A&M-Central Texas CFO retiring, new CFO on board
Special to the HHES
Killeen – As large as it might seem, the world of university administration is a small place. Just ask Gaylene Nunn and Cynthia Carter.
Both women are from Central Texas. Nunn is a long-time Temple resident, and Carter hails from Waco, now in transition to Temple. Both women attended Tarleton State University, earning their degrees in business, and both completed their MBA there, harboring hopes of service to their alma mater at some point in their respective futures.
For Carter, the opportunity to do just that arrived almost immediately upon completion of her academic work when she began serving at Tarleton State as a development officer and Nunn beginning as Director of Finance and Administration at the then Tarleton University System Center-Central Texas.
In 2009, after 32 years in the private sector, Nunn became the interim vice president for finance and administration at the fledgling A&M-Central Texas, becoming the university’s inaugural chief financial officer in 2011 shortly after the Texas A&M University System named Dr. Marc Nigliazzo as its first president.
At the same time, Carter was rising in the ranks at Tarleton State University, having served as assistant to the president, interim vice president for finance and administration, and assistant vice president for finance and administration before accepting a leadership role as associate vice president for business services at Prairie View A&M University in 2013.
And now, more than a decade later, two women with similar aspirations of service and experience with Texas A&M System institutions crossed paths yet again when Nunn announced her plans to retire earlier this year.
“When people work as hard around a big goal as we do at A&M-Central Texas, it’s difficult not to worry about what’s going to happen when it is in someone else’s hands,” Nunn explained.
“But, over the years, because we both worked for universities in the Texas A&M University System, Dr. Carter and I got to know each other, and I was thrilled to learn that she had applied and then was selected to interview.”
“There were a lot of quality people in the pool and good finalists all the way around. But I’ll enjoy retirement a lot more knowing that it’s Dr. Carter at the helm.”
To encourage a flawless transition at a critical time of year – post-legislative session and the start of a new academic year – A&M-Central Texas President, Marc Nigliazzo, asked Carter and Nunn to work in tandem during the month of August that preceded Nunn’s departure.
“It’s a little daunting at times,” admitted Carter. “We are constantly trying to find a way to balance the big picture with the needs of individual departments and employees. But we find a way.”
For Nunn, the hard part isn’t letting go. It’s learning to relax after so many years of turning challenges into accomplishments.
When she began in 2009, there was no “finance and administration” structure to the university – beyond her own position.
“I had to create it,” she said, matter of factly. “That meant setting up all the different offices. From accounting to IT to accounts payable to security, human resources, payroll, and facilities. That meant getting the right people in the right places and getting them trained. Everyone in every department started from absolute zero.”
And of course, there was the small matter of building out a university campus.
“Everything we had back then was not ours; it was leased,” she remembered. “We knew we had 672 acres for a campus, but it was our job to bring it into being from just a common vision.”
In 2012, Founders Hall, the university’s inaugural building opened, and in quick succession, a second building, Warrior Hall, followed, supporting the university’s anticipated growth.
By this time next year, a third building, Heritage Hall, will open, providing the much-anticipated “campus quad” effect, visibly connecting the three existing buildings facing inward to an interior mall space.
“It’s a rare thing in higher education to be able to build a campus from nothing,” explained Nunn. “To have been a part of that is special, and it will remain with me beyond retirement.
“Everyone who works at the university comes here because they want to be a part of building a legacy, and we all share a sense of pride in creating this place for the benefit of the region, our communities, and our students.”
Carter concurs, pointing out that she is the most satisfied when the contributions of her team keep the organization running smoothly.
“Finance and administration is unique by its very nature,” she explained. “Because what we are tasked to provide the infrastructure that keeps things going, as well as ensure that we all do things in a compliant and safe manner. We are tasked with administering the State’s valuable resources, and we pride ourselves in doing so responsibly.
“I’m blessed with a great team that was recruited and built before I got here, so I am entirely optimistic about our future.”