Editor’s note: This Q&A article has been edited for clarity and brevity.
On Jan. 31, Renae Conley was announced as the new chair of Ball State’s Board of Trustees — the first woman to hold the position at the university.
Conley, a Muncie-native and alumna of Ball State and Burris Laboratory School, graduated with an MBA in 1982 and a bachelor’s degree in accounting in 1980. Over the course of her career, she has held multiple leadership positions in the energy industry and currently serves as the CEO of a consulting firm, ER Solutions. She served as vice chair of Ball State’s Board of Trustees from 2016-19. According to the Ball State website, Conley served as CEO for Entergy Louisiana for 10 years.
She sat down with The Daily News to discuss her role as a Board of Trustees member and her origins in Muncie.
Q: Where are you from, and what led you to come to Ball State?
A: I grew up in Muncie — I was born in Kentucky but moved to Muncie when I was 4 years old. I lived on Nichols Avenue and Jackson and walked to Burris. I went to Burris kindergarten to 12th grade and then continued my education at Ball State. I was fortunate that [I was] living in Muncie with Ball State there. That was the action and the route that I took, but [it] ended up being a good one for me.
Q: Why did you go to Entergy Louisiana after graduating from Ball State?
A: I started out with what was Public Service Indiana that became PSI Energy, and then that merged with Cincinnati Gas and Electric and became Cinergy that is now part of Duke Energy. I was in Indianapolis for 13 years, and then I moved to Cincinnati ... I was there for about five years, and then I left Cincinnati and moved to Louisiana to become part of Entergy ... I was down in Louisiana for about 16 years.
Q: As the chair of the board, what are some of your duties to the campus and to the board itself?
A: As trustees ... you have a fiduciary responsibility as you're running the university. You've been appointed by the governor, and you're overseeing in the strategy of the university and the financial aspects of [the] university you're approving tuition and budgets, major policies, what you do and you help advise and partner with the president and the cabinet.
You need to dig in and understand what goes on at a university. None of [the board members] have worked at a university, and … that's really been an interesting and fascinating part of being a trustee — understanding the dynamics and how do you run a university and what are all the dynamics going on in higher education. You spend a lot of time trying to be informed of the landscape of higher education and then understanding how all that affects Ball State.
I'm still just one board member out of nine. My vote doesn't count any more than anybody else's on any issue, so my relationship with the board is one of a team member. My role is to make sure that I have a perspective of the university, and then I also make sure that I facilitate that [and] everybody else's opinions and points of view get heard and discussed because we have a very strong board, and we're very fortunate that people that are on our board and we want to make sure that they all have input.
Q: What do you see in the future for the university, and what type of impact and/or legacy would you like to leave here at Ball State?
A: The future of Ball State is one that I think is really strong and probably the strongest it's ever been. We're so fortunate to have President [Geoffrey] Mearns … We have extended his contract here until 2027, which provides a tremendous amount of stability and momentum. [He’s] a great leader, and I can't say enough about his integrity. We talked about living the Beneficence values, [and] I think President Mearns [represents them] well.
With that momentum, and I think with the strategic plan that we have in place, just continuing to improve upon the quality of the education, a lot of focus on making sure students have a really excellent experience when they're on campus, and they come out of school not only with a great degree, but having expanded themselves and develop into great people.