Jo Young Switzer awarded Sagamore of the Wabash at Students First! celebration

Jo Young Switzer was awarded the highest distinction in Indiana, a Sagamore of the Wabash, in a special presentation during a celebration of the highly successful Students First! campaign at Manchester University.

 “We are deeply grateful to President Switzer for her leadership,” said MU President Dave McFadden, who presented the award Thursday on behalf of Indiana State Sen. Jim Banks, R-Columbia City. Banks has been deployed to Afghanistan for the 2015 session of the Indiana legislature.

Switzer became the first female president and 14th chief executive of Manchester University on Dec. 1, 2004.

Before her retirement in June, Switzer led a campaign to raise $100 million for the University. It blew by that goal, raising $108.7 million a full 18 months ahead of schedule. It included more than 50,000 gifts from alumni, friends, corporations, foundations and churches.

The largest was a $35 million grant from Lilly Endowment Inc. to launch the Manchester University College of Pharmacy, which enrolled its first students in August 2012. The gift enabled Manchester to construct a LEED Gold certified, state-of-the-art 82,000-square-foot building on its new Fort Wayne campus, which is home to the four-year pharmacy doctoral program.

The University’s enrollment increased about 30 percent during Switzer’s tenure, from 1,074 in 2004 to 1,400 during the 2013-14 school year. In the past several years, Manchester also launched a master’s degree program in athletic training and has implemented two key initiatives — the three-year bachelor’s degree Fast Forward program and the Triple Guarantee. The Triple Guarantee promises financial aid for all students and full tuition for academically strong low-income students who live in Indiana; graduation within four years for all full-time students who meet the guidelines, or pay no tuition for credit needed at Manchester to graduate in five years; and a job or enrollment in graduate school within six months of graduation, or return for a full year, tuition-free.

Students First! is the largest campaign in MU history, strengthening the endowment and increasing support for scholarships, faculty development and student learning programs. The campaign also has greatly improved student learning spaces, including completion of the cornerstone initiative — the new Academic Center — which opened in 2012.

Switzer earned a bachelor’s degree in English from Manchester in 1969 and her master’s degree and Ph.D. in communication from the University of Kansas. She returned to Manchester in the 1980s and taught communication studies. She also taught at Indiana University Purdue University Fort Wayne (IPFW) before serving as Manchester’s vice president and dean for academic affairs for 11 years.

Switzer is “truly deserving” of the award, Banks said, not just because of her successes at Manchester but for her work to make northeast Indiana a “better place to live, work and raise our families.”

Switzer has been a statewide and national leader in higher education. She is past president of the board of directors of Independent Colleges of Indiana, a past board member of the Council of Independent Colleges, and has served on the Commission on College Completion for the Indiana Commission on Higher Education. She has been a leader in northeast Indiana, including service on the Regional Economic Development Executive Board and Vision 2020, a group dedicated to stimulating entrepreneurship, innovation and economic development in northeast Indiana. 

For five straight years under President Switzer, The Chronicle of Higher Education recognized Manchester University as a “Best College to Work For” based on employee surveys. During the recent recession, the University made it a priority not to cut its work force and to find adequate financial aid resources for its students. At a time when other colleges and universities are struggling, Manchester continues to grow.  There are 441 first-year students this year, a 20 percent increase over Fall 2013 (367). Total University enrollment is now at 1,479, a 9.6 percent increase over Fall 2013 (1,349).

Switzer is the co-author of Interviewing: Art and Skill (Allyn & Bacon, 1995), two instructors’ manuals, and numerous published articles and book chapters on communication. She has made more than 50 academic presentations related to teaching, applied communication, gender and higher education, and scores of presentations about higher education to more general audiences.

She has received several impressive teaching awards, including the Outstanding New Teacher Award from the Central States Communication Association and the F.A.C.E.T. Award from Indiana University. Her most cherished award, however, is from an organization for disabled students at IPFW.

Switzer and her professor husband Dave, who also retired this year, have studied Tuscan cooking in Italy, where they like to vacation. The Switzers have three grown children, all graduates of liberal arts colleges.

Manchester University, with campuses in North Manchester and Fort Wayne, Ind., offers more than 60 areas of academic study to nearly 1,500 students in undergraduate programs, a Master of Athletic Training and a four-year professional Doctor of Pharmacy.  Learn more about the private, northern Indiana school at

October 17, 2014

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