Utah State University Eastern is an institution that has undergone seemingly endless growing pains in past years, but Interim Chancellor Gary Straquadine has a broad, community-driven vision that ambitiously aims to finally bring the university into its own.

Straquadine agreed to sit down with Sun Advocate for an extensive interview. He discussed how he intends to frame what he describes as “the big picture mentality” for USUE and the university’s role in benefiting and leading the community economically and improving the quality of life for those in the area.

In fact, understanding the needs of the community and how to best fill those needs are at the forefront of Straquadine‘s relentless pursuit of “getting things done.”

And for Straquadine that means serving—serving the students of USUE, and serving the community, which he says will ultimately result in ensuring mutual success and life-long learning for both.

“I keep coming back and saying what do we need next in this community? And then working with community leaders so everyone understands that education is an integral and vital part of economic development,” Straquadine said “The community should be looking at the University as a partner in economic growth, so when a new industry considers coming to the area, they realize ‘hey our employees can be trained here and our families can learn here’ – we have to do a better job of promoting that benefit to the community.”

Straquadine takes a very hands-on approach both in the arena of the University, and in the community.

Associate Professor Corey A. Ewan who has taught at USUE for the past 19 years said Straquadine is truly invested in the future and success of the USUE and leads by example. “He is not out for himself. He’s not here to look good – he is here to serve,” Ewan said. “And I think his mandate; his call to action for us, the faculty and staff, is that we emulate him, and that we serve as well.”  

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USUE Interim Chancellor Gary Straquadine shows off his campus garden.

Straquadine earned his Doctorate in Agricultural Education from Ohio State University and using his skills as an agricultural scholar he seizes every opportunity to educate youth. Straquadine invited The Price Boys and Girls Club, and Future Farmers of America to join him in the green house located in the Reeves Building.

Director of Price Boys and Girls Club Olivia Dudding-Rodriguez said Dr. Straquadine was very generous with his time, personality, and knowledge in inviting the city’s youth to the University and working with and teaching them in the USUE Green House. He also started a community garden in the spot where the Music Building once stood. He works alongside USUE students, and community members who stop to help while they walk by, and donates the fresh produce to the Foodbank.

“Dr. Straquadine was amazing, and was absolutely a natural working with our teens. He knew each of their names, and they were genuinely excited to go work with him every single time,” Dudding-Rodriguez said. “It was very engaging and an extremely valuable experience for them.”

 “I’ve integrated the community into the University, and then the University gives back to the community. It’s a model I’ve used for years.” he said. “It’s effective – but to me it’s that intrinsic reward that I give back to my community.”  

Ewan said Straquadine strikes an excellent balance between listening to other’s ideas, and decisively paving a road on which the university can progress and grow.

“He is ultimately fair. He is very gracious, and genuinely interested in other’s concerns, suggestions, and actively engages in conversations and discussions, and then enacts a plan and finds solutions.” Ewan said. “He is also very dedicated in making USUE a strong contender in the state for recruitment, for students, for faculty and the community as a whole.”

To that end, and as a major goal for Straquadine, he is determined that new ideas be a constant, and that those ideas be measured by “what difference did we make?” Therefore, he is ensuring that the degrees, certificates, and programs offered at the university are fine tuned to meet the constantly changing needs of employers and of students striving to ensure they are making the best educational decisions for their own financial futures.

“We have to look at our degrees and programs and ask - Are we industry reflective? Are we designing each program to relating industry factors?” Straquadine said. “Are we leading or are we trudging along behind, or are we just in the way? I want to ensure that each program and degree are industry reflective and meets the need of the community and thereby meets the need of students to ensure a higher level of employment and income.”

An example of his efforts to facilitate community involvement in the success and development of the university, Straquadine instituted Industry Advisory Committees for all vocational programs. These committees invite, for instance, automotive, welding, or medical-related industries to sit on the councils of those same departments and have input for those certificates and degrees.  Straquadine welcomes the community who would want to be a part of the University and have a seat at the table and have input into curriculum.

Another main goal for Straquadine is that people and businesses grow to truly respect the importance of having a university in their community and realize its significance for economics and culture and ultimately to take better advantage of the university in their own backyard.

“My hope, if I have done a good job, and if I have identified industry needs, and aligned the best academic programs to fit the needs of the community, is that they will come back and say, ‘Wow!’ Because we, the university, did made an economic difference and/or a cultural difference,” he said. “And then the community will see as a result of that difference, they had their horizons broadened and their quality of life improved, with a play or a concert for instance, that businesses are not outsourcing and customers are not driving to Provo, and we aren’t losing economic opportunity because we have insufficient workers, and our community members aren’t losing out on better job opportunities – those are the differences a university can make.”  

To ensure he can assess the needs of the community, Straquadine regularly attends public meetings including the school board, county commission and city council meetings, and admonishes the faculty to do the same.

Straquadine would like to see more of the community on campus, both to take advantage of the plays produced by the Theatre Department, the concerts and art exhibits in Gallery East, and the sporting events, but also to rent and utilize the facilities for private events.

 “We have wonderful facilities on this campus and we should have an event here every weekend” Straquadine said. “I want to see all kinds of recitals, weddings or other events that bring people here. Bringing the community onto campus, we can market ourselves better – and the opportunities and programs that will serve them – by inviting people in and making this a true community-based campus.”

Another major accomplishment on Straquadine‘s list of goals is making sure that the alumni community can all come together and take ownership of the institution regardless of its name.

“I have five groups of alumni in the community - we have alumni from Carbon College, CEU, USUE, USU (Logan), and USU students who graduated from a regional campus. I want to find a way to unite and inspire all of these groups to believe in what we are doing, to give back to the institution by being involved and, really just feel connected to the University no matter what it was called when they attended and what name we go by now.”

“I want all of these groups to see the value in what we are trying to accomplish, and really be a united part of what we do here and share that connection with the community” he added.  

Straquadine would also like to assure current students, that USUE is a place where they will receive the highest quality education but admonishes them to strive to make the most of their time there.  

“I would think I would like the students who come here to find a Safe and challenging academic environment – in that you are safe to express your opinion and question, but it is still challenging, and you will be actually pushed to new levels of thinking, and start to be hungry for that new knowledge,” he said. “My greatest disappointment with students now, however, is that they pay the most and expect the least. Students are thrilled when a class is cancelled or is an easy A. I want students coming to me saying ‘Hey I’m not getting the most out of my education,’ and demanding to be challenged.  

Straquadine said he will work to find ways to inspire students to take full advantage of their education. “I want them to Leave here knowing they’ve gotten the best - they’ve gotten their money’s worth,” he said. “We’ve got to be able to say that we’ve done what we’re supposed to in regard to our responsibilities to shape the next generation.”

Vice Chancellor for Enrollment Services and Student Affairs, Greg Dart said that students will find an open mind and a ready ear in Straquadine. “Many students have already noticed, and new students can trust that this Chancellor really listens, and is genuinely interested in them and their success,” he said. “He [Straquadine] puts the needs of students and how to best serve them absolutely first, and his commitment to accomplish big things is truly inspiring.”

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Photo by Kristen Daniel

University as a partner in economic growth, so when a new industry considers coming to the area, they realize ‘hey our employees can be trained here and our families can learn here’ – we have to do a better job of promoting that benefit to the community.”

Straquadine takes a very hands-on approach both in the arena of the University, and in the community.

Associate Professor Corey A. Ewan who has taught at USUE for the past 19 years said Straquadine is truly invested in the future and success of the USUE and leads by example. “He is not out for himself. He’s not here to look good – he is here to serve,” Ewan said. “And I think his mandate; his call to action for us, the faculty and staff, is that we emulate him, and that we serve as well.”  

Straquadine earned his Doctorate in Agricultural Education from Ohio State University and using his skills as an agricultural scholar he seizes every opportunity to educate youth. Straquadine invited The Price Boys and Girls Club, and Future Farmers of America to join him in the green house located in the Reeves Building.

Director of Price Boys and Girls Club Olivia Dudding-Rodriguez said Dr. Straquadine was very generous with his time, personality, and knowledge in inviting the city’s youth to the University and working with and teaching them in the USUE Green House. He also started a community garden in the spot where the Music Building once stood. He works alongside USUE students, and community members who stop to help while they walk by, and donates the fresh produce to the Foodbank.

“Dr. Straquadine was amazing, and was absolutely a natural working with our teens. He knew each of their names, and they were genuinely excited to go work with him every single time,” Dudding-Rodriguez said. “It was very engaging and an extremely valuable experience for them.”

 “I’ve integrated the community into the University, and then the University gives back to the community. It’s a model I’ve used for years,” he said. “It’s effective – but to me it’s that intrinsic reward that I give back to my community.”  

Ewan said Straquadine strikes an excellent balance between listening to other’s ideas, and decisively paving a road on which the university can progress and grow.

“He is ultimately fair. He is very gracious, and genuinely interested in other’s concerns, suggestions, and actively engages in conversations and discussions, and then enacts a plan and finds solutions.” Ewan said. “He is also very dedicated in making USUE a strong contender in the state for recruitment, for students, for faculty and the community as a whole.”

To that end, and as a major goal for Straquadine, he is determined that new ideas be a constant, and that those ideas be measured by “what difference did we make?” Therefore, he is ensuring that the degrees, certificates, and programs offered at the university are fine tuned to meet the constantly changing needs of employers and of students striving to ensure they are making the best educational decisions for their own financial futures.

“We have to look at our degrees and programs and ask - Are we industry reflective? Are we designing each program to relating industry factors?” Straquadine said. “Are we leading or are we trudging along behind, or are we just in the way? I want to ensure that each program and degree are industry reflective and meets the need of the community and thereby meets the need of students to ensure a higher level of employment and income.”

An example of his efforts to facilitate community involvement in the success and development of the university, Straquadine instituted Industry Advisory Committees for all vocational programs. These committees invite, for instance, automotive, welding, or medical-related industries to sit on the councils of those same departments and have input for those certificates and degrees.  Straquadine welcomes the community who would want to be a part of the University and have a seat at the table and have input into curriculum.

Another main goal for Straquadine is that people and businesses grow to truly respect the importance of having a university in their community and realize its significance for economics and culture and ultimately to take better advantage of the university in their own backyard.

“My hope, if I have done a good job, and if I have identified industry needs, and aligned the best academic programs to fit the needs of the community, is that they will come back and say, ‘Wow!’ Because we, the university, did make an economic difference and/or a cultural difference,” he said. “And then the community will see as a result of that difference, they had their horizons broadened and their quality of life improved, with a play or a concert for instance, that businesses are not outsourcing and customers are not driving to Provo, and we aren’t losing economic opportunity because we have insufficient workers, and our community members aren’t losing out on better job opportunities – those are the differences a university can make.”  

To ensure he can assess the needs of the community, Straquadine regularly attends public meetings including the school board, county commission and city council meetings, and admonishes the faculty to do the same.

Straquadine would like to see more of the community on campus, both to take advantage of the plays produced by the Theatre Department, the concerts and art exhibits in Gallery East, and the sporting events, but also to rent and utilize the facilities for private events.

 “We have wonderful facilities on this campus and we should have an event here every weekend” Straquadine said. “I want to see all kinds of recitals, weddings or other events that bring people here. Bringing the community onto campus, we can market ourselves better – and the opportunities and programs that will serve them – by inviting people in and making this a true community-based campus.”

Another major accomplishment on Straquadine‘s list of goals is making sure that the alumni community can all come together and take ownership of the institution regardless of its name.

“I have five groups of alumni in the community—we have alumni from Carbon College, CEU, USUE, USU (Logan), and USU students who graduated from a regional campus. I want to find a way to unite and inspire all of these groups to believe in what we are doing.”

“I want all of these groups to see the value in what we are trying to accomplish, and really be a united part of what we do here,” he added.  

Straquadine would also like to assure current students, USUE is a place where they will receive the highest quality education but admonishes them to strive to make the most of their time there.  

“I would think I would like the students who come here to find a safe and challenging academic environment—in that you are safe to express your opinion and question, but it is still challenging, and you will be actually pushed to new levels of thinking, and start to be hungry for that new knowledge,” he said. “My greatest disappointment with students now, however, is that they pay the most and expect the least. Students are thrilled when a class is cancelled or is an easy A. I want students coming to me saying ‘Hey I’m not getting the most out of my education.’”  

Straquadine said he will work to find ways to inspire students to take full advantage of their education.

“We’ve got to be able to say that we’ve done what we’re supposed to in regard to our responsibilities to shape the next generation,” he said.

Vice Chancellor for Enrollment Services and Student Affairs Greg Dart said students will find an open mind and a ready ear in Straquadine.

“Many students have already noticed, and new students can trust that this chancellor really listens, and is genuinely interested in them and their success,” he said. “He [Straquadine] puts the needs of students and how to best serve them absolutely first, and his commitment to accomplish big things is truly inspiring.”

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