It’s always great to see members of the Lion pride breaking down barriers and making history. Just a little over a year ago, Dr. Sherilyn Emberton did just that. In April of 2013, she was elected the 13th president of Huntington University in Indiana, making her the first female president in the institution’s history.
After three decades in education, Emberton is no stranger to hard work. She worked in teaching and private business for nearly 20 years before deciding to change paths. She began her career in higher education at LeTourneau University leading its teacher education program after completing her doctorate. In 2005, she was promoted to associate vice president of academic affairs. After a few years in Longview, Emberton packed up and moved to Tennessee to serve as Lincoln Memorial University’s provost and vice president for academic affairs. Prior to her presidency at Huntington, she served as the provost and vice president for academic affairs at East Texas Baptist University.
“You take some jobs in your lifetime that are not quite as good as you think,” said Emberton. “They’re great, but not quite as good. And then, you take some, and they are richer than you could ever imagine. To be president of an institution that’s even richer and better than what you thought, it’s a blessing.”
A Texas native, Emberton was born in Irving, Texas. She earned her undergraduate degree in education from Stephen F. Austin State University in 1979, and two years later she completed graduate studies there. In 1999, she received a Doctor of Education degree from Texas A&M University-Commerce.
Emberton remembers her time at A&M-Commerce very fondly, but she originally thought she would never pursue a doctoral degree.
“I was the typical returning student,” she said. “I had done my bachelor’s and master’s right out of high school, basically… I was done. I went into teaching, and thought I’m never going to do another degree, but then I felt like God was calling me to do something different. I needed a terminal degree, so I found myself in the classroom 15 years later.”
While searching for graduate programs, Emberton says A&M-Commerce stuck out to her because of the alternative delivery option. She wanted to be at an institution where she could continue in her career path whilst finishing her education.
“The reason I chose A&M-Commerce over Texas A&M was that Commerce was the only one doing alternative delivery at the time,” said Emberton. “They were ahead of their time. And also, when I looked around, the people that were already vice presidents, were here at this program. So, I wanted to be somewhere where emerging leaders were and where there was an alternative program, so it worked for me.”
Emberton recalls her first final in the program when the professor posted everyone’s grades on the board, and hers was at the bottom of the list. Feeling defeated, she looked around the room and saw the other students as older, wiser and already established in their careers. Emberton says she thought she couldn’t do it. However, the students’ presentation grades were posted next, and her grade was at the top of the list which gave her an extra boost of confidence to push through her intimidation.
“It was just that whole idea of going back to school,” said Emberton. “But, I will say that the graduate program here, especially the doctoral program, was so great at helping transition those of us going back to school. It has a great mentoring program. It was very easy to get back into.”
Emberton notes that one of her favorite things about her time in Commerce is that she gained significant real world experience. She says there were many higher education professionals, such as presidents and vice presidents of universities, who were her classmates and professors.
“We just had a really rich experience through each one of those classes,” said Emberton. “I think it was a unique experience. I don’t think that other people that I talked to at that time, that were going through their doctorates, were having those experiences. So, when I left, I had a network of friends, and I had the opportunity to spend time with people who gave me experiences that I wouldn’t have had if I weren’t in Commerce.”
When asked how her degree was valuable to her, Emberton answers immediately, “It was my ticket.” It was the ticket she had to punch in order to get to the next level. Eight days after receiving her terminal degree, she got a call from LeTourneau University. They were asking her to direct their teacher education program. Shortly after, she was the institution’s first female dean and later, their first female associate provost.
“The value of the degree is increasing and the divide between those who have the degree and those who don’t is getting even larger,” said Emberton. “I think the value of the college experience and the degree is that it gives you options that you don’t have before. The more tools you have in your toolbox, the more options you have.”