The University of Northern Colorado announced the appointment of Mark Anderson as the school’s provost in early February. Anderson will take over the role starting April 1. The Mirror sat down with him to discuss his new position.
Anderson visited Greeley during the last week of February to get a feel for the character of the school. Wearing UNC colors in a yellow sweater over a navy shirt and jeans, he outlined his personal importance of student success. In a position which deals heavily with academic affairs, he said he wants to do what is best for students.
“My biggest goal as provost, as dean, as a faculty person is to help students achieve their personal and professional goals,” Anderson said. “Student success is really critically important to me, personally, and to the university. Everything we do at the university, in my mind, you have to start with asking the question, ‘How does this impact the students?’”
The university has not had an official provost since the fall of 2017 when then-provost Robyn Wacker’s role abruptly changed to a fundraising position. Theodora Kalikow has been the interim provost for the 2018-2019 school year.
Anderson received his doctorate in chemistry from the University of Wisconsin-Madison. He has worked at Kennesaw State University in Georgia since 2012 as the dean of the College of Science and Mathematics. This college is the second, largest at a university of almost 36,000 students. According to Anderson, because of core requirements, over 30,000 of these students interact with his college every year.
Before that, he spent five years at the University of Colorado Denver as the chair of the chemistry department. Anderson says the personality of the state and the friends he and his wife have in Denver is part of the reason he wanted to come back to Colorado.
“I think a lot of the community aspects you have in Colorado you don’t see in other places,” Anderson said. “It’s sort of the can-do, collaborative spirit that is really very strong in Colorado.”
Beyond that, Anderson said the values of UNC aligned well with his personal beliefs.
“The faculty are really dedicated to students and student outcome success,” Anderson said. “That’s something that really resonated with me. President [Andrew] Feinstein, the new president, is also very dedicated to student outcome success. There is just a lot of alignment between the institution’s priorities and my own personal and professional priorities.”
As provost, Anderson will have a large say in setting UNC’s academic priorities. In fact, many schools refer to this position as the chief academic officer. Within his broad goal of prioritizing student success, Anderson wants to take some of the effective measures he’s worked with and adapt them to UNC.
“It’s about making sure that we articulate to the students why the curriculum is the way it is, that we establish a really open and welcoming culture and that the policies are such that students feel as though the university is really helping them get to where they want to go,” Anderson said.
Anderson said he hopes that by making the curriculum clear and open to students, UNC can work at raising student success– including graduation and retention rates– by easing the confusions of the college process.
“It’s not simply about helping students along; it’s helping to clear the path so the work you’re putting in is easier,” Anderson said. “We don’t want to make it any more difficult. It’s hard enough. We want to make it as seamless and simple as possible.”
Graduation rates at UNC sit at 48 percent after six years, according to College Navigator, which means one in two students don’t graduate from the university. At Anderson’s university, Kennesaw State, the graduation rate after six years is 42 percent.
“If you are among the 42 percent to graduate, it’s not a big deal to you,” Anderson said. “If you’re in the 58 percent that doesn’t graduate, it’s a big deal. In many respects we have to think about it not from a macroscopic perspective of 42 percent, but on an individual
With a president who only began at the school last summer, and a budget restructuring in progress, Anderson will be part of a transition period at the UNC that could outline its identity and priorities for years to come.
“One of the things I am very passionate about is culture and building a culture where students feel welcome, feel as though they have every opportunity to be successful,” Anderson said. “Also building community, helping people understand they are part of a community and that the community is successful or not successful collectively.”
To Anderson, embracing the diversity of thoughts and perspectives at UNC is an important part of moving forward. It’s also the best way to solve the problems many universities are facing, according to Anderson.
“I think the critical piece is that everybody feels welcome and that everyone understands that we are a single community,” Anderson said. “No single community is very effective if it is homogenous. If everybody contributes the same thing, if everybody does the same thing, then that community is dysfunctional. You don’t need everybody to do the same thing. The strength in any community is the diversity in the community.”
Anderson says he wants to take those strengths and be a voice for the school as a whole.
“My hope is all groups of students, all groups of faculty, all groups of staff see me as a champion not of individual groups but for the collective,” Anderson said. “Universities are complex organizations. It’s impossible to solve the problems that we face if you limit your perspective.”
Anderson will be on UNC’s campus full time as of April 1 and will be attending President Feinstein’s investiture, a ceremony to formally confer him as UNC president, on April 12.