An Interview with University President Butler

After just six weeks into the Embry-Riddle presidency, Dr. P. Barry Butler participated in an interview on Monday with Marc Bernier, Director of the Embry-Riddle SpeakER Series. Among the many topics they touched on, the president discussed his career influencers, why he chose to work at Embry-Riddle, his management style, student success, athletics, online education, diversity, research, alumni engagement and how he will not miss the tough Iowa winters. Watch the video and see photos or check out the local media coverage, below.

Embry-Riddle Community Meets Its New President
Daytona Beach News-Journal, used with permission
Apr 24, 2017 at 10:28 PM
By T.S. Jarmusz: @TS_Jarmusz 

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. — It’s not every day that students get to ask questions of their university president, so when the time came Monday night for them to do so they didn’t hold back.

But not until radio host Marc Bernier first had his shot at Barry Butler, president of Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University. The interview covered everything from diversity and the future of higher education to job security at ERAU and winters in Iowa.

A smaller crowd than what usually gathers at school’s speaker series had convened to hear what its newly appointed president had to say — and he didn’t disappoint. Though he’s only been in office about six weeks, Butler said there’s no question his decision to join the Eagles was perfect.

“It’s been fun. It’s been intense,” Butler said. “It’s been a wonderful six weeks.”

Having been intrigued with planes a child, Butler’s fascination lead to the pursuit of an engineering degree. As he was wrapping up his undergraduate degree, Butler almost went to work for an engine manufacturer, but a professor nudged him to go in a different direction: Graduate school.

“I never thought I could do that and this person made that clear to me,” Butler said.

The same professor pressed Butler to pursue a doctorate degree, and then, a first foray into higher education.

“Every step along my career, this is someone who has pushed me, encouraged me,” Butler said.

When asked why he chose to join ERAU in the first place, Butler shot back, “Oh why not?” and said the “stars aligned” to get him there. Having been in Florida almost two months, Butler joked he doesn’t miss the cold Iowa winters.

One a more serious note, Butler was asked about the shortage of pilots in America. 

“You can’t regulate those kinds of things. The markets are going to define themselves,” he said. “We do our best to train the best people but at the end of the day, the markets are going to figure it out.”

He called those within the ERAU ecosystem “thought leaders” and said students have an incredible future to look forward to.

While traditional, residential campuses have been the norm, online schools — including ERAU’s own Worldwide — are expanding and Butler was asked how the two fit into the overall ERAU picture.

“We as an institution have to keep both oars in the water so to speak,” he said.

In terms of how one measures student success, it boils down to more than a fancy title and should be looked at “holistically” Butler said. Students who use what they learned and give back to the community are successes in their own right.

As far as his own success, Butler said that comes from taking action, being able to balance the day to day with the big picture and listening.

“You’re not afraid of hiring people better than you,” Butler said. “That makes you more successful as a leader.”

It also means you’re not afraid to buck the status quo.

“Every once in a while, I hear aviation is a guy thing,” Butler said of the low numbers of female pilots. “Unless we change our thinking on that, it’s probably going to stay that way.”

Just as the medical profession changed from what it was in the 50s, so too can the aviation industry change, he said.

“Yes we may be heavily male-dominated today, it doesn’t necessarily have to be that way,” Butler said. “We ought to be leaders here at Embry-Riddle.”

When asked of how ERAU’s goal to become known as a research institution fits in with its legacy as an instructing school, Butler said the two aren’t mutually exclusive.

“My goal is to grow the reputation, but it’s not going to be at the expense of who we are," he said. "It’s going to complement it.” 

During the student question session, one student asked Butler about how being an engineer helped him as a leader.

“We're about solving problems and finding optimal solutions and working in teams,” Butler said. “The problems are different, but the tools you use to get to it are the same.”

After the interview, junior Jessica Caicedo said she felt Butler has the school’s best interests at heart and Embry-Riddle will expand under his leadership. She also said she hopes Butler doesn’t lose sight of the individuals in the classrooms as he’s looking at the big picture.

“He seems like the right man for the job,” freshman Victor Alterizio said. “He’s not afraid to put a team together to solve a problem. The more options you can have the better off you are in the long run.”

About Butler

Butler’s father served in the Air Force and he said he fell in love with flying as a child. He earned his bachelor’s and master’s degrees in aeronautical and astronautical engineering as well as a doctorate in mechanical engineering from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. He began as an assistant professor at the University of Iowa and worked his way up to position of Executive Vice President and Provost at the Big 10 school.

Butler oversees more than 100 programs at Iowa University’s 11 colleges and controls a budget of more than $700 million. He has served on boards and committees focusing on wind energy, economic development and human rights, among others. His scientific and professional memberships include:

• Associate Fellow, American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics

• Member, the Combustion Institute

• American Society for Engineering Education

• Society of Automotive Engineers

• American Society of Mechanical Engineers

• American Wind Energy Association

His research interests include ignition phenomena in energetic materials, real-gas thermochemical processes, reaction in supercritical water media and detonation of gas and condensed-phase media.

He is married to Dr. Audrey Butler, a lecturer in Chemical Engineering, and they have three children: Ben, 25; Logan, 23; and Savannah, 21.



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Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University, the world’s largest, fully accredited university specializing in aviation and aerospace, is a nonprofit, independent institution offering more than 80 baccalaureate, master’s and Ph.D. degree programs in its colleges of Arts & Sciences, Aviation, Business, Engineering and Security & Intelligence. Embry-Riddle educates students at residential campuses in Daytona Beach, Fla., and Prescott, Ariz., through the Worldwide Campus with more than 125 locations in the United States, Europe, Asia and the Middle East, and through online programs. The university is a major research center, seeking solutions to real-world problems in partnership with the aerospace industry, other universities and government agencies. For more information, visit erau.edu, follow us on Twitter (@EmbryRiddle) and facebook.com/EmbryRiddleUniversity, and find expert videos at YouTube.com/EmbryRiddleUniv.