by Lauren Lustgarten
After a seven-month, nationwide search, on Oct. 20, the Board of Regents for Higher Education unanimously voted to make history at Central Connecticut State University. On Jan. 3, Dr. Zulma Toro became the first female and the first Hispanic president of the university.
As the first woman president of CCSU, many wonder if gender will have a positive or negative effect on the goals set in place and the future of the university, if any effect at all. Dr. Toro has never seen gender as an obstacle or something that makes anyone more or less than anybody else.
“Although, I do think that people have different expectations because of my gender and/or because of my ethnicity. Those expectations could be higher or lower for me rather than for other presidents, but that reality can open so many doors for me,” said Dr. Toro. “Given the demographics of this region, given the things this region needs to move forward, I think those are all assets that will help me in moving CCSU forward. I am a human being, a professional, trying to do the best I can for something I am passionate about.”
Just a few weeks into Dr. Toro’s first semester, she has already made strides in accomplishing all that she envisions for the future of CCSU.
“I have been not only meeting with the academic departments and faculty, but also our support offices to learn first what they do so I can understand where the action happens and what kind of opportunities we have to grow those programs and the type of education experiences they offer to students,” said Dr. Toro. “Also, I talk to them about where I see CCSU going and what I think the priorities will be that will guide the strategic planning process that we will engage ourselves in in the next few weeks.”
This process has been going very well, as Dr. Toro has learned quite a bit about CCSU. She has been able to use the information she has gathered to advocate for Central when she meets with legislatures. “At the same time, I am working with the leadership team, the union and faculty leaders to start moving forward with the priorities I have identified for the institution,” said Dr. Toro.
Dr. Toro’s first priority for CCSU is enrollment.
“We will be focusing on increasing enrollment, and to increase that, there are a lot of things we have to look at it. From the way we recruit students, to the way we retain students, to the educational experience we offer, to the marketing of the programs, to understanding what the things are that prospect students are looking for, but also what the things are that employers are looking for. And also, how we can allocate a citizen that is ready to contribute to society,” said Dr. Toro.
She explained the details about her priority of enrollment and the strategic planning process it involves. “So far, we know that we are the largest and the most affordable of the four-year institutions within the system,” said Dr. Toro. “We want to be the largest. We want to be 15,000 students. So, how are we going to get there? What are the things we need to do?”
As enrollment has already been dug into as a goal of Dr. Toro’s, the second priority remains extremely important; community engagement.
“According to the Carnegie Classification, we are a community-engaged institution, but I want the institution to be institutionalized across all programs across everything we do. And we need to do quite a bit of work still,” said Dr. Toro. “The objective is to take the institution to the communities we serve and to bring the communities to the institution; New Britain, Hartford, West Hartford. I want them to come to us for expertise. I want them to think that we are a resource that can work with them in the solution of the most pressing issues they are faced with. We have a lot of students that can be involved with these activities and a lot of faculty that can do scholarly work based on the issues the cities face.”
Dr. Toro doesn’t stop there when it comes to her goals for what she wants CCSU to be and do. The third priority is diversification of sources of funding. “That I will be very involved with. I will be fundraising, cultivating donors, asking donors to support the institutions and this will take me across the nation and also hopefully abroad to engage them in the Institution,” said Dr. Toro. “We will also try grant writing as a source of funding which will support our community engagement and support what we want to do.”
“CCSU has been able to accomplish quite a bit through the years and I can say that the future is really bright for this institution. We are well proficient, we have the commitment of faculty and staff and we have very unique and remarkable students that make us proud,” said Dr. Toro. “We have a lot of good things happening. We just have to assess what is working well, what can be working better and how we can go about strengthening and building upon those foundations to move CCSU to a new level of reputation and recognition. I think that everyone knows within the Central community all the good things we offer. However, that story has not been told enough outside of Central and we have to do that.”
Touching upon last week’s announcement about the new building coming in downtown, Dr. Toro hopes to continue on increasing CCSU’s presence in downtown New Britain. She is pushing to be a partner in the development of the city as she believes the university has the opportunity to help surrounding cities elevate the standard of living.
“Five years from now, when I am listening to a panel of students describing the reasons why they had to come to Central, I want them to say, ‘I came to Central because it was my top choice due to the quality of programs they offer and the opportunities they offer to engage with the communities around them.’ I want Central to be a destination for students. I don’t want Central to be a second choice.”
Dr. Toro earned a doctorate from the Georgia Institute of Technology, a Master’s degree from the University of Michigan and an undergraduate degree in industrial engineering from the University of Puerto Rico. Most recently, she was the Executive Vice Chancellor and Provost at the University of Arkansas, Little Rock, making her the most qualified out of the 69 candidates that were looked at for the position at CCSU.
“We are going to be immortal in the nation in how we educate the student population we are serving and also in how we go about doing what we do; serving our students and our community,” said Dr. Toro.