Auburn University at Montgomery (AUM) has tapped retired Air Force Col. Sherry Stearns-Boles to lead the university’s efforts to reignite and build new collaborative partnerships with Montgomery’s business, education and military communities.
Stearns-Boles has been serving as AUM’s new senior manager of collaborative partnerships in the Office of Collaborative Partnerships and Distance Education since Aug. 12. Before arriving at AUM, she served as director of the Center for Student Success at Troy University’s Montgomery campus. In 2017, she retired at the rank of colonel from the Air Force, a career that allowed her to work in versatile roles, including a nuclear missile officer, space operations officer, military instructor, and an Air Force ROTC commander for 145 detachments at colleges and universities throughout the U.S., Puerto Rico, and Hawaii.
Stearns-Boles said she is excited to draw from her 29 years of military service and previous work in higher education to help AUM become a leading destination for learning through innovative programs for high school students, working professionals and military community members.
“Corporate and academic partnerships can create pathways for the success of students, employees, and the future growth at AUM,” Stearns-Boles said. “I’m excited that AUM has brought me onboard to contribute in these areas."
AUM’s goal is to tap into the vast opportunities available to broaden and strengthen the university’s relationships with corporate, educational and military entities within Alabama’s River Region, Stearns-Boles said.
“We want to enhance existing and create new corporate partnerships that foster opportunities for businesses to interface with AUM students and graduates with the goal of building a bench of talent for their organizations” she said. “Such partnerships would benefit both entities through innovation and idea generation.”
“We believe these are the kinds of partnerships that will allow AUM to enhance corporate employee educational benefits,” she added. “I’m looking forward to exploring ways to make it convenient for businesses to help their employees balance work and life while earning an AUM degree.”
In October, AUM and River Region business, industry, academic and military leaders will have the opportunity to network at a kickoff event for AUM’s Chancellor’s Business Breakfast Series. After taking a break in 2018 to renew the mission of the breakfast series, AUM is relaunching the program with a new format and purpose, which will be unveiled Oct. 18 at the “Morning Coffee with the Chancellor” event, Stearns-Boles said.
“I’m excited to help lead the effort to return this 30-year tradition to AUM to foster and establish new partnerships for AUM,” she said. “We found it important to bring back the breakfast because it provides a platform for collaboration and national, state, and local speakers to discuss cutting-edge topics relevant to Montgomery-area communities.”
Shaping AUM’s relationships with Montgomery-area businesses is only one facet of Stearns-Boles new role. She also will help develop new articulation, transfer and dual-enrollment agreements with area high schools, community colleges, and local and international universities to help more students graduate faster and with less financial burden.
“Partnering with more community college institutions gives students more flexibility when transferring colleges and credits and it gives school districts greater flexibility to provide college experiences and potential college credits to high school students,” Stearns-Boles said. “It’s also important for AUM to diversify its educational program offerings and provide our students with a well-rounded education from a global perspective through international initiatives.”
As a strong supporter of Montgomery’s military community, AUM also wants to offer military service members, their spouses and dependents incentives to choose the university, Stearns-Boles said.
“I think the fun part for me in this role is that I am able to use my military community experience and my understanding of the types of incentives that could be beneficial in reaching military service members and their families to strengthen these AUM relationships,” she said. “We want to connect them to AUM to make them more aware of our online classes and programs so they know they don’t have to be physically here in Montgomery to get an AUM education.”
In a Q&A interview, Sherry Stearns-Boles shared the following highlights from her military career, her philosophy in life, and how she stays active in the community.
How did you decide to become an Air Force officer?
I initially had no plans to serve in the military, although my father served in the Air Force. I received an appointment to attend the Air Force Academy following my senior year in high school, but I declined the academy appointment and ended up accepting a four-year Air Force scholarship to use while attending Stanford University. The scholarship covered my tuition and a portion of my book costs. The scholarship acceptance also meant I owed the Air Force four years of active duty service after graduation. As a biology major at Stanford, my plan was to become a pediatrician. I thought I would complete my four years of service and then transition out of the military to become a pediatrician. Within my first year of military service, I realized military service was my calling, and my med school plans faded away. I believe the Lord laid on my heart what He wanted me to do — serve as an Air Force officer, so that’s what I did!
What was your first assignment as an officer?
My very first assignment was as a nuclear intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) launch officer – these are the big missiles that go overseas. It’s a tough career field to be in because of working with nuclear weapons, and I hadn’t requested it. When I joined the Air Force in 1988, it was the first year the Air Force integrated women into the Minuteman ICBM program, and there wasn’t a lot of gender or ethnic diversity in that career field at the time. So, I had a lot to overcome.
What did you enjoy most about serving in the Air Force?
I enjoyed serving as an Air Force officer because I was a part of something that was bigger than me. Freedom really isn’t free, so I considered it an honor every day to contribute to keeping America free and safe. I stayed in the Air Force 29 years, reached the rank of colonel, and retired in March 2017. It was a great career. I met my husband while serving in the Air Force, and he is an Air Force Colonel currently still on active duty, and we have three beautiful children.
What is your personal philosophy in life?
I like to follow what I call the three Ps: Be professional and be a professional (two different things); be positive; and, always have a people focus. I wholeheartedly believe following the three Ps will create productive pathways to success. Positivity is contagious and provides creativity for teamwork and developing solutions. Professionalism in how you work and interact with others, coupled with maintenance as “a professional” through training, education, and personnel development activities, enables productivity in any environment. When you follow the Golden Rule — treat others the way you want to be treated — you will have a people focus that inspires you to treat people with dignity and respect at all times even when having to hold them accountable, a characteristic essential for success in leadership and human relations.
How are you involved in giving back in the Montgomery community?
As a military officer, I was active in volunteer service to the base and local communities where I was stationed. Since I have retired, my primary focus has been on activities associated with raising my fifth-grade son and 10th-grade daughter — so, outside AUM, I am a dedicated family homework monitor and “soccer-volleyball-basketball-tennis” mom. Due to my passion for education, I strive to be as engaged as I can in my children’s various Saint James School academic and extra/co-curricular activities and programs. Additionally, I serve on the Saint James School Board of Trustees. I enjoy serving at their school and on the board and helping to making an impact in education.