Walter Iwanenko Jr., Ph.D., an occupational therapist and epidemiologist whose six-year tenure as Gannon University’s provost and vice president for student experience has earned him a reputation as a creative problem solver and an advocate for academic excellence, has been selected as the university’s eighth president.
The university’s Board of Trustees voted Monday afternoon to appoint Iwanenko, 52, to succeed Keith Taylor, Ph.D., who announced in August that he will step down as president effective June 30, 2023. Iwanenko will begin his new duties on July 1, 2023.
“We are delighted to announce Dr. Iwanenko will be our next president,” said the Most. Rev. Lawrence Persico, J.C.L., Bishop of the Diocese of Erie and chairman of Gannon’s Board of Trustees. “He has contributed much to the university in his role as a vice president and provost, and we have even higher expectations for him and the university when he assumes his new role next year.”
Iwanenko’s appointment as president-elect follows a nearly six-month campus-wide process that was assisted by Academic Search.
More than 800 faculty, staff and students responded to the Leadership Transition Committee’s survey in early September. Those responses helped form the presidential profile against which Iwanenko was vetted in early October.
About 275 attended open forums with Iwanenko, and another 150 participated in interviews with him. The overwhelmingly positive feedback from those meetings informed the 13-member Committee’s recommendation to the Board of Trustees.
Tina Donikowski ’85, a Gannon trustee and chairwoman of the Leadership Search Committee, said Iwanenko distinguished himself throughout the process.
“We were fortunate to have had a succession plan in place and that Dr. Iwanenko presented himself so well,” she said. “As a committee and as a board, we were prepared to take the search nationally if that was indicated, but Dr. Iwanenko proved to us he is ready for this role. He has the institutional knowledge, the aptitude and a commitment to both the university and to its Catholic traditions to advance Gannon’s positive momentum.”
Iwanenko, who worked at Hilbert and D’Youville colleges prior to joining Gannon in 2016, offered a few remarks during an announcement and brief reception in the Yehl Ballroom this morning.
“I am humbled by the privilege to serve as president at this pivotal juncture in our university’s life,” he told those gathered in person and those watching via a livestream.
“At Gannon, I have been blessed to serve on a team that has maintained financial discipline, improved academic programs, grown enrollment and expanded its footprint – in Erie, Pa., and in Ruskin, Fla. Although building on this success may be met with challenges in the next several years as the competition for students increases and their demographics and needs change – we must and we will remain steadfast in achieving our Mission while delivering a quality education at an affordable price. I welcome this leadership challenge and believe that challenge creates opportunity and I have full confidence in the determination of our Gannon community to learn, adapt and prosper,” he said.
Iwanenko’s family has already set down roots in Erie and at Gannon. His wife, Mary, is an alumna of Gannon and is the director of the university’s Health Center, and their son earned his bachelor’s degree at Gannon and is pursuing a graduate degree too. They also have two daughters, one who lives in Buffalo and another in Erie.
“Our entire family shines with Gannon pride,” he said.
SEARCH TO BEGIN FOR PROVOST
Iwanenko’s selection as president opens a vacancy in the provost and vice president for student experience position.
“We will immediately begin a national search for a new provost,” Taylor said during today’s announcement.
A search committee will be named in the coming week and a position profile will be created shortly thereafter.
“We will be assisted in this effort by Academic Search and we anticipate having a new provost in place when Walter begins his tenure as president on July 1, 2023,” Taylor said.
IWANENKO’S PATH TO GANNON
Iwanenko grew up in Buffalo, the oldest of three children to immigrants. His father is from Ukraine and his mother is from Poland. His parents came to the U.S. as children and met in Buffalo in high school.
He was the first in his family to receive a college degree and his career is the product of that education. He has bachelor’s and master’s degrees in occupational therapy from D’Youville College in Buffalo and a Ph.D. in epidemiology and community health from the State University of New York at Buffalo.
“I understand and appreciate first-hand the opportunities that higher education can create. I want others to have those same opportunities,” he said.
Iwanenko was a staff occupational therapist at Erie County Medical Center in Buffalo, N.Y., who then launched and managed two businesses in the Buffalo region – Monarch Little Learners Academy and ChildPro, which he and his wife eventually sold.
At the same time, he was an instructor at D’Youville College, working his way up from a clinical instructor in the Occupational Therapy Department in 1995 to a tenured associate professor in 2004. He was chair of the school’s Health Services Administration Department from 2005 to 2011. He was also chair of the school’s Business Department from 2009 to 2011.
He was hired as the dean of Adult and Graduate Studies and a professor of public administration at Hilbert College in 2011, a role he would have until 2016, when he was hired as the chief academic officer at Gannon University.
From 2016 to 2020, Iwanenko was the vice president for academic affairs at Gannon, responsible for the faculty and all undergraduate and graduate programs. He was also a key member of the president’s leadership team, helping guide the growth of the university.
He was named provost and vice president of student experience in September 2020 following a realignment of the university’s leadership.
“From my days teaching at D’Youville College, serving as founding Dean of Graduate Studies at Hilbert College, building and leading a successful startup private-sector company, and working with not-for-profits, to my years here at Gannon as provost and vice president for student experience -- citizenship, engagement, and service, has been at the core of my life and my work. I thrive on being a part of this university and experiencing the transformation we create through our lives together,” he said.