Gaye Manning says SAU Tech, the two-year community college affiliated with her alma mater, “has been my life for almost 38 years.” But it wasn’t what she had expected.
Manning grew up at Waldo, about 10 miles northwest of Magnolia, where she earned a bachelor’s degree in management and accounting at Southern Arkansas University in 1984. With a fresh diploma and marriage license, she was hired as “the lowest-paid person in the business office” at SAU Tech in East Camden.
“It only took a few weeks for me to realize that higher education administration is where I needed to be,” she said.
Manning set out to learn everything she could about the business side of higher education, thinking SAU Tech would be a stepping stone in her career. But family ties and a supportive work environment kept her grounded, so she set her sights on moving up rather than moving on. A former chancellor saw potential but knew she lacked an advanced degree. With his encouragement, she earned an MBA from Henderson State University.
“I graduated in December 2000 and in January 2001 was promoted to vice chancellor. “I did it probably not the most traditional or normal way, but I did it the way that worked for me,” Manning said.
In addition to managing the business office at SAU Tech, she is also the chief financial officer for the Arkansas Fire Training Academy and the Arkansas Environmental Training Academy located on its campus. The college and academies have combined annual budgets of about $16 million.
When a tornado ripped through the campus in 2009, Manning was there to lead the recovery. She counts that as one of the biggest challenges of her career. She is also involved in various professional organizations and has chaired the state, regional and national Associations of College & University Business Officers.