The University of Montana has hired a longtime Department of Natural Resources and Conservation professional as its new communications director for the Office of the President.
Paula Short, chief of the Forestry Assistance Bureau at the DNRC, will step into the job on July 25, filling the last of four open cabinet posts.
"I was so impressed with the communicators I met with from across campus during the selection process," Short said in a statement. "I am excited to serve UM, and I look forward to being part of an extraordinary team."
Last year, four Cabinet members announced retirements, including vice president of integrated communications Peggy Kuhr. President Royce Engstrom reconfigured that position, which is the one Short is filling with a salary of $108,000.
He said Short has experience with both external and internal communications, and she helped prepare much of the material that came out of the DNRC over the years. He believes her skills and demeanor are a fit with the needs at UM.
"Paula emerged as a person with exemplary communications experience, high energy and knowledge of the legislative process. We are fortunate to have her join the UM team," Engstrom said.
The newly modified job has three areas of responsibility, according to the news release: developing the president's oral and written communication; serving as UM's representative to the Montana University System's legislative strategy team and maintaining relationships with other groups; and serving as media's main contact point.
In a telephone interview, Engstrom said he reconfigured the job that Kuhr left because much of the communications work at UM ultimately overlaps with policy responsibilities. Kuhr remains at UM as a special assistant to the president to follow through on several projects.
In the past, former head of the Alumni Association Bill Johnston lobbied for UM. He, along with Provost Perry Brown and vice president of student affairs Theresa Branch, also announced retirements last year from cabinet-level positions.
UM's announcement Thursday means all the open posts are filled, although the president hired an interim provost. Beverly Edmond will serve through the upcoming school year while UM searchers for a permanent head of academic programs.
Short will help UM "communicate proactively and energetically about where the university of Montana is going," Engstrom said. "We are committed to a path of being one of the nation's most respected flagship institutions, and we will get there through three primary mechanisms."
Those areas are outstanding academics taught by a world-class faculty, research and creative scholarship "of high impact," and a vibrant campus environment "that is second to none in the nation," the president said.
The high-level retirement announcements came during the 2015-2016 school year. That fall, the president announced layoffs and budget cuts of some $12 million after prolonged declining enrollment.
The new team, including Short, met Wednesday for the first time, Engstrom said.
"It's an exciting time, and with a new cabinet configuration, we're going to be getting things done in a very positive and energetic way," Engstrom said.
Short is a UM alumna who received a B.S. in forestry in 1994, the university said. She worked as a morning show co-host and news director for western Montana radio stations, and received a master's degree in organizational leadership from Gonzaga University in 2008.
As part of the reconfiguration, Short will not oversee other communications professionals at UM, and she also will spend significant time in Helena during the 2017 legislative session.
Engstrom said he did not want the new director to take on legislative responsibilities and at the same time be responsible for an entire sector on campus. Instead, UM promoted Mario Schulzke to associate vice president of integrated communications and chief marketing officer.
In a phone conversation, Short said she's excited to return to her alma mater after 22 years with the DNRC and use a blend of skills she acquired in her time there, including being the agency's main communicator during wildfires and other emergencies.
In the past three years, her position at the DNRC has migrated more to legislative and public affairs work, which she found appealing. UM has had enrollment and budget challenges, but Short said she found the job enticing regardless because it focuses on those legislative and public affairs areas.
She also said the dedication of UM professionals impressed her from the get-go.
"The first thing I noticed, and it was very apparent to me, was how passionate all these folks are who work at the university," Short said. "They're proud of the university. They're excited for the work that they do."
She said organizations of every size and mission struggle with communications, and it's ongoing work.
"You're never done with communication. There's always a continual need to revise, re-examine, and really commit to creating a culture of communication," Short said.
She said she believes that culture exists at UM, and she sees ways she can contribute to it. For instance, she looks forward to ensuring the messaging from UM ties back to its strategic mission as well as those of its affiliate campuses.
"What folks can count on from me is clear and direct communication, frequent communication, and relationship building," Short said.