President Mearns' plans for Ball State and Muncie community
Geoffery S. Mearns has some big plans for Ball State.
As the university's 17th president, Mearns is very goal oriented with how he will approach his job as president. He believes a crucial aspect in the near future is to reach out to the people.
“The first thing I need to do is meet people and build relationships – that’s how I can learn what has made this institution outstanding for nearly 100 years," he said.
Mearns wants to focus on developing a new strategic plan for the university, fostering relationships with elected officials and connecting with students, staff and members of the the Muncie community.
"Before I can contribute in a meaningful way to a vision for the future of the institution, I have to be able to create this very solid foundation first,” Mearns said.
Video by Tony Sandleben // Newslink Indiana
Mearns has already spent time among state legislators and has met with the governor. In the future he wants to continue to meet with alumni and other partners while continuing to reach out to students and faculty.
"I will try to be very present on campus," Mearns said. "Real communication, real understanding is fostered by sitting in a room or stopping in the middle of the quad and having a conversation with somebody."
But that sort of personal communication and transparency can have its pitfalls. On his first day in office Mearns told the Daily News that he is sure there will be times when people won't agree with the decisions he makes.
"I think most people, reasonable people understand that not all of their ideas will necessarily be reflected in the plan, but they have to be respected," he said.
In the long term, Mearns would like to develop a new strategic plan for the university and he wants input from those who are associated with Ball State.
He hopes to put together specific goals with metrics and targets in order to prove to elected officials that the university's students "put out a great return on the public investment that they provide to Ball State."
That goal was echoed at the Board of Trustees as they said 74 percent of Ball State graduates stay and work in Indiana following graduation.
The president believes President Ferguson's Centennial Commitment, a plan that highlighted the concept of entrepreneurial learning, has good attributes, but he also thought that new challenges in education have brought up a need to make some changes to the vision.
"That plan was well designed and well conceived for that time, but I think as higher education continues to change and as we continue to face new challenges, it requires more focus," Mearns said.
That doesn't mean that the university will end their commitment to programs that were brought to life following since the strategic plan was put in place.
Mearns would also like to start comparing Ball State with similar schools like Indiana University and Purdue in order to measure where the university is at.
"That isn't the only way in which we measure our success relative to others," Mearns said. "I think that's where it is so important for us to develop a plan that includes our own metrics and goals."
The community that Ball State is a part of was also a topic of interest to Mearns as he wants to continue to improve and enhance the relationship between the two entities.
"The reality is the university, any university, can't be great, can't thrive and grow unless the community that supports it and surrounds it is also growing and thriving," he said. "Our future, the future of Delaware County and east central Indiana is critical and vital to the future of the institution."
Mearns views it as a moral obligation to support the surrounding communities because of the support the university has received from it in the past 99 years.
"It is our turn to make investments in terms of time and effort and ideas to help support the rebirth and vitalization of Muncie and Delaware County and east central Indiana," he said.
He doesn't see the struggles that Delaware County and Muncie face as detrimental, he sees it as "a great opportunity for us [Ball State] to have a lasting impact."
Message to students
One of the best parts of being a college student is the opportunity to learn from fellow students, according to Mearns.
"I would encourage students to take advantage of those opportunities," he said. "Because sitting right next to you might be the smartest person you will ever meet in your life, but if you don't engage them in a conversation you will never know."
He wants the student body to know that he has a competitive mentality and plans to be a part of the athletics department at Ball State.
"Whether its on the court or on the cross country course I'm going to be rooting for them to win because I'm a pretty competitive person," he said.
Northern Kentucky is the reigning women's soccer and men's basketball Horizon League champions, with the men's basketball team making the NCAA Division-l Men's Basketball Tournament this year.
The president also said he knows the job ahead is challenging, but he feels like the "rewards far outweigh the challenges."
He went on to say that it doesn't get any better than being able to be "involved in an enterprise that day in and day out of this transforming the lives of 22,000 other people with the expectation and the understanding that those people when they graduate are going to have a positive transformative impact on the people they serve."