New provost ready to take the herd by the horns

Marshall University’s senior administration gained a fresh face on the first of July, with the start of the new provost and senior vice president of academic affairs Jaime Taylor.

Taylor, who comes from a lengthy background in higher education at Austin Peay State University, was born in Spain while his father served in the United States Air Force. His mother named him after famous Spanish bullfighter Jaime Ostos. His family moved to Tennessee when he was five years old, and he spent many summers driving right by Huntington as he went on family vacations. When he saw that the provost position at Marshall was available, he was immediately drawn in due to the university’s national reputation as well as his admiration of President Gilbert’s leadership.

“I am extremely pleased Dr. Taylor has accepted my offer to be provost and senior vice president for academic affairs,” Gilbert said in a news release. “He has an outstanding history of accomplishments in enrollment management, relationship building and shared governance, academic program development, community partnerships and fiscal management. Dr. Taylor will be an excellent fit for Marshall University.”

Taylor received his bachelor’s degree in physics from Austin Peay State University, and later earned his master’s degree and Ph.D. in engineering science from the University of Tennessee Space Institute. He started out on the faculty at Austin Peay, where he then went on to chair the physics and astronomy department and also served as interim provost.

“I’ve always liked to bridge the gap between engineering and physics,” Taylor said. “A lot of the work I did after I got out of school was in image processing.”

Much of the work in image processing that he was interested in is referred to as “soft computing,” the application of biologically inspired algorithms. In other words, he trained computers to work like the human brain, something that has become increasingly common in popular culture.

“In the early 2000s, late 90s, people started getting interested in what was called soft computing, so neural nets, creating algorithms that work like the human brain,” Taylor said. “I got very interested in that in the early 2000s.”

Throughout his many years in higher education, student success has been Taylor’s greatest interest and excitement. One such example of this comes from his complete restructuring of his university’s math program, that led from about 15 to 20 percent of students making it through college-level math, to around 70 percent of students moving forward with success. This model has since become something of national standard.

“What I really enjoyed was working with individual students,” Taylor said. “I really enjoy taking somebody like me, a rural student, and helping expose them to the entire world, and helping them know they can compete with anybody in the world.”

Taylor said he believes if you can set the bar for students, they can rise up to that bar.

“You have to help people realize it’s possible,” Taylor explained. “Once they realize it’s possible, everything about them changes.”

One thing he hopes to bring to Marshall is expanding opportunities to students from all over, showing them that success is possible for every individual.

Taylor said he and his wife, Stacy, have enjoyed the move to Huntington. The two have always lived in rural communities, so when they moved here, they decided to live in downtown, where Taylor said Austin’s Ice Cream is a constant temptation.

“I feel ridiculously fortunate,” Taylor beamed. “Everything at Marshall seems to be happening. It seems like the right people are in the right place—the community—things are moving forward. It’s just a huge amount of excitement right now. There’s several things I want to tackle, and it all seems very doable, because it’s already happening right now.”

When he isn’t training computers to think like the human brain or restructuring entire math departments, Taylor said he enjoys outdoor recreation, including hiking and biking. Two years ago, he biked from Washington, D.C. to Pittsburgh. However, when asked if he and President Gilbert, a biking enthusiast himself, had any plans to hit the trails, he joked that Gilbert’s biking skills are “on a whole other level.” 

Franklin Norton can be contacted at [email protected]