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NKU Is in Her Heart

Returning to Highland Heights as president, Cady Short-Thompson says she’s “delighted to lead the institution that I love.”

by Bill Thompson

Cady Short-Thompson was surprised in Fall 2022 when Northern Kentucky University announced that Ashish Vaidya, who had served as president since 2018, was stepping down as the school embarked on a multi-year “repositioning effort” to respond to changing market and financial pressures impacting all of higher education. Much of the speculation centered on an unexpected budget deficit of more than $20 million, as well as declining enrollment and general uncertainty resulting from the pandemic.

“I spent 14 years of my career at NKU,” says Short-Thompson, who was CEO and Executive Director of Breakthrough Cincinnati, an education nonprofit, at the time. “Like a lot of people who care about the university, I watched and read and heard quite a bit and was concerned.”

NKU chose Bonita Brown, Vice President and Chief Strategy Officer, as interim president in January 2023 and began the search for the seventh leader in the school’s history. Across the river, Short-Thompson started hearing from people she knew when she worked in Highland Heights from 1996 to 2010 before she became Dean of the University of Cincinnati Blue Ash College and Provost at Hope College in Michigan. She returned to Cincinnati to lead Breakthrough in 2021.

“I took the role at Breakthrough with the assumption that was where I would spend the rest of my career,” says Short-Thompson, who has three degrees in communications from UC, including a PhD. “But I love Northern Kentucky University. It’s where I started my career. So this job is literally the only position I would have considered.”

She recalls that her phone blew up when the job opened, receiving texts and calls from friends and colleagues saying the job was perfect for her. “I thought about it for a long time. Then my husband Steve said, You’ve been talking about this for months, I think it’s time that you stop talking. I agreed, and I am delighted to have this opportunity to lead the institution that I love.”

NKU returned the love. In announcing the hire, Board of Regents Chair Rich Boehne said, “It’s a huge advantage that she knows our campus community and the region. She credits mission-driven NKU for building the foundation of her career in higher-ed leadership.”

Short-Thompson built on that foundation at every stop. At UC Blue Ash, she led a team to rename, rebrand, and re-envision the college while serving as chair of UC’s Council of Deans and its Diversity Council. She did more innovative work at Hope and at Breakthrough, and she brings those lessons to her institutional knowledge of NKU.

“This is it for me, the grand finale,” she says, laughing when asked what she would tell her alma mater, UC, if it called. “I understand that everybody says that, but I mean it. I love the size of NKU, and I love the fact that I know so many of the people by name and by the work they do and I get to play a part in that.”