From the President: Life-changing work

My first university teaching position was at Iowa State University when I was 24. It coincided with the purchase of our first house in Ames, Iowa. I recall borrowing $100 from a college friend to help with the down payment. Little did I know at the time that selecting that house in that particular neighborhood was going to change my life and future forever!

Though located in a nice neighborhood, our house was fairly run down and the neighbors undoubtedly had despised it for years for affecting their property values. In fact, the first question that would usually come up in a conversation with our new neighbors was, “do you have any renovations ideas in mind for your house?” Lucky for me it turned out to be a neighborhood where several deans and vice presidents lived. Talk about pressure to fix up that first house!

It is rare for a “wet-behind-the-ears” assistant professor to meet and get to know firsthand so many deans and administrators, including the president of the university. I was awed and overwhelmed as I was introduced to often nationally renowned educational leaders. In retrospect, I know they impacted my career thoughts and dreams.

I had to do something about the house. As luck would have it, I met John Millsapps, who had just been hired in the same department at the University. He became a lifelong friend and sadly passed a number of years ago. John asked me to help him build a two-story addition to his house and garage, as he needed room for his growing family and antique car collection. Our friendship changed my life. John taught me some basic carpentry skills and got me interested in antique cars. Since then I have built and remodeled several homes and owned several old cars. Moreover, I was able to fix up our first house in Ames, much to the joy of our neighbors!

You might be wondering what this story has to do with my presidency at Minnesota State University, Mankato. Quite simply, if not for purchasing that house, I may never have met so many important and inspirational people. Those early neighbors unknowingly convinced me to become a university president. If they had sensed what I was thinking during our conversations, they likely would have laughed. Talk about my naivete! Through those early encounters, an idea and a dream—a big idea—entered my thoughts and I began searching for the road map that led me to a career in university administration. It is that simple!

What I really want to share is my encouragement for all students and alumni to do what comes from your heart. Listen to your inner thoughts; do not be swayed away too easily. I urge everyone to keep their options open, learn from others and dig deeply to understand what drives you. You can do anything you set your mind to. I firmly believe that Minnesota State Mankato graduates who set their mind to a particular goal can be successful. We are fortunate to live in a world that encourages entrepreneurship and determination.

This will serve as my last presidential message. I wish our current students and 125,000 alumni the very best. Please remember your positive experiences at Minnesota State Uni­versity, Mankato.