Indiana University of Pennsylvania went the extra mile for its new president.
And vice versa.
Michael Driscoll assumed his duties on July 1 - after completing the 6,600-mile journey from his previous assignment as chief academic officer and provost at the University of Alaska-Anchorage.
New Indiana University of Pennsylvania President Michael Driscoll said his first priority is to listen and learn about IUP and its surrounding communities.
IUP remains a popular choice among area students. The university reports more than 1,700 alumni living in Blair County and more than 3,200 in Cambria County, with a current enrollment that includes 702 students from Cambria and 305 from Blair.
Driscoll took some time recently to speak with Mirror Managing Editor Neil Rudel.
Mirror: How was the drive?
Name: Michael Driscoll
Education: Graduated in 1988 from Michigan State with a doctorate in electrical and computer engineering
Family: Wife, Becky; two adult children, Katie and Greg
Last stop: Driscoll was the chief academic officer and provost at the University of Alaska-Anchorage.
Regional tie: Becky Driscoll's family is originally from Curwensville.
Driscoll: We took about three weeks with a few stops to visit friends and family.
Mirror: Coming all the way from Alaska, can you describe your transition?
Driscoll: I grew up in Michigan, and western Pennsylvania seems like home and closer to home than any place I've lived in the last 25 years, so it's been an easy transition in that sense.
Mirror: What did you know about IUP when you encountered its opening for a new president?
Driscoll: I knew a bit about IUP because the dean of fine arts, Michael Hood, used to work at Alaska-Anchorage, and we had met. He told me about this wonderful place that he had worked at.
Mirror: Not to sound overly provincial, but does someone willing to go that far away have to overcome that in an interview?
Driscoll: I think how well a person fits in a particular campus and community culture is always important, so that answer is yes. But I don't think coming from that far away is special. The personality characteristics and the culture of the community fit really well, and if they didn't, I shouldn't be here.
Mirror: What have been your early impressions of this region?
Driscoll: It is beautiful country and coming from Alaska, that was very important. Alaska is a very beautiful place. It's nice to see hardwood trees, which Alaska didn't have, and it's beautiful country. I haven't seen an oak tree in six years and didn't see very many in Portland. [He previously worked at Portland State.] If you think about heating up there, you're putting soft wood in a fireplace, which is much different than an oak or maple log. But the most important thing is the people on this campus are wonderful, engaged, hard workers and looking forward to the future. The communities we've visited have been incredibly welcoming and friendly, so we're really enjoying living and working here. I feel lucky to be here, and I'm looking forward to being here long enough to learn about all the communities around. It's a fabulous opportunity. This institution is a great place, and I look forward to doing great things in the future.
Mirror: What have been your first priorities?
Driscoll: My No. 1 priority is to really listen and learn about the community. I haven't walked in with a grand master plan for all of us to jump into. I'm just learning who we are and where we need to go in the future of IUP.
Mirror: Is it too early to say where that future is?
Driscoll: In some ways it is, but there are certainly things about this place that are wonderful and make us distinctive. Our faculty and staff are wonderfully dedicated and working on real-world things in the classroom with a student-centered approach. And that underlies everything. Our teacher education has been fabulous. We're working on a base of sustainable resource development, and that's happening with the resource of Marcellus Shale in a responsible way. We have a really strong set of programs related to safety and health, a nursing school that is superb and lots of programs that connect - and some that have yet to be discovered by me.
Mirror: Can you disclose the length of your contract and your commitment to stability in the position?
Driscoll: The typical practice of the PaSSHE [Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education] is a three-year contract and then I would get evaluated every year. There's been some transition in the president's job here at IUP over the past 10 years. All of us want to bond together and get the work done during an extended period of time, so stability is important.
Mirror: You have a notable background in fundraising. Is that the biggest challenge facing higher education today?
Driscoll: Because we have seen in public education a decline in state appropriations across the country, finding those revenue streams so we don't have to raise tuition too high are critical. Fundraising and philanthropic gifts are a key part of diversifying our revenue streams so the bottom line balances.
Mirror: What is your regional recruiting presence in surrounding areas like Altoona and Johnstown and parts in between?
Driscoll: We certainly reach out across the region and state and beyond the state. We touch students across western Pennsylvania and primarily PA residents, but I've met a number of students from New Jersey and beyond the Philadelphia area.
Mirror: What makes a great university president?
Driscoll: That's a hard question to answer because each university is unique in a time of its development. I think you have to listen, adapt and convince people to move forward together. That may be a characteristic of a great leader and not limited to a university president.
Mirror: What do you like to do in your spare time?
Driscoll: The little spare time I have I try to spend time with my wife, and I'm addicted to crossword puzzles. I also like to read about Naval history.
Mirror: Do you have a favorite vacation spot?
Driscoll: I like to visit with family more than anything else. That takes us to Alaska, northern Michigan and California. It's not so much about the places but the people.