HU's interim president brings passion for learning, hometown

Ann McPherren, a Huntington University graduate and business professor, is serving as interim president of the university during the sabbatical of Dr. G. Blair Dowden.
Photo by Cindy Klepper.

Ann McPherren never planned to stay in Huntington County.

But then again, she never planned to leave.

She admits, with a laugh, that the lack of a plan for her personal life seems to be somewhat at odds with her responsibilities in shepherding the long-range plan at Huntington University.

But, she says, she's just never run across a good reason to leave.

"Why would you want to leave Huntington County?" she asks. "There's fabulous people, a great quality of life."

And so, she's spent her life - so far - close to home.

"I was just trying to be faithful to any of the gifts, the opportunities that the Lord blessed me with," McPherren says from the president's office at Huntington University, an office that's been hers since the beginning of this month.

The Roanoke native and 1975 Huntington North High School graduate is serving a three-month stint as the university's interim president, the first woman to hold that position in the school's history.

McPherren stepped into the role Feb. 1 when HU President G. Blair Dowden began a three-month sabbatical.

During his sabbatical, Dowden is cut off from any university responsibilities - save extreme emergencies - and the responsibility belongs solely to McPherren. Her students (yes, she's still teaching, too) know that, and have urged her to "Fire somebody!" when the burned-out light bulb in her classroom projector wasn't immediately replaced.

Probably not, she says.

McPherren adores teaching, and her students seem to return the affection.

On the international Web site www.RateMy, Huntington University students gave McPherren an average rating of 4.8 out of a possible 5 - noting that while her business and economics classes weren't the easiest classes they'd ever taken, McPherren was "interesting, humorous and wants everyone to understand."

"McPherren was one of my favorite profs," another student wrote. "She had high expectations but they were reachable with even a little effort. Funny woman!"

"I love the teaching part of it," says McPherren. She's been part of the HU staff for 27 years, teaching for 23 of those years. "That's the best job in the house.

"These are young, curious minds that want to go out and make an impact on the world for Christ."

And working with college-age students is especially enjoyable, she says, because it's a group of students who come to class for their own reasons - not because the law tells them they have to.

"I love seeing young people develop into adults," she says.
McPherren wasn't all that much older than her current students when she came to Huntington University. She'd graduated from the college in 1978 was working at North American Van Lines in Fort Wayne when she received a call from one of the deans at Huntington asking about adjunct teaching.

"I thought he was asking if I knew anybody who would want to teach it," she says. Then she realized he was asking if she'd be interested.
"I was surprised that anyone would see me as the professor type," she says.
She took the job, and went on to earn a master's degree and a doctorate in education from Ball State University. After she had completed her MBA, a full-time position became open at the college. She remembers the day she interviewed - March 13, 1981.

"I was in awe," she says. "I was being interviewed by my former professors."

She got the job, and she's glad she did.

"After a couple of years in the work force, you start to realize, ‘Oh, what a wonderful place a college campus is,'" she says. "I love learning, and I loved everything Huntington College had done for me."

She had come to the college as a student wrestling with questions - questions about how faith intersected with science, with global issues, with issues of war. She found a community where it was OK to ask questions, where its members offered "a variety of well-thought-out responses" to those questions, and more.

"I just really liked the idea of being able to come back and serve professionally," she says.

Over the years, in addition to teaching her business and economics classes, McPherren has served as assistant academic dean (from 1988 to 1999); chair of the Division of Business and Social Sciences; chair of the strategic planning council; and a member of the academic policies committee. She has also served as a faculty sponsor for the university's Alpha Chi Honor Society.

In 2006, she was named vice president for university planning and strategy, making her responsible for the coordination, development, implementation and monitoring of the university's strategic plan and process.

The university's board of trustees voted in October 2008, on Dowden's recommendation, to appoint her as interim president during Dowden's sabbatical.

"Blair thought she would be a pretty good choice," says Edward Souers, president of the Huntington University Board of Trustees - and a former classmate of McPherren, both in high school and in college.

McPherren, Souers says, is familiar with the faculty and the university, has served in the school's administration and is deeply involved in planning for HU's future.

"She has the confidence of the faculty and the staff," he says. "She's just the ideal person for the job."

McPherren and Souers - now a CPA and managing member of the Fort Wayne-based Christen Souers accounting firm - were business majors at Huntington College at the same time, with Souers graduating in 1977, a year ahead of McPherren. They'd both also attended Huntington North High School, but Souers, who grew up in Warren, says their paths never crossed there.

McPherren's brother, Tom McPherren, still lives in the area, and she's still a member of her childhood church - Seminary United Methodist in Roanoke.

McPherren serves as vice president of the MarkleBank board of directors and chaired the 2006 Huntington County United Way campaign and has served on the boards of the United Way, Pathfinder Foundation and Huntington County Leadership.