LAWRENCE, Kan. - Dr. Karen Gayton Swisher removed the word "interim" from her title at mid-month as Haskell Indian Nations University regents announced they had concluded a year-long search for a successor to Dr. Bob Martin who retired last year.
Dr. Swisher is the first woman president at Haskell.
She was born and raised on the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation in North Dakota. Her undergraduate work was completed at Northern State University in Aberdeen, S.D. She received her doctorate in educational administration from the University of North Dakota in 1981.
Swisher has spent her entire professional career in education, first as an elementary teacher, then as a principal. She taught in both public schools and BIA schools over the years.
She came to Haskell from Arizona State University where she was director of the Center for Indian Education. During her 11 years at ASU Swisher and a colleague from the University of Utah were instrumental in the recognizing learning styles as an important element in the professional development of pre-service and in-service teachers in schools attended by American Indian and Alaska Native children.
Her career at Haskell began in 1996 when she was appointed chairwoman of the Teacher Education Department. Later she served as dean of instruction.
Following Martin's retirement, Swisher was appointed interim president.
The past year was a test of fire. In August, she had to help the university heal after three Haskell students died in a one-car roll over. She accompanied the brother of one victim and helped him through the trauma of identifying the body.
In October the Haskell Regents voted to stop a highway, which the state wanted to build through the south end of the campus. Her colleagues say she has worked hard to keep relations between the city of Lawrence and Haskell intact, despite a stream of negative articles in the local paper.
Early this year, when the troubled Haskell Foundation was under investigation, Swisher moved quickly to find funding for grants the foundation administered. Many programs were affected when the foundation officials announced it had no money.
"I think it's great!" Mamie Rupnicki, president of the regents, said,. "Women are doing great things here at Haskell."
As for Swisher, she said, "It's time to get down to work. I have a lot to be responsible for, it hasn't quite sunk in."
She plans to devote a lot of time to getting security back on track at the college and said it is an important issue for both students and staff alike. Haskell has not had funding to pay for full-time security for several months and had to depend on the Lawrence Police Department to help patrol the campus.
Swisher is the mother of two and the grandmother of two. As she sat thinking over the past several months, she said she thought of her long-time companion, a little poodle named Chewy who died a month ago.
"I thought of him a lot the last couple of days, he could have been first dog," she said with a sigh.