Forging links to the Future
By Justin Ward '10
For the last eight years, Susan Whealler Johnston, Ph.D., has watched Radford University grow and evolve from a unique perspective. As a member of the Board of Visitors, she’s had a hand in positioning Radford University for a strong future.
Since 2014, Johnston has seen the creation of Radford University Carilion (RUC); REAL, a new undergraduate general education curriculum; new programs and new delivery methods; the creation of The Highlander hotel and conference center; and two presidential searches. During the most recent presidential search, she chaired the committee that found Radford’s eighth president, Bret S. Danilowicz, Ph.D. This summer, after serving two terms on the board, she is stepping down from her position, but she will always be a member of the Radford family.
“Radford University is an extremely welcoming place. Whether joining as a student – as my niece did several years ago – or as a board member, as I did, I think the feeling is the same,” Johnston said. “One of the ways in which the Radford family has impressed me is the number of families who have made Radford University their home. I’ve met mothers and daughters who have graduated from Radford, grandmothers and grandchildren, and – of course – husbands and wives. To me, that adds a special, joyful understanding to what it means to be part of the Radford family.”
Through the last two years, Johnston and the remaining board members have worked with university leadership to overcome the challenges of COVID-19 and build a stronger future. Weathering the pandemic is one of her most proud accomplishments while on the board.
“Outstanding leadership, long-term considerations and practical and tactical decision making all led to a strong and healthy Radford as we look to emerge from the pandemic,” Johnston said.
Looking at what the future holds for Radford excites Johnston as she steps off the board, having helped position the university for the next generation.
“At Radford, we educate students for the future. We build programs to address future local, state and regional needs,” Johnston said. “To me, it’s exciting to build links and opportunities between what we know and believe now to a future that we can’t yet see or know. It’s just around the corner, but if we can get that link right, we can build a very powerful engine – the university – for financial growth, social growth, intellectual growth of individuals and regions.”
Her full-time job outside of the Board of Visitors is very similar to her volunteer role as a board member. Johnston serves as the president and CEO of the National Association of College and University Business Officers (NACUBO). Its members include nearly 2,000 colleges and universities and approximately 40,000 individuals working within higher education’s business and finance offices.
NACUBO provides technical and leadership training, guidance with policies, and tools to enable members and other partners to collaborate to solve problems.
Throughout her exciting career in higher education and having an important seat at an important table, Johnston said her focus has always been keeping students at the core of what she believes is important. That includes helping them also become successful.
“Define ‘successful’ for yourself,” Johnston said. “You may have to do this several times throughout your life, but be aware that your ‘successful’ may be very different from everyone else’s. Look for people who can help you move thoughtfully toward your success – mentors, professors, coaches, relatives or neighbors. Remember that you live a whole life, and success in one area, even a hobby or a volunteer job, may be your desideratum. Keep learning.”