Provost Marilyn Sheerer often uses her “First Monday” e-newsletter to campus to announce new programs or highlight advancements on campus. On the first Monday in February, she reported something personal to East Carolina University.
Sheerer, who steered the university through SACS reaccreditation while cutting budgets and sparking creation of the Honors College, formally announced that she will step down on Aug. 15, take a retreat year and then return to the classroom.
Sheerer has served as the university’s No. 2 administrator since 2007. Previously she was dean of the College of Education for eight years. She is one of several women that Steve Ballard, now approaching his 10th year as chancellor, early on tapped for his leadership team.
Ballard said Sheerer “has made a huge difference for ECU.”
“She is largely responsible for initiating huge game changers at ECU, including the Honors College and the expansion of the Department of Engineering. Most importantly, she is an exemplary team player and colleague to all of our academic leadership,” Ballard said.
The new dean of the Honors College echoed the chancellor’s praise for her colleague. “Without Marilyn’s foresight, persistence and leadership, the Honors College would not exist nor would it be the best model for honors colleges in North Carolina,” said Marianna Walker, who became dean of the Honors College in July 2013.
“I’m not sure I knew at the beginning what an impact it would make,” Sheerer said about the Honors College. “When I came here and for many years I would hear that ECU had a party image. How do you overcome that? And then we collected all this data that showed we were losing a lot of bright students who came here, did well, and then transferred someplace where they would be more academically challenged.
“We needed to do something to increase the academic profile of the institution, which would change the image, and I think the Honors College has accomplished that,” she added.
Sheerer started as a high school English teacher after graduating from Bloomsburg State College in Pennsylvania. She earned a master’s degree at Syracuse University and a Ph.D. at Ohio University. Before coming to ECU in 1996, she was a department chair at Edinboro University of Pennsylvania and Northern Illinois University.
At ECU, she was professor and chair of the Department of Elementary and Middle Grades Education, before serving as dean of the College of Education from 1998 to 2006. Sheerer is admired across campus even though, under Ballard’s direction, she implemented budget cuts requiring heavier faculty teaching loads and other belt-tightening measures recommended by the Program Prioritization Committee.
“I’m all for research and I’ll support research whenever I can, but the bottom line is (students) are buying classes when they come here,” Sheerer said. “Back in Pennsylvania they raised me with a really tough work ethic. I think people can do more.”
She said she treasures her years at ECU. “I feel good about having been here. I feel lucky,” she said.