By Sam Combest —

Nearly one year into her tenure at the University of Louisville, President Neeli Bendapudi said she’s in the right place.

“I feel like I made the right decision coming here,” said Bendapudi.

Bendapudi moved to Louisville last May.

Coming in.

Bendapudi said Louisville received her very cordially. “The community, honestly could not have been more inviting,” she said. “There are so many places and ways in which we’ve been welcomed into the community, I’ve absolutely loved it.”

Bendapudi had a difficult time choosing a favorite spot on campus. “There’s so many beautiful spots on this campus,” she said.

“I love hanging out by the library, by Ekstrom and watching all of the people coming and going. ‘What’s my absolute favorite spot?’ I love the energy around the SAC, I think that’s my favorite spot.”

Meeting the students.

Bendapudi said one of the first year highlights is her first interactions with students.

At the beginning of the school year, she gave out her cell phone number to students. Since then she has received two phone calls and several texts.

“Here, I thought I would start with the freshman classes; now any group I speak to, I give out my number when it’s students. Then I encourage them to give it to their friends and spread it, so it’s much more than freshmen now.”

“Nobody has abused the system whatsoever and I really appreciate that. It’s always good because when people reach out, to them it feels desperate,” she said. “I have been delighted with the interaction.”

Bendapudi added that she wants to work on changing the culture on campus. “I would very much like to see a strong identity built around it,” she said. “I would very much want every student to be engaged in some fashion.”

Madame President Bendapudi.

Bendapudi was previously provost at the University of Kansas.

She said taking on the role of president was humbling.

“Realizing that I am the president of this great university, you know, when you’re a leader, every leader is a custodian right? So you have a great organization and your job is to make sure that you build on it, you don’t make it any worse, you just have to make it better,” she said.

The first time the weight of her new responsibilities hit was when she realized she would be responsible for 22,000 students, faculty, staff and alumni.

“When they do well, you feel like you’ve done well. If they don’t do well, you take it personally,” said Bendapudi.

Leadership and Campus Administration.

Bendapudi said her leadership team is building a great culture of open collaboration.

“It’s about, again, the same type of responsibility. I’ve always said this, I don’t know if I’ve said it to students, but I’ve always said, the reason you should want leadership is it gives you a chance to serve more people.”

“When I’m a teacher I impact the students in my class, when I’m a dean I impact the school, when I’m the president I impact students across, that kind of idea. I think they really bring that, very much an attitude of we’re here to serve.”

Faculty and Staff

Bendapudi said she has been blown away with the positive responses from the faculty and staff.

“Just because, so many of them volunteered to be part of the strategic planning process and said ‘we will give up our time to do this.’ That tells you something, that’s unusual, you don’t see that everywhere,” she said.

“I really believe that unless this is a place where we really keep and attract the brightest, it won’t be a great place to learn for our students,” she said. “So, for me, it’s a necessary condition and so we’re looking, we have a group working on it.”

Strategic Plan

Bendapudi announced her strategic plan Jan. 24. It is set to launch in the Fall. She plans to split her strategic plan into two three-year plans. The first will be from 2019-2022 and the second from 2022-2025.

“We told people we would have three workgroups, one for each great place to learn, work and invest. We had 30 spots for each workgroup,” she said, “So we sent out a call to the community, faculty and staff and alumni to nominate themselves or to nominate other people, and in a very short time period of just a few days, we got 1400 nominations, that is something I will never forget. That is such a great highlight, because it tells me I made the right choice, it tells me I’m at a place where people want to be involved and raise their hand and say “how can I help?”

Bendapudi asked the Learn workgroup to redefine what it means to be a better place to learn.

“It means, number one, we focus on the whole student and that was important. We added some color to that, ‘whole student’ meaning, you’re not just a number, each of us has a different story of what brings us here. You could be a transfer student, a commuter student, a first-generation student, whatever it is we need to focus on the needs of the whole student.”

She wants U of L to be transformative, purpose-driven and provide engaged learning.

“So while you’re here, are we giving you enough experiences that you have really grown and have really matured in a way such as your experiences with The Cardinal. So things, not just in the classroom, but outside the classroom. Purpose-driven meaning, by the time you graduate, we want you to have an idea of where you want to make a difference.”

The workgroups preliminary strategies will be available soon for commentary before taking the plans to the Board of Trustees for approval. The goal is to publicize the plan in June, then launch and implement it in Fall 2019.

Pieces of advice:

“The biggest thing for freshman is to not miss a single class during their first month here. The reason I say that is it is so much easier than catching up. I’ve always told students that when you first come to college, there is a danger that feels very much like a gigantic sleepover because you’re with all of your friends, parents aren’t around; so I tell them, you have four years to really experience what college is about. Don’t fall behind because that’s always going to take more. So the biggest piece of advice I have is to go to class, it matters.”

She advises finding at least one friend in class. This will make U of L feel just a little smaller.

For alumni, Bendapudi said to keep in touch, especially with faculty members that you have developed a relationship with.

“That’s not just for the immediate, but for the long-term. You may say you want to go to grad school, you may say you need advice to switch jobs, ‘What do I do?’ it could be a faculty or staff member, but keeping that relationship is important,” she said.

“There’s our alumni association. We are really going to try to provide many more touch points to our graduates. You will find that network comes in handy and also its good, the older you get, the more important it becomes to have people in your life that knew you when you were first starting out.”

File Photo / The Louisville Cardinal