Change worthwhile, new IPFW boss says

October 18th, 2017

By Ron Shawgo | The Journal Gazette

Incoming IPFW Chancellor Ronald Elsenbaumer introduced himself Tuesday as a first-generation college student who knows how education can change people's lives.

At a morning news conference, Elsenbaumer, 66, said he has been making the rounds since Friday, meeting people on and off campus. Joking with the media, Elsenbaumer said when he discovered Yummi Bunni's combo of ice cream and doughnuts at its downtown sweet shop, it became the “biggest attraction for me to come to Fort Wayne.”

“My two favorite foods in the world: ice cream and doughnuts,” he said. “Why didn't I think of that?”

Purdue President Mitch Daniels announced last month that Elsenbaumer, special adviser to the president at the University of Texas at Arlington, will replace Vicky Carwein, who will retire after serving as IPFW chancellor since 2012. He begins Nov. 1.

Elsenbaumer will be IPFW chancellor for less than a year when Purdue and Indiana universities end their IPFW governance agreement June 30, 2018. Purdue University Fort Wayne begins the following day, with Elsenbaumer at the helm. IU will have a lower profile and focus on health sciences. Purdue will handle all other academic programs.

Before a Tuesday night event in Fort Wayne, Daniels said he chose Elsenbaumer among four finalists because of his fitness for the job. But Daniels uses “we” in describing the selection because of responses from town hall meetings and surveys on campus. 

“It wasn't even close,” said Daniels, who was in Fort Wayne to deliver the Rolland Lecture, an annual event of the Friends of the Lincoln Collection at the Allen County Public Library. “We probably would have gotten to the same answer anyway, but that certainly clinched it.”

At his news conference, Elsenbaumer touched on enrollment decline, community partnerships, school athletics and his introduction to higher education.

As a first-generation college student, Elsenbaumer said he considers himself a role model. He estimated as many as half of local students fit that profile.

“I received my degree from Purdue and my life changed, wholly transformational, opening so many doors for me in my career,” he said.

He called IPFW, with its Purdue connection, a “tremendous” school and his chance to lead the school as an “opportunity to be at an institution that is world renowned, part of the Purdue system, and at the same time considered to be a metropolitan institution.”

Enrollment decline is one of his primary challenges, Elsenbaumer said. The educational opportunities the school will offer and the job opportunities they'll provide will make a difference, he added.

“I believe enrollment will turn around,” he said.

Elsenbaumer, a native of Allentown, Pennsylvania, earned his bachelor's degree with honors in chemistry from Purdue in 1973 and his doctorate in chemistry from Stanford University in 1978. He has been at Texas-Arlington since 1991 and has served in his current role as senior adviser for entrepreneurship and economic development since 2016.

He also has served UTA as provost and vice president for academic affairs, vice president for research and federal relations, director of the nano-fabrication research and teaching facility, chair of both the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry and the Materials Science and Engineering Program, a professor of chemistry and polymer chemistry, and as a professor of materials science and engineering.

Elsenbaumer said he plans to listen and be a “trusted partner that responds to the community.” Another important aspect, he said, is to show constant improvement at the university. While change is painful, “change is always important to making yourself better,” he said.

He called IPFW Division I sports, which many schools strive for to attract students, “very important.” They help brand the university and “build emotional ties” with students, alumni and the community. But football at IPFW is unlikely because it is expensive and would take “a huge donor” to fund, he said.

Central to the school's mission is providing students with the best education and promising the value of their degree will increase over time, Elsenbaumer said.

“The most important thing for us to address in the short term is really having the community understand what it is we're doing here,” he said. “We are transforming lives. Our graduates get jobs.”