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Striking leadership: CEO Laurey Stryker builds campus, new reputation in five years.

To Laurey Stryker, building a new campus was a classic case of "desire meets opportunity."


She arrived as Campus CEO for USF Sarasota-Manatee in October of 2000 and saw an under-served community with high standards. "I saw the potential from the beginning. I saw the support. I saw the hunger."

To others, she was the right person at the right time, with the vision and leadership skills to get a tough job done. The three-story $26.5 million new campus center now under construction across from the Sarasota-Bradenton International Airport is a solid testament to the will and determination of the woman in charge of running the regional campus.

"Once she sets a goal, she is relentless," said Peter French, Associate Vice President and Dean of Academic Affairs for USF Sarasota-Manatee.

"Relentless is a definition of leadership," said Kathy Baylis, President of Sarasota County's Economic Development Corporation (EDC). "Her style is quiet leadership. She gently knows where the hot buttons are and knows how to build relationships and intuitively knows where to be at the right time."

Stryker served as Chairman of EDC, personifying the connection between higher education and economic development. "She went from nobody knowing her to Chairman-elect of the EDC in two years," said French. "That tells you something." Just last year the Tampa Bay Business Journal selected her to the list of "Who's Who in Education in the Tampa Bay region."

Stryker was unaccustomed to the spotlight when USF President Judy Genshaft appointed her to the regional campus post. She made a career of playing the behind-the-scenes role for people like then-Governor Bob Graham and Education Commissioner Betty Castor, where she served as Assistant Commissioner at the Florida Department of Education. When Castor became president of USF in 1993, Stryker followed as Vice President of Finance and Technology. "That's where she learned how to run a university." said French. "She already had the capacity for understanding the political process."

Stryker met Castor in the 1960s when they were neophytes in the League of Women Voters. "She always understood the importance of bringing people together and maximizing their talents," said Castor. "She has the unusual capacity to manage people at both the micro and macro levels. She's also a good student; she stores a lot and knows when to use it."

Stryker knew the first step was building the campus' capacity for full degree programs by hiring outstanding faculty, gaining legislative support for enrollment funding and creating a new Campus Board--from scatch. "Getting someone of Jan Smith's stature to chair our board was one of our biggest and best moves," Stryker notes.

Smith was the former chairman of the Board of Trustees for Manatee Community College and a local businessman held in high regard. During the first five years, the campus grew from 19 to 39 programs and from 59 to 130 employees. Enrollment has blossomed from under 2,000 to 3,400 under her watch.

"She immersed herself into the community and was well-received," Smith said. "I knew right away I could work with her. She's tenacious about her job."

Stryker and Smith created a 45-person Community Leadership Council, consisting of business and civic leaders, many with USF roots. The school built strong ties with MCC, whose graduates provide the regional campus with many of its students. It became much more possible for students to graduate with four years of higher education without leaving the Sarasota-Manatee area, by going to MCC the first two years and USF for years three and four. Graduate school and career changes became possible with the convenience of an affordable hometown campus.

Stryker forged strong relationships and synergy with the Manatee Chamber of Commerce as well as the Sarasota EDC, demonstrating the contribution a university makes by providing an educated workforce aligned with needs of local employers. When New College of Florida separated from USF in 2001, it was time to launch a new branding campaign and establish a clear presence in the community.

"Before Laurey, there was no view of USF," said Baylis. "It was invisible. She got out into the community so we could see her. She made the university part of the community."

She made people understand and believe in the value of USF in the community and she created an unprecedented local lobbying force for higher education. "Our legislative delegation rallied together and we got funding for our new campus," said Stryker. "That was the biggest milestone of all."


But it wasn't over. Now she had to enter the world of high-stakes fund-raising in a community where she was relatively new. She learned fast and had plenty of help from the likes of John Clarke, former president of Schroeder-Manatee Ranch, Inc., in the successful $3.5 million drive for state-of-the-art technology and enhancements for the new campus center. When matched by the state, it added $7 million to the building investment.

Stryker envisions the new campus as a gathering place for the community to learn and attend conferences together. "When you bring 45 PhD's into a community, it adds a lot of intellectual capital," she said. "That becomes a draw for our students and citizens. We want to become a part of the every-day fabric and consciousness of this community.

By DAVID R. VOSS, Voss and Associates Staff
COPYRIGHT 2006 Clubhouse Publishing, Inc.
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
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Author:Voss, David R.
Publication:Sarasota Magazine
Date:Mar 1, 2006
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