The first thing to welcome Shirley Strum Kenny to Augusta was the heat.
As she packed her life into her car in McLean, Va., on Saturday, the interim president of Augusta State University was one of millions of people without power after severe storms on the East Coast. She had no air-conditioning and no electricity before making the 600-mile drive.
By midafternoon, she and her husband, Robert, braved the dark skies and 100-degree afternoon and headed to the Deep South.
Despite the temperatures that greeted her, Augusta was good as far as first impressions go.
“It’s beautiful, it’s absolutely beautiful,” Kenny said. “It’s a very special city … I’m eager to get to know both the students and the faculty.”
Kenny settled into a bare office Monday to start her six-month stint as ASU’s interim president.
She will lead the students and faculty until the consolidation with Georgia Health Sciences University becomes official early next year and GHSU President Ricardo Azziz takes over as president.
Kenny moves into the job after three years of retirement. She most recently was president of Stony Brook University from 1994 to 2009 and of Queens College University of New York before that.
When she arrived at ASU at 8 a.m. Monday, her first task was to sit down with her predecessor, William Bloodworth.
According to Kenny, they talked history and consolidation. Bloodworth, who is set to write an official history of ASU during his 19 years as president, explained the context of the university and what it means to Augusta.
The rest of the day was about meeting with top leaders involved in the consolidation, including Azziz. She took a golf-cart tour of the campus, noticed the beauty of the crape myrtle trees decorating the streets and cooled off in her office with a bottle of water six hours into the first day.
As of Monday afternoon, Kenny’s planner was not yet filled out for her second day on the job. Her main task is to ease the transition between Bloodworth’s exit and the official consolidation.
She said her experience leading research universities with health and medical components should bring an informed perspective to the process.
The move to consolidation is one that will help higher education as a whole, especially during a time when schools nationwide are struggling for state funding and support, she said.
“It’s just a tremendous opportunity for the new university to burst on the scene with great new things happening,” she said.
As for now, the lifelong educator will be getting to know her new neighbors.
She and her husband plan to get to know the people and the places while working on a detective novel they are jointly writing – if the consolidation leaves her any free time.
“My husband has killed off a few victims already in the book,” she said. “He’s very good. We’ll see if I have the time to work on it.”