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Competence, Integrity and Commitment

Arturo Minera

When Dr. Cady Short-Thompson was named Northern Kentucky University’s seventh president in September 2023, she described the honor as a homecoming. After graduating from the University of Cincinnati with a bachelor’s degree, master’s degree and Ph.D. in communication, she spent nearly 14 years as a member of NKU’s faculty, teaching in and eventually chairing the university’s communication department. 

“What’s funny about my story is that many years ago, when I was a brand-new faculty member, my colleagues in the department would often say positive things about my leadership skills, but they’d also say that someday I would be president of NKU,” Dr. Short-Thompson says. “The Presidency was something that interested me around that time, when I was 27 or 28, but the odds of one individual being the right person at the right time are pretty slim.”

After Dr. Short-Thompson left NKU in 2010, she continued to climb positions of leadership one rung at a time. She became a dean at the University of Cincinnati, and then provost at Hope College in Michigan. In 2021, she was hired on as CEO of Breakthrough Cincinnati, an educational nonprofit organization that provides college preparatory services for high-need students. 

Coming back to NKU in 2023, she says, feels like watching her career come full circle.

“Something I can appreciate now is that I know what matters to me,” she says. “I know what my strengths are and how I can lead this place. It’s not common to come back to a place where you had prior relationships with faculty, staff, students and alumni. For me to be welcomed back by 3,500 alumni who I’ve taught and who are still living and working in this community is the best feeling ever.”

Dr. Short-Thompson says that she was initially drawn to NKU in 1996 by its balanced emphasis on both teaching and research. Because the university was fairly young and in a state of change and development, she had the opportunity to pursue a number of new roles and experiences that may not have been possible at other schools. 

“The university is  showing several women at the top right now. A president, a provost and an athletic director are three examples that aren't traditionally held by women, and what people will find is a high level of competence, integrity, hard work and commitment to the place among us."

“I used to say that NKU was a small enough place that if I put my hand up to volunteer for a new initiative or program, I’d get called on,” she says. “It was a wonderful place to grow and develop because it seemed like I could do anything I was interested in or willing to. I didn’t have to wait my turn like I might have had to at a much larger university. I was able to develop new programs and lead them only a few years into my time here.”

During Dr. Short-Thompson’s time as a faculty member, then-president James Votruba was a major inspiration for her leadership style. 

“He had an uncanny ability to work well with different constituents,” she says. “Whether you were a student, faculty member, legislator or community member, you walked away from him feeling heard and special. I always appreciated his ability to navigate those different roles well.”

Her own appointment as president in 2023 made Dr. Short-Thompson the first woman to permanently hold the office at NKU, following Bonita Brown’s 10-month service as interim president. Brown was the university’s first Black and first female leader. Dr. Short-Thompson hopes that by being visible in the community, she can inspire future generations of leaders.

“I know that there are children and colleagues and others who now will see the example and say, ‘That's another opportunity.’” she says. “I think when people can see it, they can be it. The university is actually showing several women at the top right now. A president, a provost and an athletic director are three examples that aren't traditionally held by women, and what people will find is a high level of competence, integrity, hard work and commitment to the place among us.”

She is currently excited about the progress that she has seen the university make during her first six months in office, citing increased fall enrollment and healthier finances for the upcoming fiscal year as points of improvement. In the future, she plans to play to NKU’s strengths in student success and community engagement to re-assert the university’s strong presence in northern Kentucky. 

“There are a lot of ways I imagine we'll start to think strategically in the years ahead about what programs we need to create to meet the needs of the workforce and how to make sure that we're filling the region’s workforce positions that are open right now,” she says. “There’s a significant talent imperative in northern Kentucky because there is such a high demand for talent.  I get really excited about broadening the door to college to educate more people to enter the region’s workforce and making sure that folks can afford it.”

On a personal level, coming back to NKU has allowed Dr. Short-Thompson to reconnect with its community. She says that the greatest gift of working in education was building intentional relationships with students, and she also looks back on attending Norse Leadership Society retreats as some of her favorite memories. 

“I went and spoke as one of the faculty presenters maybe five or six times,” she says. “It was a highlight for me just being able to spend the whole four-day weekend with students and getting to know them, as well as the other faculty members who attended. I enjoyed my whole time here, and it was hard for me to leave. Being able to return has just been a joy.”

About This Article

March 2024

Written by
Jude Noel ('18)
Communications Specialist, NKU Magazine