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Celebrating the leadership, vision, tenacity, and love of community shared by the recipients of the Great Living Cincinnatian Award, presented annually by the Cincinnati USA Regional Chamber since 1967.
Over the past 40 years, Northern Kentucky redefined its place in metropolitan Cincinnati and also in the Commonwealth of Kentucky. It is not by accident that this growth accompanied the founding and maturation of Northern Kentucky University (NKU). The simple fact is that for any community to reach for greatness, it needs a strong university as an anchor institution.
When Dr. James Votruba assumed the presidency of NKU in 1997, he brought with him experience as Vice Provost for University Outreach and Professor of Higher Education at Michigan State University, Dean of the College of Education and Human Development and Professor of Educational Leadership at Binghamton University, and in various administrative and faculty positions at Drake University and the University of Illinois at Urbana Champaign.
As the fourth president of NKU, Dr. Votruba accelerated and expanded the direction set by his predecessors. That could be measured in the raw growth of the student body—up 34 percent to over 15,000 students. In 2012, he observed that “NKU is becoming the first choice university for very well-prepared students.”
Dr. Votruba also led a major investment and expansion of the campus, including the Dorothy Westerman Herrmann Science Center, the College of Business, the Bank of Kentucky Center and the Soccer Stadium.
One expansion was so aspirational that it put NKU on the map in a way that grabbed the attention of educators and IT leaders around the county. After bringing together the departments of communication, computer science and business informatics, the university designed a daring facility that makes it clear that the program is future focused. With its CAVE (computer-assisted virtual environment) and Digitorium, Griffin Hall is a daring home worthy of a program committed to the application of cutting-edge digital technologies across the disciplines.
With the growth of the student body, campus facilities and resources, Dr. Votruba also systematically guided the university’s athletic programs to move up to Division 1. When the University announced that it would join the Atlantic Sun Conference and Division 1, in December 2011, he characterized it as an opportunity to “position the university regionally and nationally in a way that otherwise would not be possible.”
Over the course of Dr. Votruba’s NKU presidency, the university became nationally recognized for its efforts to advance regional economic, social, and civic progress through its commitment to community engagement. Dr. Votruba weaved public engagement into the fabric of the university and helped the community understand how to engage productively with the campus.
He was involved in the formulation of Vision 2015 and Skyward, the regional visions for Northern Kentucky. His engagement can also be seen in the incorporation of the Center for Applied Informatics (CAI) into the new College. In addition to providing students with paid co-ops, students and faculty have offered their services to more than 200 companies and not-for-profits. That has ranged from the production of visual presentations to explain the Northern Kentucky agenda to legislators to the introduction of a mobile app to allow citizens to efficiently report the whereabouts of homeless men and women in distress.
Though retired from the presidency of NKU, Jim remains engaged on the campus and in the community.
Significant current community leadership involvement includes chairing the St. Elizabeth Board of Trustees, Board of Directors of the Ohio National Mutual Holding Company, Co-Chair of the Northern Kentucky Kindergarten Readiness Task Force, and board member of the Kentucky Prichard Committee for Academic Excellence. Past leadership includes Co-Chair, the Northern Kentucky Vision 2015 strategic planning process, member of the Cincinnati Art Museum Board and the Taft Museum Board, Board Chair for the American Association of State Colleges and Universities, Chair of the Board for the Coalition of Urban and Metropolitan Universities, and member of the Bank of Kentucky Board of Directors.
He also serves as a Professor of Educational Leadership a new doctoral program focused on organizational leadership and alignment and public engagement. In the community, he is a trusted advisor to many.
Recipients are selected from candidates by the Cincinnati Chamber’s senior council based on the following criteria: – Community service – Business and civic attainment on a local, state and national or international level – Leadership – Awareness of the needs of others – Distinctive accomplishments that have brought favorable attention to their community, institution or organization