Lake Erie College takes off under ‘hands-on’ president
By Douglas J. Guth
When Lake Erie College president Michael Victor arrived on campus in 2006, the 157-year-old liberal arts institution in Painesville was technically co-educational. However, almost three-quarters of the school’s undergraduate population was female, not exactly a healthy figure for a college trying to boost its enrollment.
Those numbers have changed under Victor’s tenure. Charged with transforming Lake Erie into a fully co-ed environment, the school president spearheaded a movement that doubled population now neatly split between male and female students.
Part of that success can be attributed to turning Lake Erie into the first NCAA Division II school in the Cleveland region. The college offers an entire trophy case worth of sports, including football and lacrosse. The school also expanded its sports management major along with other academic offerings traditionally aimed at men.
Today Lake Erie has 1,200 students roaming the campus, but it has not lost its cozy, traditional feel, Victor says. During his time as president, there has been much more to building the school than ensuring the intramural co-ed volleyball team has the same amount of guys and girls.
Fundraising, for example, has been a major component of Victor’s tenure. The nearly $40 million he helped raise for the school has been plugged into capital projects like facility renovations and a brand new science building. Just as importantly, the effort has significantly increased the public awareness and profile of the college.
“We have a great alumni base and a citizenry that believes in our mission,” Victor says. “If you believe in a vision and the community buys into it, things can happen very quickly.”
Lake Erie’s mission under Victor’s guidance has been preparing its young charges for the brave new world of 21st-century business. With Northeast Ohio’s international reputation as a health science hub, the college has added a number of degrees in fields like exercise science and occupational therapy. Its school of business, meanwhile, is designed to prepare pupils for an ever-shifting post-grad environment characterized by globalization and the power of information technology.
“We recognize the hard skill sets and critical thinking needed,” says Victor, who knows a thing or two about business himself. In the late 1980s, the Pennsylvania native and a partner took a small plastics firm and turned it into a thriving fiber optics company. The firm was sold in 2000, and Victor went on to teach business at Gannon University. Before arriving on Lake Erie’s campus, he was dean of the school of business at Mercyhurst University.
“Leadership starts at the top. I learned, by running a company, how important it is to be hands-on. a happy campus makes for an engaged community.”
Running a bustling co-ed institution of any size requires strong leadership, but at a smaller college, those in charge have to be both visible and approachable, Victor notes.
Each year the school hosts a coat-and-tie affair at the president’s mansion that allows students to mingle with faculty and administrators. Victor himself can often be seen walking around campus, at sporting events, in the cafeteria eating with his young charges, or telling people about Lake Erie’s unique, century-old traditions. If the president sees a piece of litter on the ground, he’ll pick it up and deposit it in the nearest trash can.
This behavior, even with seemingly small things like cleaning up trash, reflects Victor’s philosophy that “leadership starts at the top,” he says. “I learned, by running a company, how important it is to be hands-on. A happy campus makes for an engaged community.”
Change has been good for Lake Erie, Victor adds, and more is on the way. The existing campus library will be renovated and offer the newest cloud computing technology. On the academic front, the school leader expects master’s programs to be added throughout several fields of study.
Continued growth does not mean the school will lose the intimacy Victor has been cultivating the last seven years. Educating young people for the world after school will always be personal for the college president.
“Interacting with students keeps you young and energized,” he says. “These are the people who will be changing the world.”
For more information: lec.edu