Center for the Study of Women and Gender — and discovered that I really liked administrative work. My goal then was to be a dean some day, but once I became a dean, I began to think that the role of president looked like even more fun. So when I was encouraged to apply for the presidency of UMPI this year, I decided to go for it.

You’ve had a long career in higher education — are there any lessons you learned at Baylor that have helped you along the way?

I got a great education at Baylor, largely due to the great faculty members with whom I worked. Faculty members held high expectations for students, so I learned to work hard and manage my time well. I also learned to care deeply about others, as some of my faculty members cared for me. Throughout my career, I’ve tried to be a mentor to others — first my students, now younger faculty members with whom I’ve worked — just as some of the Baylor faculty were mentors to me.

What will be your biggest challenges in your new position at Presque Isle? And please tell us a little about the school, its locale and its academic orientation.

The University of Maine at Presque Isle is a component of the University of Maine System located in Aroostook County in northern Maine. It has a student population of about 1,500. It offers majors in the arts and sciences, in education, and in professional programs such as business, criminal justice, recreation and social work. Classes are small, and faculty members spend a great deal of time interacting with students.

Probably my biggest challenge will be leading the institution in this era when public support for higher education is declining while public calls for accountability are increasing. I hope to engage the faculty, staff, alumni and community members in conversations about how we best position UMPI for the future.

Do you have any advice for college students today on how to succeed while in school and afterward?

My advice to students at Baylor would be to immerse themselves in all of the varied opportunities that are open to them as Baylor students. There will hardly be another chance in their lives when they have such a supportive structure as well as such incredible opportunities, and they should enjoy it to the fullest — while also remembering to study hard!

Have you been following Baylor’s incredible sports year this year? And if so, do you have any thoughts?

I have been following Baylor sports, especially women’s basketball. But my heart belongs to the San Antonio Spurs. In fact, I’ve been thinking of writing a short article on what I’ve learned about higher education administration by watching the Spurs. (That’s a teaser — you’ll have to wait for the article to learn more!)

Is there anything else about Baylor or your time here that you want to share?

I’m very grateful to the education that Baylor provided.  Without it, I wouldn’t have made it to graduate school at Stanford nor to my career in higher education. And I’m thankful to all of the wonderful faculty members I had; they are my “mental model” for excellent college teaching and mentoring.

We must throw in a bonus question. Is it true that you have to love eating lobster and reading Stephen King novels to live in Maine? Or is this just a rumor?

Now that I have the UMPI position, I guess it is okay to admit that I’ve never read a Stephen King novel (I don’t like scary stories), and that I’ve only had one lobster in my life! The first won’t change, but the second definitely will.

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