A Week in the Life of This Interim President
I lay my head on a pillow in Shaw House, the Fairmont State University (FSU) President’s residence, which sits south of the Feaster athletic facility and north of the Falcon Student Center. My office is in Hardway Hall, the next building south below the Falcon Center. My current life extends across our campus, into the Fairmont community, and beyond it to the surrounding human habitat. I know my way around nearly as well as I did the woods where I hunted squirrels as a teenager. I admit to a bit more natural comfort in those decades-ago October hills. However, like Nature’s ecosystems, this one, too, involves interactions just as interdependent and complex. And like Nature’s woodland resident’s, I work day and night at drawing from and giving to the physical and living elements around me.
In fact, this Interim Presidency demands a lot, yet returns so much more than I give. I reside in an amazing campus/community ecosystem. The week of November 6 evidences just how much I draw from this six-month leadership journey. The photo is of dawn breaking November 8, with temperature in the upper teens. I began Monday morning at a national security and intelligence firm in Morgantown. The company contracts with our Open Source Intelligence Exchange program. Call it a communal, symbiotic connection. One of our graduates, a leader in the firm, along with the founder and CEO, met with us. The two of them (and two of their clients) met us for dinner Thursday evening at Shaw House to explore deeper collaboration. As with all living organisms, no university can stand alone – we must, and will increasingly, forge and capitalize on relationships with real people doing real work in real time. Nothing beats the essential interplay — learning, research, and technology transfer are contact sports.
Having spent much of my higher education career at five Land Grant Universities (LGUs — Penn State, Auburn, Alabama A&M, NC State, and the University of Alaska Fairbanks), I am steering FSU toward linking collaboratively with West Virginia University (WVU), our State’s LGU. Several of us met mid-day Monday with three of WVU’s Marion County based Cooperative Extension educators, exploring opportunities in the education arena, and in science, technology, engineering, and math. We tilled the ground, planted seeds, and will tend the opportunities that sprout.
We finished the early evening by meeting with the FSU Alumni Association. So many people believe deeply in FSU, and for that I am grateful. And I am optimistic that united we can lift this institution to greater heights. To draw an ecosystem parallel, try being the Mighty Oak without roots infused with endo-mychorhizal fungi.
We visited WVU President Gordon Gee Tuesday afternoon to introduce Dr. Mirta Martin (our FSU President-select who begins her presidency January 1) and continue our discussions about shared mission and potential joint endeavors. Dr. Martin and I then enjoyed dinner in Morgantown at a restaurant perched above the Monongahela River (20 miles downstream from Fairmont; yet another natural linkage), with our FSU Foundation President and the Chair-elect of our Foundation Board, a former corporate accounting executive and FSU alumnus, who holds a senior faculty position at WVU. We are blessed to have many friends who connect us to life, living, and enterprise in North-Central WV!
We rushed back to Fairmont in time for the final three games of our women’s volleyball match. Our Lady Falcons played valiantly, yet fell short. I am impressed with FSU Athletics. My compliments and appreciation to our coaches and staff, our incredible student athletes, and to the community of followers who support FSU Athletics! These student athletes share my hillside ecosystem. I am here to serve them.
Thursday, we observed Veterans Day on campus. We began with flag-raising behind the Falcon Center. Veterans from every service branch attached brand new flags to the pull ropes and hoisted them aloft. Standing at attention, we listened as a local teen brought tears to our eyes singing the National Anthem A Capella. Mid-day once again misted my eyes as a uniformed contingent fired three volleys followed by taps at the newly-dedicated campus Veterans Victory Garden at Turley. All we do at FSU welcomes and involves both the campus and Fairmont community. We are one. In fact, all of us who share this planet are one.
The weekend kicked off Thursday evening with our Falcon football victory over West Liberty. A bit sobering for me to realize that I have now watched my final FSU football contest (along with volleyball). Football tailgating and cheering the Falcons epitomize the spirit of our inseparable Fairmont/FSU marriage.
Friday and Saturday – what an FSU whirlwind. Lunch Friday with our School of Nursing Advisory Board. Another example of the power of real-world partnership! We are nothing as an institution unless we engage meaningfully and deliberately. Thirty-plus of the 50 participants were FSU Nursing graduates.
A basketball extravaganza both evenings – two wins each for our men’s and women’s teams in the annual Joe Retton Classic. Our ladies have just one senior and one junior on their roster. Look out future! And the guys have a new slate of starters following last year’s magical season. Both teams consist of students, leaders, and fine campus citizens who will reach far into the future beyond basketball.
Prior to Saturday’s hardwood competitions, we hosted more than 400 future Falcon students and family members at our Fall Maroon and White Day. Dr. Martin and I greeted the attendees officially from the stage, and then roamed the Falcon Center speaking individually to many of them. I encountered recruits from WV, OH, PA, MD, NJ, and VA.
These young people will enrich our campus and the Fairmont community. Some will stay in North-Central WV. Our wonderful Marion/Harrison County region will welcome them, help them grow, and entice them to live, work, and play here beyond their degrees. Fairmont State University will continue to exchange rich lifeblood with Fairmont, mutually sustaining and yielding greater vitality. The comparisons to a natural ecosystem are uncanny. All of Nature’s communities teem with the ebb and flow of life, and successful populations depend upon a continuing stream of genetic exchange. No community in Nature is static. Any human tribe or kingdom or town will diminish if it remains insular. Fresh blood, new ideas, innovation, and renovation ensure success. Stagnation guarantees only decay and suffocation in both human nature and Nature. Fairmont State University will renew and refresh the community’s body, mind, heart, soul, and spirit.
I am glad to have visited for a while, pumping encouragement and inspiration into a community and university poised to thrive and to imagine a future of hope and promise. Great Blue Heron offers you that same proven, timely, and catalytic wisdom and energy that will ensure a brighter future for Fairmont and Fairmont State University. Give me a call.