Wittenberg Magazine P.O. Box 720 Springfield, Ohio 45501-0720
Phone: (937) 327-6141 Fax: (937) 327-6112
As June changed to July, all eyes turned toward Recitation Hall to welcome Wittenberg’s new leader to the presidential suite on the second floor. With boxes of personal items and folders full of information on the university, Mark Erickson came prepared for his first college presidency, packed calendar in hand.
Now, as the Erickson era begins, the 13th president takes time to reflect on the journey that led him to Wittenberg and looks ahead to a future filled with energy, excellence, high expectations and a commitment to student success.
In Mark Erickson’s office sits a small framed photograph of a man talking with students. The steady stream of visitors to the presidential suite might not notice it, but Erickson certainly does. Shot more than a decade ago, the photo is of Carl Wartenburg, a former assistant dean at Princeton, where Erickson earned his A.B. in American history in 1977.
“He was an incredibly bright, caring and engaging dean,” Erickson says. “He became a real mentor to me as a student, and this picture reminds me of where my focus needs to be.”
That focus reveals itself immediately in conversations with Erickson and during a brisk walk across campus. As he heads toward the Seal, a student passes by, and without hesitation, Erickson stops to introduce himself and chat a bit. By conversation’s end, Erickson invites the student to swing by his home anytime, pointing in the direction of the Benjamin Prince House, where he and his family now live.
This scenario has repeated itself hundreds of times throughout Erickson’s 25-year career in higher education – a field he finds immensely rewarding, and one that has richly prepared him to lead Wittenberg as its 13th president.
Engaged in Campus Life
Despite all the information gleaned from the meetings and supplied materials, Erickson went a step further, traveling unannounced to Springfield one Saturday to tour campus with his 15-year-old son, David. Mike Budney ’05 served as their tour guide, unaware of Erickson’s candidacy for president.
A few weeks later on Feb. 28, the day Wittenberg formally named him president, Erickson returned to campus and remembered Budney, who attended the press conference. He asked him how his senior year and the job search were going. Two months later, during Erickson’s subsequent visit to campus, Budney was giving another tour at the same time Erickson was leaving the Office of Student Development. Within minutes of their chance meeting, Erickson asked Budney if he wanted to have lunch at Post 95.
“He is genuinely interested in students,” Budney says. “The whole time we were having lunch, students were walking by, and he took time to say ‘Hi.’ He wants to get to know them and the entire student body, and that is a special thing for us. He made a great impression all around.”
Such conversations and extensive research, coupled with Erickson’s fervent belief in Wittenberg’s mission to educate the whole person, reaffirmed that Wittenberg was indeed the place for him and his family.
“The people I met at Wittenberg during the search process and those I’ve met in the days since share the same passion I have to be here,” he says. “The strong intellectual core was also a main attraction for me. We have an outstanding faculty who are not only experts in their respective disciplines, but who also care deeply about this place and our students. They fully engage students in the learning process in ways that make a real impact on the lives of young people, and that is exciting.”
“The fellowship allowed me to see the president’s role from the inside,” Erickson explains. In addition to discussing observations and providing input to Adams, Erickson reviewed Bucknell’s strategic planning initiatives, participated in weekly core planning meetings, attended presidential retreats, and assisted Adams in developing federal lobbying tactics, among other responsibilities.
“In our time together at Bucknell, I think that Mark got a good feel for both the public and private pressures of the presidency,” Adams notes. “He has worked in virtually every part of the higher education enterprise, and I know his experience will serve him well at Wittenberg.”
Committed to Helping Others Succeed
“It’s amazing to think that a simple question from a friend to a friend changed the path of my life,” Marshall says, recalling how their friendship began during Marshall’s undergraduate days at Lehigh when Erickson was the dean of students.
Back then, Marshall was having some hard times on the home front, and one night, around 8 p.m., he heard a knock on his residence hall door.
“It was Dean Erickson,” Marshall recalls. “He had heard that I was struggling a little and just wanted to check in and see how I was doing. We ended up talking for more than three hours, and we have been close friends ever since. Mark taught me the importance of balance in life (an art I am still learning), he showed me what kindness is all about, and he taught me about caring for others.”
Those who have had the opportunity to work with Erickson so far at Wittenberg can attest to his caring demeanor and strong commitment to students, faculty, colleagues and friends.
“I want to be intimately involved with this place,” Erickson says, noting that only through the personal relationships he develops on campus will his words be authentic. He also understands the need to honor and recognize the culture at Wittenberg, but not necessarily accept the status quo.
“There is a lot of balance involved, and I plan to do a great deal of listening during the first six months,” he explains. “The litmus test for me in every decision I will make as president is what is right for Wittenberg.”
“I love our motto, Having Light We Pass It On To Others, as I think it speaks quite powerfully to the education imperative that drives us.”
“What we do here is help young people find their passion. In the process we change their lives in powerful and meaningful ways.”
Passionate About Wittenberg
Among his many goals are to ensure that all of the university’s internal and external constituents, from prospective and current students to community leaders, faculty, staff, alumni and friends, understand the meaningful work that occurs inside and outside the classroom every day on campus.
“What we do here is help young people find their passion. We teach them more than simply how to make a living (although we do that); we teach them how to make a life in the fullest sense of all that means: how to become lifelong learners, friends, parents, community leaders and global citizens. In the process we change their lives in powerful and meaningful ways.”
Dedicated to Service and Global Education
“Our affiliation with the Lutheran church provides a distinctive platform at Wittenberg for discussions on values, ethics, faith, honesty and the importance of serving others,” Erickson says. Additionally, “If we’re not preparing students to appreciate diverse perspectives and cultures and to be global citizens, then we’re not doing our job.”
Erickson’s own life experiences have played an integral role in his insistence on globally educating tomorrow’s leaders. Born in Ruislip, England, where his father was a pilot and meteorologist in the U.S. Air Force, Erickson lived in Washington, D.C., Georgia, Kansas, Texas, Missouri, Nebraska and England, all before heading to Princeton University.
His focus on global learning and appreciation for it continued throughout his four years at Princeton and into his post-graduate years at Harvard and Lehigh, where he earned his master’s of education and doctorate of education, respectively. For his 25th class reunion, he and several of his Princeton classmates completed a humanitarian mission to Guatemala, and just last year, Erickson traveled to the United Arab Emirates, Egypt and Spain on behalf of Lehigh. Erickson also studied in Scotland and England while an A.C.E. fellow, and he organized and led a select group of influential international Lehigh alumni who regularly assist Lehigh University in its efforts to become increasingly global.
“We need to bring our students the world, and then send them into it,” he says. “The world is getting smaller every day, and the more our students truly understand that world, the better prepared they will be to lead it.”
Connected to the Community
“Service forces students to step outside their comfort zones, and it’s in those less comfortable places where learning truly takes place,” Erickson says. He also recognizes the importance of Wittenberg’s relationship with Springfield.
“Wittenberg is inextricably tied to Springfield, and that relationship provides an enormous opportunity for us to work as partners.”
At Lehigh, Erickson met regularly with city, state and federal officials and served as the primary university representative to the local community. He also supervised the staff and programs of the Zoellner Arts Center, a comprehensive performing arts center that serves Lehigh University and the broader Lehigh Valley.
As Wittenberg’s 13th president, he hopes to capitalize on his experience in community relations as he represents the university in conversations regarding additional economic development opportunities in Springfield and other town-gown partnering possibilities.
Prepared to Lead
“I have very high expectations,” he says. “My motto will be nothing but the best is good enough for Wittenberg.”
Simultaneously, Erickson also understands the challenges facing Wittenberg, especially in the areas of deferred maintenance, facilities renewal, alumni giving, faculty salaries and technology.
“In today’s world, you have to be able to meet students where they are, which requires us to invest continually in them, our faculty and our campus,” explains Erickson, who secured federal and state funding in excess of $30 million for the academic year 2003-04 to support Lehigh. He also traveled extensively with Lehigh’s current president, Gregory C. Farrington, to develop key partnerships with international corporations and universities to advance the institution.
Through his work with Farrington, whom he calls “a visionary,” Erickson learned to champion the breaking down of disciplinary walls and the need to develop creative uses of information technology to improve student learning. Erickson also assisted Farrington in developing a $75-million academic venture fund to encourage faculty collaboration in creating innovative academic programs that go beyond traditional boundaries, while still meeting the central challenge of educating well-rounded citizens.
“I’ve been blessed with many wonderful mentors along the way,” Erickson says, and just like his late friend and mentor, Carl Wartenburg, whose photo regularly reminds him of his purpose, each one has taught him something about himself. Each has also helped to prepare him, personally and professionally, for his first college presidency.
“Being a college president is a journey,” Erickson explains, acknowledging the challenges but also the rewards.
“Wittenberg is a great university that wants to become even better. This drive for excellence is part of what attracted me to Wittenberg,” Erickson says. “I hope people will someday say that I loved Wittenberg, I woke up everyday and gave it my all, and in the end, I challenged and inspired the members of this community to make Wittenberg one of the finest liberal arts colleges in the country.”
by Karen Gerboth ’93
Wittenberg Magazine P.O. Box 720 Springfield, Ohio 45501-0720
Phone: (937) 327-6141 Fax: (937) 327-6112