Dr. Susana Rivera-Mills named 14th president of Aurora University

March 13, 2023

President Susana Rivera-Mills, PhD

Susana Rivera-Mills, PhD, provost and executive vice president for academic affairs at Ball State University, has been named the 14th president of Aurora University.

The AU Board of Trustees unanimously approved Rivera-Mills’ appointment after a six-month search conducted by a presidential search committee comprised of trustees, alumni, faculty, staff, and students.

Rivera-Mills, 52, will begin her presidency June 1. She will be the first Latina to lead AU as president since the institution’s founding in 1893.

A native of El Salvador and first-generation college student, Rivera-Mills has personally experienced the transformative power of education. As a university leader, she is committed to providing access to education to diverse populations.

Rivera-Mills arrived in the U.S. at the age of 12 as her family fled civil war in El Salvador. Like many immigrant students, she soon learned English and became the linguistic broker for her family. It was a high school Spanish teacher who changed the trajectory of her life by saying to her in conversation — when you go to college, not if you go to college — a word choice that instilled in Rivera-Mills a belief that she could be anything she wanted to be.

“We are excited to welcome Dr. Rivera-Mills to AU,” said John Ammons ’83, chair of the AU Board of Trustees and chair of the Presidential Search Committee. “She is a dynamic, authentic leader and a thoughtful listener who has lived the experience of many of our students. With her servant-leadership style and passion for bringing education to a broad population, her vision and values align with AU’s inclusive, student-centered mission. She is the clear choice for president at this time in the university’s history.”

As provost at Ball State since July 2018, Rivera-Mills oversaw all aspects of the university’s academic mission. She played a crucial role in the development and implementation of the university’s strategic plan and in academic innovation. She supported first-generation college students, promoted faculty development and leadership, and guided the academic units through a new incentive-based budget model.

She also engaged extensively with university governance to ensure equity and inclusion in hiring, promotion and tenure processes, and retention of faculty and staff.

Previously, she served in a variety of academic roles at Oregon State University from 2007 to 2018, including vice provost of academic programs and learning innovation, dean of undergraduate studies, executive associate dean of the liberal arts college, and department chair of modern languages. Before that, she was a faculty member at Northern Arizona University for 13 years.

Rivera-Mills earned a Bachelor of Arts in Spanish and a Master of Arts in Spanish Linguistics from the University of Iowa. Her doctorate in Romance Languages is from the University of New Mexico.

During her academic career, Rivera-Mills’ research has focused on Latino communities, Spanish language and culture, and issues in sociolinguistics, as well as online teaching and learning. Currently, her research focuses on issues affecting higher education: leadership, student success and retention, and budget models.

“President-elect Rivera-Mills has worked diligently throughout her career to put students first, and that was our biggest priority as a search committee,” said Matthew Kneller, professor of communication, director of general education, and a member of the Presidential Search Committee. “We saw her great potential to work as a partner with faculty to support and develop AU’s academic programs. We are confident that she will help AU maintain the highest standards of academic excellence.”

Rivera-Mills succeeds Rebecca L. Sherrick, PhD, who last summer announced her decision to conclude her tenure as AU’s 13th president after more than 22 years. Sherrick served as AU president since 2000, guiding the university to enrollment growth and financial stability. She was AU’s first female president and one of the institution’s longest-serving presidents.

During Sherrick’s tenure, she championed initiatives that provide access and opportunities for students traditionally underserved by higher education. She established the first doctoral program in AU’s history, built up AU’s Division III athletics program, and strengthened the university’s diversity, including AU’s presence within the Latino/a community. The U.S. government recognizes AU as a Hispanic-Serving Institution.

“To say that I am thrilled only begins to express the emotions that I feel at having been selected to serve as Aurora University's 14th president,” said Rivera-Mills. “It is incredibly humbling to have the confidence and trust of the Board of Trustees and the AU campus community. This is a special place and a special time for AU. President Sherrick has positioned the university for a bright future and her innovative leadership has created a firm foundation for us.”

Rivera-Mills added, “Higher education is in a place of increasing challenges and accelerated change. AU’s resilience and strength are evident in all of its accomplishments, and we will continue to courageously tackle these challenges. More than that, we will be a model of excellence and innovation for what the future of higher education needs as we serve a diverse community of learners."

The Presidential Search Committee began its search in September and solicited input from all areas of the AU community through listening sessions, open forums, and surveys. The committee retained executive search firm WittKieffer to assist in the search process.

“We are particularly excited about Dr. Rivera-Mills’ passion for student success and her commitment over the years to advocate for students, encourage them to reach their potential, and make sure that the educational and career opportunities provided are done through a lens of equity and inclusion,” said Tory Nair, director of career services and member of the Presidential Search Committee.

Rivera-Mills will move to Aurora with her husband, Sean, and their English golden retriever, Scout. Their son will continue at Ball State where he is finishing his degree in economics and political science.