As a child, Katherine S. Conway-Turner daydreamed of leaving her small Missouri town to study at a far-away college.
Those dreams led her to the University of Kansas, where she earned three degrees, including a doctorate in psychology, and then to a fruitful career in academia, at places such as Santa Clara University and the University of Delaware.
Now, the 61-year-old academic leader is poised to take the helm of SUNY Buffalo State.
State University of New York Chancellor Nancy L. Zimpher on Friday selected Conway-Turner as the college’s ninth president, pending approval by the SUNY board of trustees.
Conway-Turner, currently the provost and vice president of academic affairs at Hood College in Frederick, Md., emerged from a group of five finalists for the job to succeed Aaron M. Podolefsky.
Podolefsky resigned last July due to health concerns and later died.
Howard Cohen, chancellor emeritus at Purdue University Calumet in Indiana, has served as interim president for the past 10 months.
The SUNY board of trustees will vote on Conway-Turner’s appointment at its next meeting, scheduled for June 16 and 17 in Buffalo. Her tentative start date is Aug. 4.
Conway-Turner’s hiring will bring her back into the SUNY fold. The psychologist was provost and vice president of academic affairs from 2004 to 2009 at SUNY Geneseo.
“Dr. Conway-Turner is an experienced leader with New York roots, having served as provost of SUNY Geneseo for five years and continuing to contribute locally through her volunteerism with H.O.P.E,” Zimpher said in a statement.
“Thank you to the search committee and all those responsible for luring Dr. Conway-Turner back to the SUNY family. I am confident she will be an outstanding leader for our students, faculty, staff at SUNY Buffalo State as well as the Western New York community, and I look forward to working with her.”
Conway-Turner has had a long association with H.O.P.E. for Haiti, a Rochester-based nonprofit organization that provides volunteer health and education aid primarily in the seaside Haitian community of Borgne.
Conway-Turner could not be reached on Friday to comment.
Conway-Turner, known to her friends as “Kate,” grew up in a small Missouri town and earned a scholarship to the University of Kansas, where she studied microbiology as an undergraduate.
Conway-Turner introduced herself to Buffalo State students, faculty members and staffers at question-and-answer sessions during her campus visit on May 12.
A first-generation college student in her family, she described her experience as a young child “of learning to love learning” and longing to go away to college.
From a town of about 600 people, she ended up on a campus of 20,000 students, she recalled.
“There are many students not so unlike me that find their way to Buffalo State,” she said in remarks during one of the sessions. “I know my undergraduate years transformed me and put me on a road that brought me here today.”
Conway-Turner also earned a master’s degree and a doctorate in psychology from the University of Kansas.
She began her academic career in 1982 at California State University, Long Beach. She served for 15 years on the faculty of the University of Delaware, where she also held posts as director of the Women’s Studies Program, associate dean of the College of Arts and Sciences and chairwoman of the department of individual and family studies.
She was dean of the College of Liberal Arts and Social Sciences at Georgia Southern University for three years, prior to her appointment at SUNY Geneseo.
“She has a wonderful record of scholarship. Her own personal story is inspiring,” said Howard Zemsky, chairman of the Presidential Search Advisory Committee and of the Buffalo State College Council.
Zemsky described Conway-Turner as an effective communicator who relates well to people.
“She’s an author. She’s a humanitarian. She’s moved by the mission of Buffalo State,” he added.
Conway-Turner helped lead Hood College through an overhaul of its core curriculum, said Dana Lawrence, associate professor of chemistry.
“It’s a very passionate discussion that she guided us through very effectively,” Lawrence said. “She’s a good mediator.”
At Geneseo, Conway-Turner was credited with leading efforts to enhance the college’s honors program, expanding international programs and implementing online evaluation of faculty instruction.
Rose-Marie Chierici, chairwoman of Geneseo’s anthropology department, said Conway-Turner had a good relationship with faculty and was highly regarded as a visionary leader.
Significant challenges await Conway-Turner at Buffalo State, which has experienced a decline in enrollment and has had to overcome budget deficits in each of the past three years.
The college currently has about 11,000 undergraduate and graduate students.
Conway-Turner said during her visit that, if appointed, she would seek to develop what she called a “signature piece” that distinguishes a Buffalo State education from one attained somewhere else.
Zemsky lauded the work of Cohen, who will leave his post Aug. 1.
“He provided excellent leadership. He set priorities. He hit the ground running,” Zemsky said.
Cohen, 70, initially said he wasn’t interested in serving as Buffalo State president beyond a year, but then sought to stay. He was among the five finalists.
The other finalists were Gary L. Miller, chancellor of the University of North Carolina Wilmington; Susan D. Phillips, provost and vice president for academic affairs at the University at Albany; and Margaret E. Madden, provost and vice president for academic affairs at Potsdam State College.