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Monday, October 20, 2014

SOU Interim President Dr. Roy H. Saigo

SOU Interim President Dr. Roy H. Saigo

Helping others achieve dreams

Story by Sandy Cathcart

Southern Oregon University’s interim president Dr. Roy Saigo is proving to be a man of his word and the right leader for this time of transition. During his first meetings with campus personnel he pledged to listen and learn, resulting in his work to develop a stronger culture of sharing and collaboration across the campus.

The immediate focal point when he arrived in July was enrollment. He asked, “What can we do, specifically and immediately, to help students fulfill their dreams of a university education here, at SOU?”

The answer was that a significant number of students and families struggle to afford college. He quickly formed a close, communicative team that included staff across the campus.

Early on, as predicted, the enrollments were down. Instead of accepting that fate, the team contacted and encouraged students who had applied but had not yet committed. The team re-examined financial aid opportunities and began offering dorm scholarships. Hundreds of calls were made, and recipients of those calls were not only surprised, but also pleased and energized by SOU’s attention to their needs.

One wonderful example was a call to a Medford mother who indicated that her son decided not to re-enroll at SOU. She said, “I am a single parent, and although my son would love to return we cannot afford to send him back to school.”

She and her son were invited on campus and the family’s financial condition was evaluated. They ended up qualifying for financial aid and a residence hall scholarship. Her son was able to enroll that very day! With tears in her eyes, she thanked the SOU staff for their support and encouragement.

Saigo says, “When people are down and have few fiscal resources, they feel powerless. Our philosophy and core value is to reach out and go beyond the average call of duty to assist those who are discouraged, to empower them to work with the system, and to allow them the benefits of higher education. That is what SOU is all about. We strive to facilitate fulfillment of dreams for a university degree.”

Part of Saigo’s listening efforts have involved sleepless nights and perseverance. He has met with all sectors of the campus, even 10 p.m. meetings with custodians. He has visited formally and informally with all personnel. He has talked with students and visitors. He rafted down the beautiful Rogue River with a group of staff members and students. He talked with people as they met on the sidewalk or while buying groceries. He has also met with members of the community and legislators.

“I have received observations and perspectives,” Saigo says, “advice and suggestions from everyone on how we can improve SOU. Through these many recommendations we have identified and worked to remove barriers that may have reduced our ability to communicate internally and externally.” 

Once people realized that Saigo truly wanted to hear their perspectives and ideas, they began sending him emails. These emails revealed a deep well of caring and creativity at SOU. “It may not be easy,” Saigo says, “but collectively we have the talent and willingness to get beyond our current difficulties.”

Such a positive attitude from SOU leadership has sparked a fire that has ignited dreams and goals both on and off campus. “Overall, when the attitude changes from accepting the status quo to deciding that we can resolve the issues standing in our way, success is in hand,” Saigo says. “Even small successes encourage cooperation. Cooperation leads to an excitement of team spirit and a determination to solve issues and problems that in the past would stop all movement. There is a new energy on campus. We have the resolve to work together to reduce any problem to a solvable issue.”

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