A Conversation with President Mroz
On a sunny summer day, Michigan Tech President Glenn Mroz sat down in his fifth-floor office overlooking Houghton and the lift bridge and discussed Michigan Tech’s current state and future plans.
Universities support society in a variety of ways. Given how fast our world is changing, what do you see as Tech’s vision and purpose?
Michigan Tech must maintain and enhance the quality of education at all levels. Tech graduates want credibility in the marketplace, and they want to know their education is relevant to helping solve the problems that lie ahead.
Programs like Enterprise really combine the students’ in-classroom learning with practical experiences that include research and development.
Our students will continue to apply the science and technology to help the world, but they will also manage, communicate, and understand science and technology’s social, economic, and ecological implications. We feel that students who have those skills are going to be highly valued in the marketplace.
Does Michigan Tech have to change to respond to the technological challenges that exist in society?
Tech is always changing. That is the agility of Michigan Tech. We were started to assist the mining industry, then mineral processing came in, then broader engineering and science programs. We continue adding new programs to meet the needs of the marketplace. And we’ll continue to change, strengthening current programs and judiciously starting new programs that can pass muster with our middle name.
So, how are we positioned to change?
The greatest need in any change is having the people who know where to go, are willing to go there, and have the ability to move the organization forward. The people at Michigan Tech are really the greatest strength for effecting change.
Recent surveys reveal that Tech people like it here, and students and alumni would like to be here.
There’s a big change happening, where a number of companies are coming to Houghton to establish themselves with offices closer to our talented faculty and students. GE and Ford are two, and there are more companies moving in.
Are you concerned that if Tech changes too much, we will lose the things that matter most to alumni—a great undergraduate education, strong University traditions, and a rich sense of community? How will these be preserved?
One of our greatest attributes has been to redefine undergraduate education in a technological world. When you look at the research universities, we really are not like them. When you look at teaching universities, we really are not like them, either. But we have—maybe because of our size and location but surely because of our people—added practical R&D experience to undergraduate education.
The people who hire our students recognize that, and they have been coming to campus in record numbers over the past four years.
And there are good enrollment projections for the fall.
That’s the interesting thing about enrollment. When you talk to students, you wonder how much they know about your institution. And students are saying, “Well I’m coming here because of the Enterprise program.” Or, “I’ve already talked to a professor here.” Or, “I really want to get into the Applied Portfolio Management Program within a year.”
The students realize that these are opportunities that they just wouldn’t get at another university.
For this fall, tuition and fees increased $805, from $9,828 to $10,633. What are the plans to offset rising tuition costs?
Financial aid at the university has risen at a slightly faster rate than tuition, and we need to assure affordability and assure that we can attract good students. We need to keep going forward with philanthropic scholarships to help students out. It gets tiresome to hear that students pay a greater proportion of their education than I did, but it’s true.
What’s the biggest challenge as president?
I think one of the big challenges is to get everyone to understand what Tech is. Had I walked out the door in 1974 and not come back for a long period of time, I would know what Tech was in 1974, but it is a much different institution now.
Today, we are on a path to become a technological university for the world. That really is the aim. It’s educating people from around the world or from here and working with our industry partners who employ people all around the world. When our graduates leave Tech, they are talented people who can operate anywhere in the world.
What’s the hardest decision you’ve had to make?
When I first came in, there were substantial budget cuts, and those effected not only the institution but also a lot of people’s lives. Those were never made easily, but, at the end of the day, you knew that the institution that has been around for one hundred years needs to be around for another one hundred years or more. I needed to make those tough decisions for the current students and the future students.
What advice would you give to students who say that one day they would like to be the president of Michigan Tech?
Go for it. It’s a great job. A lot of what I do has to do with keeping a consistent message, keeping everyone on track, helping people understand in practical terms what Michigan Tech is all about. Where it is going. What are the things about Michigan Tech that line up and what things need to change. And what things will never change, like the culture of Michigan Tech that encourages people to try new things, to not be afraid of failure. Failing is not bad. Not trying is really bad.
For alumni, if you could recommend one book to them, what would it be and why?
I guess it would be Good to Great by Jim Collins. It’s built on some principles that have really helped me and the executive team. Make sure you pay attention to what you are good at. Make sure you pay attention to what drives the economic engine of the organization. You have to think about what you really have a passion for.
One of the principles that was key early on [and in Good to Great] was the Stockdale principle: “You must never confuse faith that you will prevail in the end—which you can never afford to lose—with the discipline to confront the most brutal facts of your current reality, whatever they might be.” That may be a little negative, but it’s real.
What are some issues that alumni don’t usually read about that will be addressed on campus this fall?
There’s the new construction. They are going to redo US 41 for safety issues [near McNair and Wadsworth Halls]. We are looking at a new residence hall, with apartments, behind McNair.
And the Michigan Tech Enterprise SmartZone, with its business incubators, business development programs, and student programs, is something we don’t really talk about too much. There are about thirteen companies, and they are running out of space. We are buying the UPPCO building [in part] to provide business incubator space.
How can alumni and friends get involved to support Tech?
There are so many ways now: keeping informed about campus; serving on an advisory board; and one critical thing is increasing our fund-raising, both on campus and with our alumni and friends.
Can you explain the importance of growing the endowment?
If you look at the state appropriation over forty years, it’s essentially the same as it was in the late 1960s and early 1970s in CPI [consumer price index]-adjusted dollars. The state has been a great partner, but at the same time, the level of sophistication in education has increased. You can just pop the hood on your car, take a look, and think back to 1970 with a slant six and no air conditioning.
Education has gotten similarly complicated, and the student who is in the Senior Design Expo or the Enterprise program can convey really complex material in very simple language to people who don’t happen to be in the same discipline as them.
And what supports that effort are the outside dollars, especially the endowment. It supports the talented faculty who are skilled in teaching as well as research and development. It supports programs that encourage students to follow their dreams. We can attract the students who have the ability to do that and those who may not have the natural talent for it but can develop it. A lot of schools do a program like Enterprise but not on the scale that we do it.
Enterprise projects are really like the students’ first jobs.
What makes Silicon Valley entrepreneurs successful is that they learn how to fail fast. In other words, they can start on something, and, if it’s going nowhere, they know when to shift gears and try something new. I think the only way you can learn how to do that is by doing it. And that is why the Senior Design and Enterprise programs are so good. The students get an opportunity to do that when their job doesn’t depend on it.
Again, the endowment supports programs like these. Universities that have endowments will excel, and universities that don’t will not.
Michigan Tech has received some remarkable gifts in recent times. What is their impact?
We had a group of students working at a hospital with a university in Africa because of the generosity of Frank Pavlis and his Institute for Global Technological Leadership. And the entire Enterprise program would not exist without donors.
We’ve got the largest Peace Corps Master’s International Program in the world, and recently, Pat Nelson [wife of Charles ’36, inventor of the paintball] and the John ’51 and Elizabeth Widenhoefer Trust have supported it in a very substantial manner.
Dick ’56 and Bonnie Robbins have supported three chairs in sustainability, and they were really spot on to what our advisory groups were encouraging us to do. The hiring of those three endowed positions will really be a catalyst to hire more people in a number of departments across campus. It will strengthen programs that we are already good at and have a passion for.
What is your hope for Michigan Tech’s future?
I would love to see Michigan Tech and the people at Michigan Tech get the recognition they deserve. The words “best kept secret” should be banished from the lexicon!
On our 150th anniversary in 2035, I would love to see a world-class faculty with 40 percent endowed positions; see us recognized as one of the best universities in the world for what we do; see us recognized as a catalyst for education, research, and development at all levels; and be a place where people come to seek out new ideas with a fresh outlook.