“You can’t go home again.” I began to ruminate over the phrase made famous by Thomas Wolfe as I prepared to conduct an interview with President Francis L. Hendricks. You see, Hendricks is a 1979 graduate of Mansfield University of Pennsylvania. He recently returned to the university as its 28th president. Apparently, you can go home again, and to much fanfare and excitement. I recently sat down with him to see what life is like for a former student returning home to run his alma mater.
Q: What are your impressions of Mansfield University since your return to campus?
A: This is a magical place; it was when I attended here and it certainly is today. Students have always come here to learn, delve into interests and discover unknown passions. With a strong liberal arts base, in a beautiful rural setting, Mansfield University is able to offer professional programs in fields in which students are interested. Mansfield University has remained true to its commitment of outstanding instruction in an intimate classroom setting, where you are taught by professors who know you personally and care about your preparation for your life’s journey. The pride and commitment of our campus community is as strong now as it was when I was a student in the 1970s. From our groundskeepers who want a parent’s first view of campus to be one of beauty, to our faculty and staff who realize we are our students’ family away from family, their dedication is to our students. One of our employees just celebrated her 64th year as a dining services staff member and is valued by all.
Q: It must be exciting to come back as president. How did you react when you were offered the job?
A: I was ecstatic! I care so deeply about Mansfield University and welcomed the opportunity to come back and “pay forward” all the university has done for me. As a non-traditional candidate for university president, I truly had no expectations of being offered the position. I did however know that Mansfield University prepared me well for my future and gave me the foundation needed to be successful. At Mansfield, I was able to build relationships with professors, staff and even the president, all of whom mentored me and provided me sound advice when needed. I wanted to be able to do the same: to connect with students and serve them as those before served me. I am a product of Mansfield University and truly humbled to have been chosen its 19th president.
Q: What made you want to apply?
A: It met the criteria of what my wife and I wanted to do after I retired from the military. We wanted a position where we knew we could make a difference in the lives of others. We wanted to, once again, be part of something that was bigger than both of us; and we wanted to use our experiences and contribute to the success of the team we would join. There was never any doubt that returning to Mansfield University would be the right step for us. It also would enable me to return to the region in which I was raised. In every way, it was coming home for me and my family.
Q: Have you spent time on some goal-setting or strategic planning?
A: Yes. From day one, I have been setting the tone for how we will build upon the university’s strengths, while simultaneously addressing the challenges we face. I work closely with the university’s strategic planning committee on our next strategic plan. The plan, which goes into effect in 2014, sets the foundation for where the university will be in 2020. In order to remain relevant to students’ needs and thrive in the “new normal” of public higher education, Mansfield University will take the appropriate steps to ensure our students’ success. We will embrace ownership of our university’s destiny. We will broadcast our excellence and strengthen and build partnerships within and outside of our immediate community.
Q: What’s your impression of the community and its interaction with the college?
A: The strong connection between the university and community dates back to 1857, when both the borough and the university came into being. Community business leaders serve on our council of trustees and other committees. Faculty and staff serve in leadership positions on local and county boards. The Mansfield community embraces our students as their own and the university works hard to partner in community and economic development, events, and assistance. After all, Mansfield and its surrounding towns are where we live and raise our children. We are neighbors, friends and partners both in and outside of the work place. That connection led me to coin the phrase, “You can’t spell community without MU!”
Q: How do you imagine continuing the momentum that Mansfield University has achieved during the past decade?
A: We will continue to assess everything we do, from the programs we offer to the services we provide our students and their families. We will make adjustments based on those assessments, which are the key to remaining relevant for current and future students and alumni. We are key producers of leader-ready individuals in their chosen fields of study. Mansfield University greatly impacts the local community, region, Pennsylvania and beyond with its graduates and its presence. We must constantly look at how we can improve upon our delivery of education and services.
Preparing students for their life’s journeys must remain our primary focus.