First Day Greetings from Interim President Smith

June 1, 2023

Dear Southern Community,

Greetings! Less than two weeks ago, I had the great pleasure to be a member of the platform party at the Undergraduate Commencement ceremony in Bridgeport.

Witnessing the celebrations of families and friends in the stands and seeing graduates walk across the stage, clearly full of joy, showed me what it means to earn a degree from Southern. The spirit of the ceremony certainly reflected this university’s historic commitment to access, social justice and creating opportunity through higher education.

Given my own background as a first-generation student raised in poverty, these values have always been important to me in in my personal life and my 40-year career in public higher education.

So, as I begin my new role today as Southern’s interim president, I am excited to be here!  I’m thrilled to have the opportunity to advance the university’s mission, interact with our students, faculty, and staff and build on the significant work of President Joe Bertolino during his seven-year tenure.

In my most recent role as CEO of Housatonic Community College, I emphasized building positive, productive community connections. And I see the same potential in New Haven, both in terms of creating new partnerships for Southern and growing existing ones.

At HCC, I was also deeply engaged in mentoring students, advising them on how to realize their full potential and put their education to the best possible use after graduation. At Southern’s Commencement Day, it was inspiring to see how many graduates and guests stood to be recognized as First-Generation Students. Clearly, the opportunity to transform lives exists here, and I look forward to continuing to champion it.

Having already held a leadership role in the CSCU System, I understand the fiscal and related challenges that we are facing at Southern. I also managed similar obstacles during my tenure as provost and then interim president at Harris-Stowe State University, an HBCU institution in St. Louis, Mo. Despite being under-resourced and underfunded, we were able to do some incredible work, and I know that is also the case here.

For Southern, the June 7 state budget deadline will tell us much about future hurdles to be overcome. Developments at the Capitol will be crucial, and so I encourage all of you to contact your local legislators and urge them to support public higher education and our system’s funding requests.

Despite the uncertain fiscal outlook, I am confident that the budgetary and strategic planning processes that have been put in place during recent months will keep Southern moving in the right direction.

As President Bertolino previously communicated, a draft, five-year strategic plan is expected later this summer, after review by the President’s Strategic Advisory Committee and consultants. I will publicly outline the tentative plan at a series of Town Halls in the fall, followed by expected implementation in January 2024.

Even at this early stage, it is clear to me that the members of this extended community radiate Southern Pride – you love this university and most importantly, are sincere about the wellbeing of our students and their success.

As I begin my presidency, I want to help spread the word about the great work happening at Southern. For example: the expansive new business and health buildings and their capacity for community engagement; the distinctive academic programs targeting major areas of workforce need and the initiatives both on and off-campus to provide more educational pathway for underrepresented groups.

During these coming weeks, I plan to spend time walking and enjoying this beautiful campus in bloom and getting to know as many of you as possible. I want to hear your side of the Southern story. You can also connect with me on social media -  Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. And I’ll be happy to receive your questions, concerns and ideas directly at Dr. D. Wants to Know.

Thank you for the gracious welcome provided me after President’s Bertolino’s Town Hall earlier in the spring, and for the invitation to attend several campus events, gatherings, and meetings. They have been wonderful and informative experiences as I familiarize myself with Southern and “The Owl Way.”

As we move toward the summer, new student orientations and preparation for the 2023 academic year are right around the corner. But I hope that you also take time to unwind, relax and reflect on all that’s been achieved. I look forward to our work together to shape Southern’s future and advance our shared goal of student success.


Dwayne Smith, Ph.D.
Interim President