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Securing the Future

President Tony Atwater

President Tony Atwater

Tony Atwater was born in Nashville but raised all over the world. His father was in the Air Force, and by the time he was fifteen, IUP’s new president had lived on three continents. Ironically, the experience taught him a lot about America.

“In the military schools, there were kids from everywhere. Every racial and ethnic group was represented, and there were all kinds of dialects. We all melded together. It gave me an early and deep appreciation for diversity.”

The schools he attended on military bases had, he said, higher standards than those to which he might otherwise have gone. Atwater and his twin brother, Terry, flourished.

“From elementary school all the way through junior high,” he said, “we had excellent instruction in writing and English. I discovered my greatest aptitude was for writing and for communication in general.”

Not all the communication was verbal. One of his father’s first tours of duty with the family took them all to Germany.

“We lived on the second floor of a house, and a German family lived on the first,” Atwater said. “They spoke no English. We spoke no German. We got along fine—through nonverbal communication and simple friendliness. I’m convinced that language may not be the great barrier we perceive it to be.”

There were other schools and other friends in Okinawa, which was hot, and Bangor, Me., which was cold. By the time Atwater was in high school, the family lived in Roanoke, Va. His basketball coach at William Fleming High School required players also to run cross country. He played basketball and ran for more than two years. Long-distance running, Atwater said, “builds character.”

Atwater graduated from high school in 1969, a few months after his seventeenth birthday. At Virginia’s Hampton University, he was, he said, “a pretty studious person.” He majored in journalism and mass communication, specialized in radio and television production, and worked at the campus radio station.

“I’m looking to be here as long as I’m needed. I’m sensitive to the university’s need for continuity, given the leadership upheavals of the last few years. Tony Atwater is a finisher.”

In the year that followed his college graduation, any trace of accent still clinging to his speech disappeared forever at a broadcasting academy in Washington, D.C. Atwater learned how to speak with a microphone, how to deliver news and sports, and how to cue up music. He later filled roles as news director, assignment editor, and reporter at Virginia radio and television stations and went to work as a radio-television specialist at Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University.

“I produced university broadcasts,” he said, “but I also worked with Virginia Cooperative Extension agents throughout the state. I worked with perhaps twelve agents at a time, teaching them how to prepare for appearances on television. Most had Ph.D.s. They were very interesting people.”

The experience taught Atwater two things: he enjoyed teaching and he enjoyed the company of people with advanced degrees. He began to see possibilities in university professorship. Having taken graduate course work in education at Virginia Tech, he applied and was admitted to the Mass Media doctoral program at Michigan State University.

President Tony Atwater and Dr. Beverly Roberts-Atwater

President Tony Atwater and Dr. Beverly Roberts-Atwater

In 1983, Atwater received a Ph.D. degree in communications research from Michigan State. Despite the university’s normal preference for faculty members with doctoral degrees from other institutions, he was selected as a Journalism professor. He taught, he founded a radio-TV news laboratory, and he met the woman who became his wife.

Beverly Roberts-Atwater was born in Jacksonville, Fla. She received a bachelor’s degree from Fisk University in Nashville and a master’s degree from New York University. At Michigan State, she earned not only a Ph.D. in counseling psychology but also a medical degree.

As a licensed psychologist and as a physician who specializes in physical medicine and rehabilitation, Roberts-Atwater has most recently been in private practice; many of her patients are recovering from strokes, spinal cord injuries, and joint replacement surgeries. According to her husband, “she is a great patient advocate and caregiver. In her office, the patient always comes first. With her background, she is able to deal with patients on an emotional level as well as a physical one.”

In addition to teaching at Michigan State, IUP’s new president also served as assistant director of the university’s honors college. He has done postdoctoral work at the University of Michigan in communication and at Harvard in higher education administration.

Atwater’s career has taken him and his wife to Kentucky, where he was dean of the College of Professional Studies and Education at Northern Kentucky University; to New Jersey, where he was chairperson of the Department of Journalism and Mass Media at Rutgers; to Connecticut, where he was special assistant to the provost at the University of Connecticut; and to Ohio, where he was associate vice president for academic affairs at the University of Toledo. Atwater’s most recent post before starting at IUP on February 1 was as provost and vice-president for academic affairs at Youngstown State University.

Although he has worked in a lot of places over the last two decades, Atwater said that at IUP, “I’m looking to be here as long as I’m needed. I’m sensitive to the university’s need for continuity, given the leadership upheavals of the last few years. Tony Atwater is a finisher.”

Among the projects he would like to finish—or at least see well on their way to completion—are the Regional Development Center and an ambitious long-range plan for campus housing. He would also like to see the university maximize the impact of the John P. Murtha Institute for Homeland Security and the Robert E. Cook Honors College.

Established in the early nineties through a gift from its namesake, a member of the university’s Class of 1964, the Honors College admitted its first class in 1996. Cook’s initial gift of $3.26 million tops a long list of his ongoing benefactions. “Bob Cook’s generosity,” Atwater said, “has been unparalleled.”

The president said four key priorities will characterize his administration at IUP. These include (1) advancing academic excellence; (2) increasing significant IUP partnerships with the public, private, and social sectors; (3) increasing private support to IUP through the Division of Institutional Advancement; and (4) stable enrollment and incremental enrollment growth over the next five years.

Atwater said he also aims to address “how students view their role as adults in America.” Civic engagement, he said, may not be in vogue, but it is vital for “maintaining and securing the future of our communities and our nation.”

He intends, he said, to be active in the wider community—on the local, regional, and state levels—and he wants students to be active on those levels, too. “Students are the key to a promising future for the community, state, and nation,” he said. “They can and must capably exercise their responsibility as skilled and productive stewards of America’s future economic and cultural vitality.”