[dropcap]R[/dropcap]ecord enrollment. A large, academically qualified, diverse freshman class. Rising on-time graduation rates. An enhanced partnership with Muncie. A new brand.
It’s a great time to be president of Ball State University, and Geoffrey S. Mearns knows it. He has high hopes about the future of the institution he leads and for the community to which he belongs.
“I’m optimistic about the future,” he said during the Fall 2017 semester, “and one source of that optimism comes from our past.
“This year, our University will celebrate our Centennial. We are here today because of the generous support from the Muncie community — support that dates back to the people who founded this institution nearly 100 years ago. It was not the community’s first attempt to bring higher education to Muncie. Prior efforts failed four times, but the people in this community didn’t give up. Not until Ball State began as a public, state-assisted teachers college in 1918.
“Those efforts, even the unsuccessful ones, say a lot about generosity but also the persistence of our community.
“Undoubtedly, we face some significant challenges — challenges that are primarily because of external economic forces. But we can solve them. We have before.”
Since he started in May 2017, President Mearns has invested a lot of time and energy meeting with students, faculty and staff on campus and alumni, friends and government officials near and far. At his initiation, a series of community forums were held this fall in partnership with Muncie’s newspaper, The Star Press. Click here and scroll down to watch them.
The forums — which engaged community members in lively conversations about neighborhoods and education, arts and culture, and local and regional economic development — followed his official installation as Ball State’s 17th president in September. He also frequently attends various community events in Muncie.
“President Mearns has worked tremendously hard to get to know the campus and its stakeholders,” said Rick Hall, ’89, chair of the Board of Trustees. “He eloquently articulates a strong vision that ensures all members of the Ball State community will have meaningful roles in shaping the University’s future. He wants us all to have every opportunity to enjoy the success that comes when we all work toward one goal.”
Muncie native and resident Traci Lutton, ’05, appreciates the president’s commitment to Muncie. As vice president of economic development for the Muncie-Delaware County Economic Development Alliance, she was a panelist at the community forum where campus and city leaders discussed economic development.
“I found him to be gracious, approachable and sincerely interested in getting to know the Muncie community in order to find ways in which we might work together,” she said. “He sees the direct correlation between the success of Muncie and the success of Ball State. It certainly bodes well for future partnerships between the University and the city.
“There is new energy and mounting anticipation around a new era at Ball State. This is only the beginning, but I am excited about our trajectory. I am looking forward to the University’s support as we tackle difficult community challenges and celebrate and enhance our existing assets.”
Kathy Berryhill, a senior from Indianapolis and a construction management major, served on the presidential transition committee and met President Mearns during an event last summer at Bracken House.
“He was exactly what I had been asking for in a president,” she said. “From what I’ve seen, he’s been wonderful at facilitating community interactions and making sure that students are aware that he is there for them, but at the same time, he is great at maintaining the integrity of the University. He’s really friendly. I’ve chatted with other students who have interacted with him, and they always walk away in awe of how genuine he is. Every interaction with him is a joy.”
Protecting a legacy
Kourtland Koch, chair of the University Senate and professor of special education, has accompanied the president on a series of walking tours the president initiated this fall in an ongoing effort to meet informally with faculty, staff and students. During the tours, Dr. Koch heard members of the campus community express pride in Ball State and appreciation for the president’s visibility and engagement.
“President Mearns exhibits a true sense of stewardship,” Dr. Koch said. “Often he refers to the Beneficence Pledge, more specifically the pledge to act in a socially responsible way by exhibiting ‘civility, courtesy, compassion and dignity.’
“As indicated by President Mearns, we must be always vigilant of our history and the many accomplishments achieved during the first 100 years of Ball State. We must continue to grow and reinvent ourselves if we are to remain sustainable while meeting the needs of Ball State, our community and the state of Indiana.”
President Mearns and his wife, Jennifer, have made a personal commitment to Muncie by establishing the Mearns/Proud Family Scholarship for Muncie Central High students who attend Ball State and are the first in their families to go to college. President and Mrs. Mearns have given $100,000. With other donations, the fund now has more than $400,000. To contribute, click here.
As Ball State enters its second century, it will have a new strategic plan and vision for the short and long term. The president is leading the yearlong process to create the plan. With involvement from all parts of the Ball State community, the plan will be finalized by the end of the year.
“Our University’s strong position gives us the opportunity to develop our next strategic plan thoughtfully and deliberately,” he said. “It is premature to predict precisely what will be in the plan, but I am confident our plan will retain our commitment to providing a quality education at an affordable price.
“Our University will continue to spark intellectual curiosity, provide academic innovation and empower students to take creative risks. We will enhance our commitment to Muncie and Delaware County. And we will continue to live the enduring values articulated in the Beneficence Pledge — excellence, integrity, social responsibility, respect and gratitude.”