Integrity and Leadership
Living Life with Intention
For Dr. Sheree Utash, the entirety of her life comes down to one word: integrity.
Dr. Sheree Utash has been the acting President of the Wichita Area Technical College since 2015 and has overseen the transition of the college to the WSU Campus of Applied Sciences and Technology (WSU Tech). She also served eight years at the college as Vice President of Academic Affairs. Sheree discusses her early career leading up to her time at Wichita State University, how she has learned from failure, her entrepreneurial spirit, and personal and professional integrity.
Sheree brings something unique to the educational world because it wasn’t where she got her start.
After graduating college with a degree in journalism and marketing, Sheree found herself at the Wichita Eagle and The Beacon where she began selling advertising on the west side of the city.
After having a child, Sheree decided to leave the corporate world and started her own business. Due to personal circumstances, the business didn’t shake out as planned.
She then approached a headhunter she had met while in advertising to help her look for a new job. Sheree was invited to a networking lunch and soon after, was invited to apply for a Director of Marketing position with Wichita State University - a decision that would shape the rest of her career in higher education.
“I was a hungry fish on a hook,” she says. “I had grown up with higher education. My dad was the vice president for finance and administration at Wichita State for 54 years,” she says. “So Wichita State was something that I knew and I was aware of and there was just something about this woman that really resonated with me. I knew I could learn a lot from her.”
Sheree doesn’t believe that this opportunity happened by chance - but that it was the work of something bigger than herself. Recognizing when a great opportunity presents itself and focusing your energy there is what Sheree believes leads to good things.
Sheree says, “I find that there are some synergistic moments in your life and if you’re aware of what's going on and you’re looking to better yourself, you can really focus on those opportunities and steer away from the noise. Those are the moments that usually lead to something really good.”
With her unique blend of experience with both higher education and in the private sector, Sheree has been able to provide administrative insight to the college’s academic programs, with emphasis on manufacturing, aviation, design, IT, specialized trades, health care, and general education. She has specific things she asks herself before making decisions that have helped her maintain both her professional integrity and core values.
“There are three questions that I ask myself when I'm making a decision,” she says. “Is this the best thing for students? Is it the best thing for the institution? Is it the best thing for our employees? If I can answer all three then I know I'm making a really good decision.”
Sheree is a big believer that your integrity is what you come into this world with and it’s what you leave this world with.
She says, “There aren’t a lot of people in this world who will be remembered for the shiny things they chose to chase, they will be remembered by how they gave back, what kind of person they were, how they build up other people in their personal and professional life, and how they made the world a better place because they were here.”
Sheree has overseen faculty, grants management, adult literacy, academic planning, and resource management, while also being involved in the formation and leadership of the lead institution for the National Aviation Consortium, a $15 million grant project with direct working relationships with two-year colleges in five states.
As an educator, Sheree is well aware of the younger generations she is leading the way for. In fact, it’s one of the things that motivate her every day.
“Hope has a face and it's the face of every one of our students,” says Sheree. “They come to us because they have hope and they have a dream. Our job is to help them get on that pathway and prepare them. They have to earn it, but we have to give them the opportunity. If you walk into this college every day and you just think about doing those two things, everybody wins. We want the people that want to be a part of that and want to be a part of something greater than themselves.”
Surprisingly, most of her thinking when it comes to leadership stems from her experience with failure.
“If you're entrepreneurial, you have to be a risk-taker and you're going to have failures,” she says. “Failure is a learning mode. If we're not failing, then we're really not trying to be a better person. We're humans and we're going to fall down and we're gonna trip up. We just have to pick ourselves up and learn from it and move forward.” She says, “I really studied people. I’ve always tried to learn as much as I could from the things that I thought they did really well, as well as the things I didn’t think they did so well. I think that really helped shape my leadership style.”
Through failure and observation, Sheree has also managed to perfect her style of leadership and translate it into a renowned career in education. But, in her eyes, she still has more work to be done and even more questions to be asked.
“There's a dash between the year you were born and the year that you die…what’s in your dash? I always think about that a lot,” she says. “What kind of a role model am I for my children and my grandchildren, how do they see me, and how does that fuel the future of their lives? That's the important part right now. How do they build their lives based on intentionality?”
To listen to Richard Rierson’s full podcast interview with Dr. Sheree Utash, click here.