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New Daemen College president aims to raise college’s national visibility

Daemen College may be one of the nearly two dozen higher-education institutions in Western New York, but to Gary A. Olson, it’s an “undiscovered gem.”

Now, Olson – Daemen’s new president – is setting out to prove that to everyone else.

“Part of what I’m trying to do is raise the national visibility of Daemen,” Olson told The Buffalo News. “I really do think we compete favorably on a national level, but not a lot of people know that. What I’m trying to do is get the word out.”

Olson, who took over at the college on Main Street in Snyder on Feb. 1, was inaugurated as Daemen’s sixth president Friday afternoon in the Charles J. Wick Campus Center.

His inaugural remarks during the ceremony set the tone for his goals of raising Daemen’s profile and separating itself from the local pack.

“While it is appropriate to compare our programs and performance to those of nearby colleges, it is even more appropriate to compare ourselves to institutions nationwide,” Olson said.

Olson, 58, former provost at Idaho State University, said he has been impressed by the small private college of roughly 3,000 students since coming to campus to succeed Edwin Clausen, the former president.

The academic rigor and personal attention paid to students at Daemen is a strong one-two punch not found at many colleges, Olson said.

For example, he said, graduates in Daemen’s nursing, physician-assistant and physical therapy programs pass their certified exams at rates that far exceed the national average.

Olson also pointed to Daemen’s special-effects program and unique partnership with the film industry, its recognition as a military-friendly school and the estimated $114 million the college contributes to the local economy annually.

“Looking forward,” Olson said. “I envision a time when we compare ourselves not to Canisius, or Medaille, or Niagara, or D’Youville, but to Oberlin and Amherst, Loyola and Wake Forest.

“I envision a time when we imagine ourselves as not in the shadow of some sprawling public university, but as a high-quality college in our own right – nimble, right-sized and uniquely responsive to students’ needs,” Olson said.

Olson earned his doctorate in literary criticism and rhetoric from Indiana University of Pennsylvania, and he contributes commentaries on higher education to the Chronicle of Higher Education and the Huffington Post.

Prior to serving as provost in Idaho, he was a dean at Illinois State University and spent nearly two decades as an administrator and faculty member at the University of South Florida. His wife, Lynn Worsham, is a professor of English.

Among those at the inauguration were Rep. Brian Higgins, Mayor Byron W. Brown and University at Buffalo President Satish Tripathi.