When Susan Ross visited a friend in Texas in the spring of 1989 from still-snowy Detroit, Mich., she enjoyed the sunny, warm weather so much she got to thinking about relocating. A return trip during hot, humid August did nothing to dissuade her, and soon she moved to North Texas and never looked back. Same as when she joined HSC in August 2001 as executive associate to the senior vice president for finance and administration. By October 2013, she assumed her role in the Office of the President and became Chief of Staff in 2017. And now, as she approaches her 20th anniversary, she's calling it a career. Her final day at HSC is June 30.
Over two decades, Ross has played key roles in helping HSC grow its physical campus, its stature and its impact in Fort Worth, Tarrant County and beyond. With a foodie's palate and an adventurer's spirit, you'll find her discovering new restaurants and exploring far-off trails -- and hopefully soon, that Alaska cruise that the pandemic postponed. Happy retirement! Please read on to discover more about Susan, her career at HSC and what comes next.
After 20 years at HSC, what do you reflect on most fondly?
When I first began my career, I started out in the CFO’s office as executive associate to the senior vice president for finance and administration. I actually began working here before we had shared services, and what I loved about that opportunity was the ability to learn everything that I wanted to about the Health Science Center and really be a contributor from the very start of my career. That's not always what you experience when you go into a new position. People want to test you out, but my executive at that time, Steve Russell, who has since retired, allowed me to work alongside of him as a partner and it was great for my confidence-building and certainly for the education and the knowledge that I was able to develop about the Health Science Center. He was over finance and administration, the budgetary side and the operational side of the HSC. That's the foundation of any business -- your people and your money -- and that's where I spent the first 10 years of my HSC career. When I joined the president's office, it then allowed me to learn about the academic side as well as understanding the leadership of a complex, higher-education organization. Much of what we do and what [HSC President] Dr. [Michael] Williams does is to set the vision an strategy of HSC and work in conjunction with all the executive leaders on initiatives that affect the campus, including new programs to benefit our students and new or expanded partnerships to help the community. I've had an extraordinary opportunity and well-rounded experience in higher education.
The Health Science Center has played a crucial role in Tarrant County and beyond throughout the pandemic. How do you look back on all that has transpired over the last 15 months?
We took advantage of a of a crisis. We knew that we had experts on our campus in the public health realm, and we are always a great community partner willing to step in, step up and assist all of those in the community. That's how we see ourselves, as a true community partner. Our reach goes very far beyond the academics of training medical professionals. It's about introducing being a community partner as part of the training for our students. Every school and program provides opportunities for getting involved in the community. The COVID crisis was a true opportunity for HSC to take all of the good that we do here and expand beyond the borders of our campus. It's just what we do.
What is your favorite aspect of your job?
The people, the interaction with people, whether it be my system colleagues at the other campuses, the community members, working with the president, obviously I have interactions with CEOs from the health systems, the hospitals, community leaders. And having that interaction with so many influential people and hearing the respect and the willingness that they have to come and be a partner with the Health Science Center, I just think that it's great to have that upfront exposure. But working with everyone at every level, there's just a uniqueness, if you will, about the people of UNT and certainly the Health Science Center team.
What is your proudest work moment?
Over 20 years there's probably been plenty. I can tell you that one of my most enjoyable moments is to coordinate and watch our commencement event each year, and to see Dr. Williams get choked up at the podium when he's telling graduating students that this is just the beginning for you, and to watch the pride on everyone's faces because you've taken this person who entrusted their education and their purpose and their life in your hands, and now it is their time shine. I think that's probably one of my favorite parts of this job.
Have will you spend your days in retirement?
Well, I will not set my alarm every morning and have Alexa wake me up at 5:45 to tell me what the weather is. I’ll ease into my days. I want to do simple things. I want to see what it's like to take a Pilates class at 10 o'clock in the morning instead of 5:30 in the afternoon. I have a bucket list of Dallas places I want to visit because I've lived here, but there are so many great places I haven't seen yet -- I've never been to the Dallas Arboretum, I haven't been to the Dallas Zoo, I haven't been to the Perot Museum -- so I I see myself doing a lot of get-to-know-my-neighbors, if you will, first. And then -- thank you COVID-19 -- I have had money on deposit with Holland America cruise lines to go to Alaska. It was supposed to be my 60th birthday present to myself and now we’re in year two and we still haven't been able to travel. So, hopefully in June of ’22, I'll actually be able to get to Alaska. I’ll be taking my daughter and my two grandchildren with me.
What is a fact about you that may surprise your colleagues?
I don't know if it'll surprise them, but it might: I've actually hiked to the bottom of the Grand Canyon, and I did the same at Havasu Falls, which, if anybody knows what those hikes are like, to get in and out of Havasu Falls is eight hours each way and it's the same for the Grand Canyon. So, I think people might be surprised because I may not look like the kind of person who does that strenuous of an activity, but I feel most alive when I'm doing things like that. The Grand Canyon trip was in 2002, and Havasu Falls was in 2011. When you're in the experience, I don't think you think about the challenge. After the fact, I will tell you that when we emerged from the Canyon and I went to take a step with my leg, it felt like my kneecap was held on by string, that's how exhausted ... and then the pain was so intense, my jaw was locked. But I didn't experience that until coming out of the Canyon. The time I was in there I was so awestruck by everything I saw and experienced that the pain challenge and discomfort didn't even come into the equation. It was a pretty awesome trip.
WHAT IS YOUR FAVORITE:
Restaurant?: Oh, too many to mention. I am not afraid to eat any kind of food. Yeah, too many to mention
Hobby?: Hiking and being in the great outdoors is what I like to do; and I like to read
Movie: Polar Express
Book: The Five People You Meet in Heaven
Place to visit: Anywhere, everywhere. That's how I plan to spend my time is traveling. I do like the Leelanau Peninsula. It's near Traverse City, Michigan, which used to be the cherry capital, but they have discovered that the climate there is perfect for winemaking and so most of the people have converted their cherry orchards to vineyards. Up and down the peninsula is a beautiful trek of wineries and microbreweries and places to eat. Every November, they have the national macaroni and cheese festival.
Any last words for UNT World before you ride off into the sunset?
I would just tell everyone thank you for the opportunity to work alongside of them, and remember, kindness matters so spread that stuff around!