Getting to Know Chancellor Mel Netzhammer
Emile (Mel) Netzhammer is Washington State University Vancouver’s second chancellor.
He previously served as provost and vice president for academic affairs for Keene State College, a New Hampshire public college with an enrollment of about 5,700 students. Prior to that, Netzhammer served for 19 years at Buffalo State College in New York as faculty, department chair and, ultimately, dean of arts and humanities.
A native of New Orleans, Netzhammer earned his bachelor’s degree in communication from Loyola University in New Orleans. He earned his master’s degree in mass communication and Ph.D. in communication from the University of Utah.
Netzhammer and his partner, Lee Faver, reside in Vancouver and will celebrate 22 years together in September.
So many reasons. As I started learning about the campus, I became increasingly excited. I think you can best tell if you’re going to be a fit with a campus community when you look at the values of that community. WSU Vancouver faculty and staff are committed to providing a first-rate education for our students and to engaging in research that will change our community and our world. I believe strongly that a university must be of the community, not just situated in it, and I was so excited to see that WSU Vancouver has deep community roots as a land-grant university and as a campus committed to community-based research. This sense of shared values was confirmed by my time with the search committee and the campus. It felt like a great fit.
what do you consider your greatest challenge in your new position?
I am inheriting a great legacy. WSU Vancouver has had great leadership over the years. We have been in growth mode since our earliest days, and that will continue. We need to honor all that we have accomplished in our first quarter-century and prepare for continued growth as we move forward. Whether it’s new programs, residence halls, or other opportunities to grow, we need to be thoughtful and intentional. The challenge is to get everyone talking together and working together as we write this new chapter in our history.
what is your greatest opportunity?
WSU Vancouver is part of one of the greatest universities in the world. We have access to resources that few institutions of our size have. We also are part of Southwest Washington, a community that has embraced our campus and our mission. These two facts taken together give us incredible opportunities.
Every day we make a difference in our community. Our students, faculty and staff engage in service. Our faculty conduct world-changing research that involves our students. We partner with so many businesses and organizations. In other words, we have this incredible opportunity to provide a transformative education and to bolster our community economically and culturally.
what’s your vision
for wsu vancouver?
I think our three big themes for the next several years are enrollment, infrastructure and community. Of course, these three things are in service of our primary institutional goals, which are to provide a world-class education to our students and to engage in groundbreaking research that will serve our world. We need to do that by managing our growth effectively and responsibly.
what is the best way for someone to engage with you and the university?
There are so many points of entry, it’s hard to say. I like to think of every person among the faculty and staff, and every one of our students as an opportunity to engage with the university. We should always be engaging with the community, and we will always welcome the community’s engagement with us. In my first two months, people have come up to me at the Vancouver Farmers’ Market or at a concert in Esther Short Park. They invite me to meetings to discuss issues of importance to WSU Vancouver or to the community. I’m busier than I ever imagined, but I do my best to be accessible.
what is your guiding principle?
I like to move forward intentionally. Though I will take a happy accident, I much prefer to think strategically about things, set a goal and develop a clear path to achieving that goal.
what is your yardstick of success?
If we provide transformational experiences for our students and community through our instruction and research, it’s a good day.
what do you consider your most remarkable professional achievement to date?
At Keene State College I had the honor of working with an incredible group of men and women who completely overhauled the college’s curriculum in just a few years. We revised every program. We developed a new general education program. And most importantly, we integrated new forms of student learning that used technology, incorporated student research and gave student curricular experiences that brought them into the community.
Our community became stronger and our students learned more.
what was your toughest professional decision?
Personnel decisions are always the toughest for me. No matter what the issue or who the person is, we are a profession that is built on human service. Every decision we make affects someone’s life, and I always try to remember that.
I have had many generous people who have helped me grow as a person, a teacher and an administrator. I have been truly blessed to learn from some of the best people in higher education. But two people deserve a shout-out here: Dr. Muriel Howard and Dr. Helen Giles-Gee. As one of those faculty who was reluctant to leave the classroom for administration, Dr. Howard taught me that we can change the lives of our students from many vantage points. As provost, I had the opportunity to see Dr. Giles-Gee lead our campus every day. Both challenged me, counseled me and gave me a whole lot of tough love. I am a better person and a better chancellor because of them.
what is your favorite band?
My academic background is in communication, with an emphasis on popular culture. I listen to a lot of music, keep current on TV and love going to theater or films. There is a lot of great music out now (Beach House, Adele, Decemberists, Passion Pit, Rufus Wainwright, Stew). My favorite groups of all time would have to be Sigur Ros, The Cure and The New Pornographers.
what is your favorite movie?
I can’t say. It’s the answer to my security question in a number of places. And I have many films that I have enjoyed over and over.
what is your favorite vacation spot?
Fernie, British Columbia is top of my list. Lee and I try to get there a few times a year to ski and hike. Our move to the Northwest makes getting there a lot easier, but the beauty of our region is just as breathtaking. For my urban fixes, New York City is my favorite place, particularly for the theater and museums.
how do you like to spend
your free time?
Free time? I like the healthy combination of outdoor activities and cultural pursuits. I am getting the impression that it is going to be both thrilling and frustrating that I have joined a community that has such a big helping of both. I may have found the perfect place to live and work.
This article appears in the Fall 2012 issue of NW Crimson & Gray Magazine.
NW Crimson & Gray magazine is a quarterly magazine produced by Washington State University Vancouver that highlights the WSU Vancouver community and higher education in SW Washington. Subscribe for free or download the issue online.