On July 11, East Carolina University formally welcomed Robin Coger, former dean of the College of Engineering at North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University (NCAT), as provost and vice chancellor of the university’s Division of Academic Affairs.
In addition to her roles as provost and vice chancellor, Coger will also hold an academic appointment as professor and faculty member within ECU’s College of Engineering and Technology (CET).
Following a competitive national search beginning in June 2021, Chancellor Philip Rogers said Coger’s past leadership experience brings a variety of “multi-dimensional talents” to the university. Though ECU is in “a moment of transition” as a number of long-term administrators depart from the university, Rogers said looking to the future, he is confident leaders like Coger will steer the institution in the right direction.
“We’re deeply, deeply pleased that Provost Coger has officially joined the ECU community,” Rogers said. “In every way, she demonstrated to the search committee, and to me, that she’s the right fit for this role and she’s the right fit for East Carolina University.”
The provost of Academic Affairs is the chief academic officer of the university, Rogers said, a position in which the deans of every college and school within the institution reports to directly. Coger will set the overall academic strategy of the university, Rogers said, all while supervising academic talent, aligning the resources of Academic Affairs and leading faculty and researchers throughout the academic year.
A firm believer in ECU’s mission, Rogers said Coger recognizes that the university is in a pivotal moment of transformation as the institution looks to the future of higher education. Coger is well-positioned to help the university “reinvent” itself, Rogers said, and she is a proprietor of innovation and entrepreneurialism.
As Rogers thought about what quality to search for in a new provost, he said there were a number of values that were important to the institution that Coger embraces: a servant’s mentality in honor of ECU’s motto “servire,” transparency with the university community, integrity in decision-making, a team-oriented spirit and a commitment to diversity, equity and inclusion.
“I think she (Coger) embodies the spirit of what we were looking for in a new provost. She brings, to the role, a diverse set of academic experiences, and that’s sort of especially important for the position of provost, ranging from being a faculty member, to a researcher, to a dean,” Roger said. “It’s so important that she’s experienced higher education from many different vantage points in academia, and that’s to our benefit as a university community.”
Beginning her journey in higher education in 1996, Coger said her path to ECU all began like many administrators: as a student. This was an important step of her journey, Coger said, as being a student shapes how one would like to make their impact on the world.
Moving her way up from her role as assistant professor at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte, Coger said she then found and directed the university’s Center for Biomedical Engineering Systems. Coger’s next role was dean of NCAT’s College of Engineering, she said, before finally stepping into her role as provost at ECU.
As former dean of NCAT, Coger said her position allowed her to see different areas of the university and how she could continue her impact. When the opportunity arose for Coger to apply for ECU’s provost position, she said thought it was worth exploring how she might fit into the university.
“It just so happened that the people of ECU thought I was the right match for the university, and I thought, I mean I was so excited about some of the great things that were going on here. So ultimately, it was that match of why I decided that I’d like to be here,” Coger said. “I will tell you that each person that I’ve met since I’ve been here has been welcoming, and I am enjoying being here.”
Though it’s only Coger’s second week at the university, she said she admires ECU’s wide variety of fields that coexist under one university, something she describes as a source of innovation. She said the number of programs, partnerships and collaborations available create an opportunity to build on one another into a successful future.
Through her position as provost, Coger said she will work closely with the college deans, administrative leaders, faculty and students at the university.
One of her main goals is to continue to highlight the achievements that have already been made, Coger said, in order to ensure others are aware of ECU’s impact. Another vision Coger said she has for Academic Affairs is to not only ensure that students graduate on time and are excited to be in the classroom, but to prepare students to continue ECU’s mission of service.
“Here at ECU, one of the things that I love is the fact that, one, it is this combination of wonderful things on the academic side, plus we have Brody (School of Medicine), and then together, it’s one ECU,” Coger said. “As one ECU, it really allows us to really have wonderful opportunities to build on the great foundation that has already begun and has really been going on for so long, and really think about new ways that we might create new things together.”
Like the chairs of various college departments report to college deans, Dean of the CET Harry Ploehn said he and other deans will report to Coger in her position as provost. Throughout past interactions with Coger, Ploehn said he has come to know the provost as both a skilled and experienced leader.
As the chief academic officer of a university, Ploehn said it can be a “daunting task” to supervise hundreds of faculty members, staff and budgets. As an engineer, Ploehn said Coger is a problem solver who understands data, numbers, metrics and critical thinking, but also describes her as an empathetic individual with excellent listening and communication skills. He said this combination of skills makes Coger well-fitted for her role as a leader in higher education.
An advocate for leaders of higher education with clear vision, communication skills and a proper allocation of resources, Ploehn said he welcomes Coger’s newly-appointed position as provost and trusts her future leadership.
“I think that there is real hunger for vision and alignment, and I think across the colleges, the academic deans are all eager and eagerly anticipating working with the provost,” Ploehn said. “You know, the provost is our path to the chancellor, and working together with the provost and the chancellor to put all of our academic efforts forward.”