by Bobby Anderson, Staff Writer
Like many people, Patti Neuhold never saw the next big thing in her life coming.
But as the dust began to settle and spring had finally sprung, Neuhold was getting her head wrapped around the fact later this summer she would become the next president of the 16,000-student University of Central Oklahoma.
“I’m excited about it. Every day I realize more is going to come my way and opportunities I’ll get to be a part of and it’s exciting,” said Neuhold.
Earlier this year, the Regional University System of Oklahoma announced Neuhold will become UCO’s 21st president following the June retirement of current President Don Betz.
Neuhold is the Vice President for Finance and Chief Financial Officer for the University of Central Oklahoma. She has a deep knowledge of UCO, having served in leadership in finance and budget, administrative and professional development departments, joining the university in 2007.
With two degrees earned and a third almost completed Neuhold is a proud product of education.
“I would not be where I’m at today without education and that’s a fact,” Neuhold said. “It is, in my opinion, a life changer. Education equals freedom for so many people. It can change the trajectory of an entire family for generations to come.”
“For me, to be able to open that door is so rewarding. I want to make sure other people have the opportunity to grow and shape their destiny the way I have.”
Neuhold balanced UCO’s $187 million budget through years of the most significant declines in state support and declining enrollment. She facilitated business process reviews that resulted in savings, higher retention of faculty and new leadership development opportunities.
“Patti Neuhold has the leadership experience, and vision for the university that will help prepare our students to contribute ideas, innovation and solutions to the marketplace,” said Mark Stansberry, RUSO regent chair. “Her blend of financial acumen, organizational development and understanding of what industry needs will help UCO continue to lead in education and workforce development.”
Neuhold was approved by the board of regents after a national search.
“This is not something I had been working towards,” Neuhold said. “This really wasn’t on my radar for some time.”
But when President Betz announced his retirement last year the wheels started turning. And Betz had already been preparing her.
“He was always very encouraging and helpful in helping me see the possibilities that were ahead of me,” she said.
These are challenging times for higher education in Oklahoma.
“It’s no secret the State of Oklahoma has withdrawn its financial support from higher education across our state,” Neuhold said. “I – like all the other presidents in the state – will be dealing with our allocation from the state and building a relationship with legislators where they understand where we are coming from and what we’re trying to do.”
“Society in general is pushing back against higher education and really forcing all of us to justify our existence, which seems counterintuitive for many of us. I think we’ll be dealing with changing our stories and making sure people understand what is going on behind the curtain and doing everything we can with what we have.”
From its main campus in Edmond and facilities throughout the metro area, UCO is recognized nationally as a military-friendly school and for its high student engagement through service-learning and volunteerism and its workplace environment.
“I hope that No. 1 we can pair our innovative thinking with innovative action. I really want to see UCO move ahead,” she said. “We have so many great problem solvers on our campus – so many innovative thinkers – and I would love to see all of that paired with action.”
“I want UCO to be marked by progress, and potential and possibility.”
She stood out in the selection process but Betz already knew she would.
“Patti has been a key member of the university cabinet for several years, and has exercised significant leadership on a number of highly relevant issues to the university,” Betz said. “I believe that Patti will serve the UCO community, the metro and the state with energy, insight and distinction. I will work closely with her throughout the transition. I am delighted, and I sincerely look forward to the successful future of the university under her leadership.”