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What brought you to Roanoke?
Employment. And employment at a place that I thought I could make a difference. I also checked out the person who was president then, Dr. Fintel, because I wanted to work for someone who was a really fine leader with integrity. It was really important to work with someone I respected.
I also wanted to work for a place that was both a liberal arts college because that had done so much to shape me, and I wanted to work for a college that was a good citizen of its community.
Initially fundraising work here, and I’d never done that before so there was a little bit of risk by the college on me because they didn’t know I could do it and a risk for me because I didn’t know I would like it.
How did you end up as the president?
You would have to ask everybody else that. I’ve actually had eleven different jobs here, so I have tried to help and perform where the college needed my help and performance. So, whenever there was an opportunity that I had to try and do something I would try to do it. I guess, more than anything else, that is what got me this job. Wanting to help Roanoke be as good as it could possibly be.
I didn’t come here thinking I would be president and never wanted to be a president and in fact thought I had other things I was called to do more, but the opportunity came to serve in this role and they came to talk to me about that. It wasn’t something I had been after, but it was a moment where I felt like I could help and serve the college, so I did it.
What does your job entail on a day to day basis?
Almost every day is different, but if I had to describe my work, it goes like this: there is a portion of my work that is trying to make sure we make good decisions for the college. Some of it is trying to apply the best judgment I can apply to the decisions that we face. That’s a huge part of it.
A huge part of my work is making sure there are resources for us to realize our dreams. So that’s when I have to go off campus to do fundraising and make some connection for the college.
A big part of my job is planning and making sure the college is going in the direction the people believe in and find compelling. A big part of my work is ceremonial. I try to show my support for student groups. I spend a fair amount of time working out in the community for the college. I want the college to be a good citizen for Salem and the Roanoke Valley, so I try to be a good citizen for Salem and Roanoke Valley myself.
And it is kind of duties as assigned after that. There are a hundred other things that I do. I have six students that asked me to write a reference.
A lot of it is just responding to members of the community because when you think about it I got 2000 students, 550 who work here, 20000 who went to school here, 6000 parents out there, and I’ve got people in town that are Lutherans or just care about the college.
I’ve got about 30,000 bosses in a way, which is good. I enjoy that part of the work. There are a lot of people who have needs and wants and hopes for the college so I try to be very accessible. That is important to me. To be a person that is accessible, the best I can.
What is the best part of your job?
That’s easy. Two things. My number one thing is being around students and trying to affirm their aspirations and direction. That is why I work out in the fitness center and spend as much time as I do walking around campus. I work as hard as I can to know people’s names because I think that it’s really important and fulfilling to students. The second part is being a Roanoke ambassador- to take our story out there to people to get them to believe in us and what we do for students, and hopefully in some cases to support us financially. Those are sort of two sides of the same coins.
When I am having a bad day, I walk over to Commons and talk to people. It makes me remember why I do this. I don’t know if you’ve seen me do this, but I’ll plop down with people who don’t even know I am coming. Just sit down with students some days. Just a few minutes ago I sat down with some staff. I think one of my most important values and one of the ones I want to have at Roanoke is that we are accessible to one another and have relationships with one another.
Sometimes I tell people, because I believe it, that the way to bring out the best in any of us is for someone to know who we are. It’s hard to do that if you don’t know who somebody is.
It happened for me when I was a student. The people who said, “Good job”, “Keep that up”, or “Don’t do that anymore”. It’s all those things. When someone knows you and says “That was a great paper”, what does it do for you? I’m a big believer and that is the best part of my job.
What is your main focus as a president?
That is a little harder to answer, because the job is so multifaceted. I think the most important thing I can do is to connect the College to the world and connect the world to the College. I think that that’s what we are about; educating people and sending them out into the world. And in return, if I have some connection I made out in the world, then they can come back and make Roanoke an even better place.
I always think a college shouldn’t be aloof to its community. The college takes its citizenship seriously, so going out to bring things back to the college is very fulfilling. And telling the story of students elsewhere- it tells a story about the college when I am able to do that.
What kind of building would you like named after you?
I wouldn’t want a building. I think of my work as a servant’s role. A servant who has to lead, and leadership has its own challenges, but I didn’t do any of this for me. If I could name a building for someone else, I would name the science building because I want to get that done, but I wouldn’t want it named for me.
What do you do in your free time?
I love to be with my family. I love to be with my wife and my three sons. That would be number one, and number two would be exercise. I just feel so much better afterwards. And I am a voracious reader. I read all kinds of topics, all kinds of topics. I have four or five books on my bed stand right now. Travel is a big hobby, so I am always thinking about what the next trip is going to be.
What’s some advice you have for students?
I think the way to get the best out of Roanoke is to extend yourself to other people, whether you’re professors, your other students, staff members, or advisors. And you have to put yourself a little out on a limb to do that. I think that’s job one to get the most out of Roanoke.
The other thing I would say is there are a thousand ideas that are shared every day on this campus. I hope that people always take advantage of that, especially the ones you don’t agree with or don’t understand a lot about. I went to the refugee talk today, and I learned ten things I didn’t know in the first ten minutes and that is one of the most exciting things about Roanoke to me is; there is two or three or four speakers, sometimes a night, but always a week.
You have a chance here, probably like you’ll never have for the rest of your life to be exposed to new ways of thinking and to broaden your horizons.
The last thing I would say is there are a lot of things you have to get up and go to take advantage of. The things I did in college that meant the most to me were the times I did something unusual and the times that were the most wasted were the ones where I sat in my room and didn’t do much. I hope everybody understands that and feels a sense of urgency. You’ll get more out of it than you put into it. That’s the truth. I used to go to lectures that didn’t have anything to do with classes all the time in college and I am thrilled that I did that. I studied in Venice for a semester, and I am thrilled I did that. I had to get a little off the beaten path to do those things.
What do you want people to get out of this?
I hope that everybody will take seriously that I want to get to know them. They have to help me with that sometimes because I forget names, but I do work really hard to get to know names. A trip across campus for me always takes ten minutes longer than I thought because I stop and talk to people and hope people will avail themselves of that opportunity for me to have a chance to get to know them.
You know, I have a great job, and what I love most about it is giving to my students and being really proud of the place where I work.