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Live, learn and pass it on
The area's top educators share from-the-heart insight 
for making the most of your family's educational experience

By MELISSA MCGRAW

February 6, 2012

The Rev. Dr. Patrick T. Ferry
President, Concordia University Wisconsin

Ferry is in his 15th year as president of Concordia University Wisconsin, and is a professor of history. He earned his doctorate in European history from the University of Colorado-Boulder. His book, "Faith in the Freshman: A Story of Hopes and Hoops," was published in 2009.

When you were a student, what were your best choices? What were your worst? A good choice that I was not necessarily conscious of at the time was the benefit of sticking with an experience even when things didnít go as planned. I was a freshman basketball player and we had a horrible team. I felt like quitting. In retrospect, that was the best thing that could have happened. It was a time of spiritual growth. As a young person, I goofed off too much. If something may not have interested me, I thought it wasnít interesting. I wish I had known to dig deeper, find intrinsic interest and take away as much as possible.

What is the best piece of advice you received in school, and how has that influenced you as an educator and leader? I approached advice in two forms. One I ignored, although it seemed fairly sensible. Another I adopted and that has made a difference. I rejected that you should learn when to say no. It is important for students to learn they canít do everything, but sometimes they jump to that conclusion too quickly. We donít always stretch ourselves to learn something new. The advice I accepted is to say yes to every opportunity. That spiritual framework opened doors to see the world. We should lead with yes.

If you knew then what you know now, what would you have done differently? As a student, I would have spent less time worried about grades and more time focused on learning. I allowed grades to become an end, rather than a means to an end. That is unfortunate. Grades should be a by-product of learning, engaging experiences and indulging our interests.

Laura Fuller
Head of School, University School of Milwaukee

Fuller came to University School of Milwaukee as head of school at the start of the 2011-2012 school year with more than 20 years of experience in independent and public schools. A Wisconsin native, she has a masterís degree in administrative leadership, curriculum and supervision from the University of Wisconsin.

What advice do you have for new or returning students? With the speed at which the world is changing, it is essential for young people today to equip themselves with all the skills and knowledge necessary to be successful in the 21st century. I would tell a new student, "Your family is giving you an opportunity that will continue to benefit you for the rest of your life. It may not be abundantly clear to you right now how that will play out, but it is essential to take advantage of this experience to obtain the absolute best education available."

When you were a student, what were your best choices? What were your worst? I was motivated by achievement and worked hard to earn the best scores I could in my classes. My worst choice was to not realize how important the actual content of what I was learning would be to my future. Too often I studied to achieve a good grade, but did not necessarily embrace the material or appreciate its importance.

What is the best piece of advice you received in school, and how has that influenced you as an educator and leader? I was told never to underestimate my ability to achieve and that anything was possible if I worked hard enough. I have tried to help my students understand the world is full of wonderful opportunities, but they need to apply themselves to ensure those doors are open to them. Too often young people make the mistake of not working as hard as they should because they do not understand where their efforts will take them. Then, when they are older and really want the opportunity to pursue college or a career, they might struggle to achieve their goals.

Dr. Hermann Viets
President, Milwaukee School of Engineering

Vietsí vision is to remain at the forefront of professional education with an emphasis on theory and technology coupled with appropriate laboratory experience and career practice. He supports initiatives that promote a well-rounded college experience. Viets has a doctorate in astronautics from Polytechnic University and has led MSOE since 1991.

When you were a student, what were your best choices? What were your worst? My best choice was selecting a major that I enjoyed, aerospace engineering. It has even been valuable at cocktail parties. I also did well to choose a university close to where my wife went to school. We had dated in high school and didnít drift apart. I would have prepared more for business. Later I had to learn that on my own, but I could have had a head start.

What is the best piece of advice you received, and how has that influenced you as an educator and leader? Some of the best advice Iíve received is from my wife. As I was finishing my doctorate she wanted to spend time in Europe. I was a post-doctorate researcher and she taught school in Belgium. That experience has given us a view. We have since spent a lot of time in Europe and have done things that may not have happened otherwise.

If you knew then what you know now, what would you have done differently? I know a lot more about teaching now than when I started teaching. We can learn well from others. Everyone has teachers as examples of how to teach. The better your examples, the better you can be. At MSOE we have people who are excellent teachers. I benefit from their views. We can learn a lot from these teachers at MSOE.

Dr. Michael R. Lovell
Chancellor, UW-Milwaukee

Lovell was confirmed as the eighth chancellor of UW-Milwaukee by the UW System Board of Regents in May 2011. He joined UW-Milwaukee in 2008 as dean of the College of Engineering & Applied Science and professor of mechanical and industrial engineering. He served as interim chancellor during the 2010-2011 academic year.

What advice do you have for new or returning students? Get engaged with your university. Studies and anecdotal evidence show that students who get involved in their university have higher retention and graduation rates than those who donít. For example, we facilitate the organization of such a wide variety of clubs and associations ó academic, recreational, professional or cultural ó that one is sure to fit every student on campus. The key is to create powerful connections among students with their university.

What is the best piece of advice you received in college, and how has that influenced you as an educator and leader? One of the most outstanding college professors I learned from was Dr. Roy Marangoni, now an emeritus professor of mechanical engineering at the University of Pittsburgh. He said people who are creative and innovative will always add value to society. He convinced me to always be willing to try new things and get out of my comfort zone because thatís often where the most innovation takes place.

If you knew then what you know now, what would you have done differently? Engineering students from my era didnít give a lot of consideration to studies beyond the natural sciences. There are areas in the humanities like communication and in the fine arts that relate to product realization, which I would have liked to have given more attention to earlier in my career.

Dr. James P. Loftus
President, Cardinal Stritch University

Loftus became president of Cardinal Stritch University in July 2011 with more than 20 years of higher education experience and as a lifelong supporter of Catholic education. He holds a doctorate in planning, policy and leadership studies from the College of Education at the University of Iowa.

What advice do you have for new or returning students? I encourage new students to explore who they are, to uncover their God-given talents and gifts. We are in service of giving back to others, in the workplace, our families, in church and society. I tell returners to realize their dreams and fulfill their goals while balancing their life roles.

When you were a student, what were your best choices? What were your worst? I made a great choice in selecting my undergraduate institution. It was a great fit with good leadership opportunities. I got involved right away and took chances. The guidance from my professors was do not be afraid to fail. Having courage to try new things gives you self-assurance. It can impede growth not to take a risk. I regret my lack of balance. It is important to not lose sight of the long-term goal. Keep your eye on the prize while immersing yourself in the moment. Sometimes I was not as focused, but Iíve learned from my mistakes.

What is the best piece of advice you received in college or high school, and how has that influenced you as an educator and leader? I had great teachers in high school, college and graduate school. I learned to set high expectations for myself and not settle for status quo. There is truth in the phrase "It is better to give than receive;" there is more joy in that. It is more important to do things for others rather than the self. As we give back we grow.

Dr. Michael L. Burke
President, Milwaukee Area Technical College

Burke was named the ninth president of MATC in January 2010. He has more than 25 years of experience in community colleges. Burke earned his doctorate in educational administration at the University of Texas-Austin.

What do you want your institution to be known for? Jobs. We provide our students with skills that enable them to gain employment and earn family sustaining salaries. A job is the best social program on earth, and we take students from poverty to employment and help create a viable, vibrant community. We help them build a life in America.

What advice do you have for new or returning students? I urge students to have a sense of self-efficacy; I fear too many young people and too many displaced workers have lost the sense that they can change their lives for the better.

What is the best piece of advice you received in college, and how has that influenced you as an educator and leader? When I was a self-assured, freshly minted college graduate, my father told me that I should not go through life always thinking I was the smartest person in the room. That lesson in humility has stayed with me. As a college president, I am surrounded by really smart people every day, so I try to listen to the advice and opinions I hear.

The Rev. Scott R. Pilarz, S.J.
President, Marquette University

Pilarz is the 23rd president of Marquette University, beginning in August 2011. Pilarz was ordained a priest in 1992, and holds a doctorate in English from the City University of New York.

What do you want your institution to be known for? There are two things that I expect to be my focus: providing access to a Marquette education for all students, regardless of financial means, and relentlessly pursuing a new excellence. I think that committing ourselves to both of those, even it if creates a certain amount of tension, is the exact right place for a Catholic, Jesuit university like Marquette to be. In that way, weíll be an engine of opportunity for this community.

What advice do you have for new or returning students? Our university was named after the explorer Jacques Marquette. I encourage our students to explore, to seek out real and in-depth conversations, inside and outside the classroom, and to pursue experiences that will sometimes make them uncomfortable. Thatís where the most learning will take place. One specific thing I suggest is that students go on a retreat. Students donít need to be Catholic or Christian to benefit from the many opportunities Marquette offers to reflect and find meaning in what they are learning and experiencing. They simply need to be human.

Dr. Mary J. Meehan
President, Alverno College

Meehan is the seventh president and first lay president of Alverno College, an independent, Catholic, womenís liberal arts college. She began her health care career as a rehabilitation counselor, and ended as the president of a hospital in New York. She has been a college administrator for 15 years.

If there was one thing you want your institution to be known for, what would it be? Alverno is an inclusive community of highly motivated students who graduate as confident, courageous, compassionate, lifelong learners. Eight abilities are fully integrated into the curriculum: Communication, Analysis, Problem Solving, Social Interaction, Effective Citizenship, Aesthetic Engagement, Developing a Global Perspective and Valuing in Decision-Making. Alverno does not use letter grades, but rather provides feedback in a comprehensive, narrative format. The value of this model is respected by students and alumnae, as well as the international higher education community. More than 700 professionals have come here in the past decade to study our teaching/learning/ assessment model.

What is the best piece of advice you received in college, and how has that influenced you as an educator and leader? The best piece of advice I received was to take advantage of every opportunity. I worked full time and did not have much time for co-curricular activities, but I took varied courses. I was a commuter, and in the first coed class admitted to the university, so I had to push myself to make friends. Moving in many different circles expanded my world view and prepared me for the many twists and turns of a rewarding and diverse career. Had I not opted for an expansive liberal arts education, I would not have the breadth and depth needed to be an effective leader.

Dr. Eileen Schwalbach
President, Mount Mary College

Schwalbach assumed the presidency of Mount Mary College in February 2009 after serving as acting president since September 2008. She has been with Mount Mary since 1993. Schwalbach has a doctorate in urban education from UW-Milwaukee, completed Harvard Universityís Institute for Educational Management and The Harvard Seminar for New Presidents.

What advice do you have for new or returning students? I advise students to immerse themselves fully in what college has to offer. Here that means not only our fine academic programs, but also our co-curricular activities like athletics, campus ministry and service learning. A true education involves more than just developing the life of the mind; the habits of the heart must also be integrated into educating the whole person.

If you knew then what you know now what would you have done differently? Students today have access to many more learning options than I had when I was in college. For example, study abroad experiences, unique internships and technology that can connect you to a global classroom are excellent ways to enrich your education. Iím quite sure I would have taken advantage of these types of experiences if they had been more readily available.

Dr. Blane McCann
Superintendent, Shorewood School District

McCann has led the Shorewood School District through the development and implementation of two strategic plans, developed collaborative governance structures, led several facilities renovation projects, and developed a student wellness vision while assuring continued academic excellence. He has a doctorate in educational policy and leadership from Marquette University.

What advice do you have for new or returning students? For all our students and my children, I say every day they should learn something new. I will ask the kids, "What did you learn today?" and they canít say "I donít know." Every day is an opportunity to become a better person.

What is the best piece of advice you received in school, and how has that influenced you as an educator and leader? My dad was an attorney and an entrepreneur. He said, "Ideas are a dime a dozen, but leaders act on those ideas." It doesnít matter whose idea it was, as long as itís a good idea that helps the school improve. When I was a school, the headmaster said donít follow fads; live with substance, humility, faith and tolerance. My dad also said everyone deserves respect and dignity. In education we see all different types of folks.

Jack H. Albert Jr.
President, St. Johnís Northwestern Military Academy

Albert has more than 28 years experience leading secondary military schools, and is in his eighth year as president of SJNMA. He is pursuing a doctorate of ministry for educational leadership at the Virginia Theological Seminary, and is on the board of directors of The Association of Military Colleges and Schools of the United States.

What is the best piece of advice you received in school, and how has it influenced you as an educator and a leader? When I was 15 years old, I was asked to teach a Sunday School class for fifth grade boys. I did a good job and was commended for that effort. I decided I wanted to be a teacher. When I made that commitment I promised myself that I would never forget the pain and awkwardness of being a seventh-grader ó I have been honest to myself about that and have always worked to encourage young men about their potential. It is easy to be critical, it is easy to ignore others, but when you encourage them they never forget.

If you knew then what you know now, what would you have done differently? I really have few regrets in my life. Despite mistakes and failures I have been given great opportunities. I would have liked to attend West Point, but I did not prepare myself for that opportunity while in high school. I proudly served our country in the Army, and believe I would have been a great officer, but maybe that decision would have affected other things in my life, like my family or the opportunity to lead a military academy. I do not want to squander the opportunities I have now to serve others and to teach young men.

Dr. Robert Solsrud
Head of School, Brookfield Academy

Solsrud became head of school in 1993, after serving Brookfield Academy for 22 years with tenures as head of the three divisions, Upper School biology and chemistry teacher, athletic director, and football and basketball coach. A Wisconsin native, Solsrud earned his doctorate in educational policy and leadership from Marquette University.

When you were a student, what were your best choices? What were your worst? I believe attitude is a choice, so I chose to really enjoy school. I loved coming to school to learn, to be with friends, and to participate in activities. I simply embraced that part of my life with a positive spirit. My worst choices were a few of my course selections, when I fell prey to the allure of easier courses over the rigorous courses. The decision to take less-demanding courses, while guaranteeing success and high grades, deflected me from experiencing the growth to be gained from more challenging classroom experiences.

What is the best piece of advice you received in school, and how has that influenced you as an educator and leader? I distinctly remember a meeting with my seventh grade teacher and my parents. I was pleasantly surprised when he said, "I think your son should go to college." His words of encouragement lifted my spirit, sending me on an educational journey culminating with a doctoral degree in educational leadership and the opportunity to head one of the finest college preparatory schools. As an educator, we should always appreciate the incredible opportunity we have to make a difference in the lives of our students. We should always remember that through role modeling and words, we can and do shape future generations. m

 


This story ran in the January 2012 issue of: