Anette Karlsson Begins Third Year as Leader
When Dr. Anette Karlsson arrived in Prescott at the beginning of August 2019, she made a pledge to the Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University (ERAU) campus community. That statement was simple and sincere.
She said she would emphasize a university education that was personal, student-focused and totally immersive. She emphasized continuation of exceptional and rigorous learning experiences at all levels.
Karlsson succeeded Dr. Frank Ayers, who retired from the chancellorship at ERAU-Prescott and moved to the ERAU-Daytona Beach, Florida, campus.
With Karlsson was her husband Rick and their longtime companion cat Molly.
Karlsson, a native of Sweden, was praised by ERAU president Dr. P. Barry Butler following a national search to fill the chancellorship. Butler said Karlsson brought stellar academic credentials, superb executive experience and a passion for both engineering and aviation and a team-oriented approach to the chancellorship.
She is the leader of what is considered the No. 1 aviation and aerospace university in the nation. The enrollment is expected to exceed 3,000 this fall, with students coming from all 50 states and from more than 40 nations. The increase in enrollment, though modest, is an exception to what is happening in much of the rest of the country where enrollments in college and universities have been dropping.
Though only in Arizona a brief time, Karlsson has had a dynamic impact upon not just the Prescott area but also the state. She was named by AA Business and AZRE magazine as one of the “Most Influential Women in Arizona in 2020.”
Because of shutdowns caused by Covid 19, no awards were presented in 2020. However, she will be among the other prominent women in the state who are honored Aug. 25 at a gala at the Chateau Luxe in Phoenix. An announcement from the sponsors says Karlsson and the others are “among women changing the face of Arizona business.”
Prior to coming to the U.S., Karlsson had a successful academic and work career in Sweden. She completed degrees in engineering — a bachelor’s in 1985 and a master’s in 1990 — at Linkoping University.
During that same period, she worked for Saab Corporation in the aerospace division. She then moved to the U.S. where she served as a scientific attaché in the Swedish embassy. Karlsson soon enrolled at Rutgers University, where she earned her doctorate in mechanical and aerospace engineering in 1999. She also had post-doctoral research experience at Princeton University.
Karlsson was on the faculty at the University of Delaware from 2002 to 2012 – Department Chair from 2008 to 2012 and became chair of the Department of Mechanical Engineering. In 2012, she moved to Cleveland State University, where she was a professor and dean in the Washkewicz College of Engineering until she accepted the administrative position at ERAU.
During her career, Karlsson has received dozens of honors and recognitions for her efforts. She is author of more than 80 peer-reviewed national and international journal articles. She also has been a primary adviser for more than 15 doctoral and master’s degree candidates.
Other awards include the U.S. Office of Naval Research Young Investigator Award and the University of Delaware E.A. Trabant Award for Women’s Equity. She also received the Young Scholars Award from the Francis Alison Society and is a member in the engineering honor society Tau Beta Pi.
Karlsson told Prescott LIVING she especially was pleased with the strong leadership in place at the ERAU-Prescott campus: “We are fortunate to have a great group of leaders with a variety of backgrounds and expertise, including academia, business, enrollment management, athletics, and marketing. That benefits the University, our campus, and most importantly, our students.”
The Karlssons are particularly pleased they have been so warmly welcomed to Prescott. Anette and Rick agree: “We’re finding that not only the campus community is a welcoming one, so is the greater community. People are so friendly and open. We’re truly happy we had the opportunity to be a part of this great university.”
Prescott LIVING: Tell us about when you came to the U.S.
Dr. Anette Karlsson: I’ve been in the U.S. since 1992. Before that, I worked for Saab Aerospace in Sweden, and in 1992 I had the opportunity to work for the Swedish Embassy in Washington, D.C., as a scientific attaché. There, I worked with helping Swedish and American companies developing collaborative efforts around research and technology. At that point, I had a master’s degree in engineering. With my experience at the Embassy, I decided to stay in the U.S. to get a Ph.D. And yes, I’m still here!
Prescott LIVING: What part of Sweden are you from?
Dr. Anette Karlsson: I grew up in the countryside outside a town called Örebro. It is about 2 hours west of Stockholm. This is a beautiful city, that has a mideval looking castle right in the downtown area. I later moved to Linköping, where Saab Aerospace is located.
Prescott LIVING: That’s where you earned your bachelor’s and master’s degrees, correct?
Dr. Anette Karlsson: That is right. I was a student. I then worked for Saab, and soon I was a part-time student, I couldn’t really afford being a full-time student.
Prescott LIVING: Let’s look at your career here at ERAU, especially because you arrived when the nation — and the world — were going into lockdowns because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Enrollment at Embry-Riddle has been remarkably stable. While other institutions have lost students, you’ve done very well. To what do you attribute enrollment success?
Dr. Anette Karlsson: I think we have an excellent educational niche – excellence in aviation and aerospace higher education. Our graduates get high-quality jobs upon graduation. That’s something that potential students are looking for when they select a college. Also, our faculty are highly dedicated to the students. The campus gets its energy from everybody being hard-working and collaborative.
One major strength is that ERAU students get much more hands-on experience than most other universities. If you go on a campus tour at other universities, they will probably tell you about them providing hands-on experiences. However, for the majority of larger universities, it is in reality only available for a few students, and students are not guaranteed to get those real-life experiences. But at ERAU, all our students can take advantage of so many different opportunities.
“Hands-on” doesn’t mean that you’re working with a wrench and other tools! There are a lot of different types of experiences available. For example, we have business students working as consultants for companies worldwide– From Israel to Norway, and many others, including right here in the U.S. They are getting real-world, hands-on experience in industry as a student here at Embry-Riddle.
Thanks to the opportunities we offer our students, we did see an increase in enrollment for the Fall of 2020, where the enrollment increased by almost 2%. That does mean that the growth rate slowed down from previous years, but we are still growing and happy with the outcome. Some other universities have seen a decline as high as 10 to 20% in enrollment due to the pandemic. It is too early to say exactly what the enrollment will be this fall, but we expect a continued increase of about 2% again.
Prescott LIVING: Students coming this fall can look forward to actual classroom and lab experiences, not just online instruction, is that correct?
Dr. Anette Karlsson: We have been mostly face-to-face since the summer of 2020. During the fall and spring, about 80% of our classes were face-to-face. We are planning to be fully face-to-face in the fall. Of course, if the pandemic flares up again, we will need to reevaluate the teaching mode.
We also hope to be able to resume all activities for the community, including our shows at the Jim and Linda Lee Planetarium.
Prescott LIVING: What I find remarkable is you have internships for students that are worldwide with major international corporations. That’s amazing.
Dr. Anette Karlsson: We have an excellent reputation not only nationally but also worldwide, and we have fruitful and strong relationships with our industry partners. Every year, we have two big career fairs, and more than 150 companies ask to come to us in order to recruit our students. That is unheard of at a lot of universities. Students today are much more interested in what happens after college. Of course, students still want to have the college experience and have fun in addition to being a student, but they are also very concerned about getting a job after they graduate.
The students who are graduating now — this last year and this year and the coming year — they have grown up in a very unusual world. It’s hard for us who have been around a little bit longer to think about what they have experienced. But they basically were 10 years old when the Great Recession hit, and now they’re enduring the pandemic. Students are very concerned about the future. They want to get stable jobs. They are still very innovative, and a lot of them want to start their own business, but they’re very concerned about what happens after college, which was not the case maybe 10, 15 years ago.
Prescott LIVING: The ERAU emphasis is aero-aviation, aerospace, cybersecurity. Which programs seem to be having the most growth?
Dr. Anette Karlsson: Well, actually our aviation program — graduating pilots — is the program growing the most. A lot of people are surprised when I say that, considering that recently the airline industry had fewer travelers. But I think the travel industry is going to jump back again. That’s apparently what everybody’s predicting.
What’s also driving that growth is that over the next few years lot of openings. When our flight students graduate and have the required number of flight hours, they get recruited quickly. Mainly by the airlines, but many also go to the military, corporate aviation, and even law enforcement. The Embry-Riddle name is so well known and respected within the aviation community, and we don’t just train students to fly– We train them to be professional aviators from the moment they start flight training with us.
Presently, our aerospace engineering program is ranked No. 1 in the country. We do have a lot of students interested in that degree. And we are increasing our presence in other new programs, as you mentioned. Cybersecurity — that’s also increasing. We’re working on putting even more emphasis on it. Then we have aviation business, which is a newer program. It’s starting to increase in enrollment.
But right now, it’s aviation that really attracts the large number of students.
Prescott LIVING: You have partnerships with other institutions. For example, an application has been filed by Northern Arizona University and ERAU for funding for mutually beneficial projects. Can you comment about relationships with the other institutions?
Dr. Anette Karlsson: We’re trying to build up our research portfolio, even though we will still focus on undergraduate research and opportunities for our undergraduate students. But if you’re going to stimulate high quality research, and if you want to get funding, the key is collaboration. If you collaborate with other institutions and groups, then you develop different skill sets.
By working with NAU and Arizona State and University of Arizona and even out-of-state universities, it’s easier to bring in substantial funding. It also provides a great opportunity for students because they can visit another university and maybe spend a summer or a part of a semester to explore other ideas.
Of course, we also have significant support from industry, where they support various student projects. Engineering students, for example, have capstone projects their senior years where they design and build a device based on funding and concepts from industry. Having external connections both through research and more practical projects really enhances the students’ experiences.
Prescott LIVING: Dr. Lisa Rhine, president of Yavapai College, is delighted at the relationship between Yavapai College and Embry-Riddle.
Dr. Anette Karlsson: She’s a great partner. We are just starting to work on a project – an articulation agreement – where students can spend their first two years at Yavapai College and then transfer to ERAU to get their four-year degree from us. This will be a great opportunity for students in the region by providing more pathways to a degree. I am also excited to welcome the new President of Prescott College, Dr. Barbara Morris, and hope to develop strong collaborations with Prescott College as well.
Prescott LIVING: Many people know that Embry-Riddle is a part of Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University in Daytona Beach, Florida. Can you explain in simple terms what the difference between the two is?
Dr. Anette Karlsson: The way the organization works is that we are one university with three campuses. We have the Daytona Beach campus and the Prescott campus. Both are residential campuses. Then we have Worldwide. It’s mostly an online institution, but it has some smaller residential presences in certain areas — for example, Singapore. The university is governed by a board of trustees. Our university president, Dr. Barry Butler, reports to the board of trustees. I report to the president.
The two residential campuses have much in common. We basically work like two divisions if you were within a company. Differences are not that great between us. Daytona Beach has a larger graduate program than we do. Prescott focuses on undergraduate education. There’re some slight differences in what academic programs we offer. We really are like two equal siblings in a family, I would say.
Prescott LIVING: Your explanation really will help readers understand that ERAU is a separate residential campus. Do you have any major building projects coming up — dormitories? Classroom buildings? Anything that you’re trying to push through?
Dr. Anette Karlsson: Right now, we’re planning a new student union, student center. Earlier, the plan was that we would have it finished by fall 2022. That plan was delayed because of the pandemic.
Also, my long-term goal is to refresh the campus. We have several buildings that have reached the end of their life because many were built in the early or mid-1960s. They were not really designed for our current needs. That will take the next 10, possibly 20, years, unfortunately.
However, the new student center will be first. I’m excited about a new student union. We have identified a location on campus, probably next to the visitor center. Then we will look at new classroom buildings and new buildings for faculty and staff offices. We’ll try to integrate them as much as possible with classrooms.
We’ll need to move a few programs because we need to take down some of the current buildings. But it’s really exciting to start replacing all these older buildings with new ones.
Prescott LIVING: This past year has been remarkable. ERAU-Prescott won major national recognition. You placed students with Space Force, the newest U.S. armed service. Students received scholarships from of Boeing. ERAU was named the No. 1 aerospace engineering university in the nation. To what do you attribute that kind of success?
Dr. Anette Karlsson: It’s amazing what we have accomplished. Being ranked as the top undergraduate institution in aerospace engineering is thanks to the hard work and dedication of the professionals in our College of Engineering. Many of our faculty come from industry and are truly committed to student success. They want our students to benefit from their knowledge and experience. When you take dedicated faculty and staff, and combine that with highly dedicated students, it’s the perfect recipe for success. And getting multiple students into the new U.S. Space Force is a testament to our amazing Air Force ROTC program, which is why our Det. 028 has often been called “Best in the West.” But when it all comes down to it, one of the reasons we are so successful is that personal touch and individual attention. Even with 3,000 students, we’re still small enough that our faculty and staff know our students by name. That’s not typically an experience one would find at a larger institution.
Prescott LIVING: Let’s talk about funding. How tough is it to get the budget right now?
Dr. Anette Karlsson: What I really have appreciated being at ERAU is our ability to manage and balance our budget! That might sound like a strange thing to say, but many universities in the country struggle financially.
ERAU is entirely funded by the tuition our students pay. As a private university, we do not have any funding from the state. I view it as an honor that the students trust us with their money, and we do our very best to manage the funds. We are cautious with how we spend our money. By having long-term planning and regular budget review from the Board of Trustees, we can make careful and sensible decisions.
As the leader for an institution like this, budget is always on top of my mind. But I don’t really worry about it. It doesn’t keep me up at night because I know we have a well-balanced budget.
So considering especially the pandemic, we’re doing great. It’s just being careful, with everybody being responsible for what they spend.
Prescott LIVING: That’s different from when you worked for state institutions, funded by the state. It must be gratifying to have a feeling of independence.
Dr. Anette Karlsson: It makes it easier sometimes when you’re private. State schools many times have these unfunded mandates from the state. Even so, private universities have a lot of reporting to do. We follow all the same rules about programs and so on. But I think it also helps that we are a bit smaller than some of the state schools are. It’s easier to control the budget, perhaps.
Prescott LIVING: What’s your biggest satisfaction since you’ve arrived?
Dr. Anette Karlsson: My husband Rick and just love being in Prescott. It’s a great place to live. We love the outdoors and the beautiful natural environment. I really enjoy my job. The people that I work with — students, faculty and staff — are just great.
When I moved to Prescott, I was out and about shopping and so on. I would chat with random people. They’d ask me what brought me to Prescott. I said, “Oh, I work for Embry-Riddle.” They always would say, “Oh, we just love the students.”
That was so nice. I always felt very welcome here when I moved here. It’s a good place to live.
Prescott LIVING: What has been your biggest challenge since you arrived?
Dr. Anette Karlsson: I hesitate to mention it, but I think what’s kind of derailed a lot of plans that I had when I came here was really the pandemic. The big challenge was just the balance — moving forward as an institution, thinking what happens after the pandemic, but also keeping everybody safe. That’s really been the biggest challenge.
Prescott LIVING: Any final thoughts you’d like to share with readers? Anything you’d like readers to know about you, the university and what direction you’re going?
Dr. Anette Karlsson: We are really thankful for all the support we have from the community. As I said, I get this positive feedback when I talk to people I meet at random.
And I also hope people will come back to campus to enjoy the planetarium we have. We want people from the area and state to just engage more with the campus. We hope they attend our many athletic events — soccer, volleyball, softball, basketball — all the athletic competitions. Certainly, we want them to enjoy our latest intercollegiate sport, baseball. And many of the more than 100 clubs and organizations we have on campus have projects and programs in which the greater community also can be involved.
I look forward to a lot more interaction with the campus community and the general public once we have the pandemic behind us. We want this to be Prescott’s university. I think that’s what I’m looking forward to.