A discussion with the chief academic officer at The Citadel
The college’s provost, Dr. Connie Book, discusses her duties, goals and challenges
Brig. Gen. Connie Book, Ph.D., is the number two official at The Military College of South Carolina. She arrived in 2015 from Elon University, where she held leadership positions, including the role of associate provost, which she held for a period of 16 years.
At The Citadel, Dr. Book is responsible for all academic functions such as accreditation, admissions, curriculum and financial aid. She directs the strategy for and oversees the college’s five academic schools.
She has worked in higher education as a professor or administrator the majority of her career, and she holds a broadcast journalism degree from Louisiana State University, and a Ph.D. in telecommunications from the University of Georgia.
The following is a discussion between Book and Cadet Devin Taylor, regimental public affairs NCO for the 2015-16 academic year.
Q. Why did you come to The Citadel?
A. I worked at a college of a similar ranking, so the data I regularly monitored included The Citadel. For years I saw The Citadel’s graduation rates exceed those of its peers. I was also encouraged by the college’s graduation rates for minority students, which consistently exceeded the national average.
I was a fan of the mission of The Citadel. We are developing principled leaders. The four-year leadership pathway, required for all cadets, provides advantages to Citadel graduates that few other college students experience.
The cadets here are the kind of highly motivated people that make a commitment beyond the typical college experience that has more freedoms. They know the self-discipline and work a military college requires, yet they embrace it. I also saw in many Citadel graduates, the positive outcome of the military culture combined with the strong academic program. It is a powerful force in their lives.
Q. You are only the second female vice president at The Citadel, and the first female provost. What are the pluses and minuses of that?
A. I feel privileged to have the opportunity to break new ground—the opportunity to be first at something doesn’t come along often. Now that I am here, I realize that having a different approach to various situations is something that fosters important conversations in our daily and long term strategic planning for the college.
I believe it is a privilege to be able to help shape so many young lives, especially in this unique culture. I find myself becoming very protective of the military model and the cadets. I want to be respectful of the traditions here— understanding what the components of military uniforms mean, how I address my military colleagues, all the way down to how I should wear my hat—because I represent the college. I am still working on perfecting my salute. I also want to represent the college well in moments where we honor the college’s traditions, like our dress parades.
I love the strong community feeling of unity here. People on campus are welcoming and helpful. I am getting comfortable with working with colleagues that have had very different life experiences than me and I am learning so much from them.
Q. What are your duties?
A. A provost is responsible for the academic program at a college. Here, I serve as the number two official. I also have a constant eye on the student experience. For example, I frequently meet with the deans of our five schools and partner to shape our strategies, programs and teams. Another example includes our recently launched mechanical engineering major. I am involved in the state funding process needed to support the degree, as well as with interviewing faculty.
Q. As a girl did you envision yourself being the provost and dean of a college?
A. I am not sure I knew what a provost was as a very young girl, but I did admire my father’s work as an educator. Being the provost and dean of a college isn’t necessarily something you plan for. For me, it was a natural next step on the higher education leadership ladder. Working as provost, I am developing educational experiences that change young lives. When you get to help build that, and then witness the outcome, it is powerful.
Q. What are your goals for The Citadel?
A. They are still taking shape, but I can say that I am exploring ways to ensure that the academic portion of the overall student experience delivers on the promise of a Citadel education. One initiative I am working on includes domestic travel-study programs in Washington, D.C., and New York. Cadets will be able to live in those cities, take a class, complete an internship, and work with an alumni mentor while there.
Our study abroad program, undergraduate research, service learning opportunities, internship programs and career services are five high-impact areas getting my attention. It is also important that we continue to grow as a resource for our community through our graduate college, evening undergraduate program and veteran student services.
Q. What components of your past professional experiences will help you?
My background is studying and teaching communications. I studied broadband, cable television and digital television communications, but I always taught television and journalism as part of my discipline. I was a department chair and associate dean at Elon, eventually becoming associate provost. I served Elon’s president in that role directing strategic initiatives for six years. I believe all of those experiences will be useful.
Q. What advice do you have for cadets, students and graduate students as they map out their careers?
A. I like to share my personal experiences with them, just as I did with my own daughter and son as they considered colleges and majors. For example, I had a B average in high school. I was busy doing many other things such as drama and basketball. Academics never got my undivided attention. In college my focus was also scattered because I worked as a radio show host and had to get up at 4 a.m., and worked at a TV station at night ─ all while squeezing in 21 hours of courses a semester. I wasn’t fully invested in my academics. Eventually I went to work as a reporter. I kept asking my news director for more time to create longer stories. He finally suggested I “go produce documentaries and go to graduate school.” That’s when my career switched gears.
That’s one of the personal stories I share when I remind cadets and students that this moment, when they are young and immersed in learning, is something they will never get back.
Q. In your eyes, what separates The Citadel from other colleges?
A. It is the voice inside the cadet that says, I can do it. Their regular day is intense, each hour planned out from sunrise to sunset, with a heavy focus on physical and mental discipline. In the middle of that are academics. The cadets somehow find an inner inspiration and willpower allowing them to persist a
Q. What is your favorite part of helping lead The Citadel?nd excel. I think that instills in them a great sense of confidence. When you interact with cadets at The Citadel it feels different from when you are interacting with students from other colleges, and I think it is that quiet confidence that they get from the voice inside their head.
A. I think it is learning about the traditions and culture. I am impressed by the relationships cadets have with each other. There is something about living in this state of constant challenges that drives them together. Cadets push themselves with demanding schedules, rigorous physical training and limited rest, but the solidarity that develops because of that is unbreakable.
I am focused on supporting the great traditions here, while building on our rich academic foundation. I believe the real hope for our country, and for our world, is exactly what The Citadel’s mission of developing principled leaders embraces.
Cadet Devin Taylor is a junior majoring in accounting major in The Citadel School of Business. His hometown is Iva, South Carolina.