Fairmont State’s Interim President Maria C. Bennett Rose always knew she would be a teacher, but she never dreamed of becoming the president of a university, let alone her alma mater.
"Growing up I always wanted to be a teacher. I was one of those kids who played school," Dr. Rose shared. "Never in my wildest dreams did I think I would someday be sitting here."
Head of the Class
Dr. Rose has made education her life’s work. She began her career as a teacher in a two-room school in Idamay upon graduation from Fairmont State College in 1969. She is now serving as her alma mater’s interim president. While administration was admittedly never her goal, it appears that certain qualities have naturally prepared her for this current leadership role. An individual will not go long in a conversation with faculty, staff and other Fairmont State constituents without hearing about Dr. Rose’s "sincerity," "depth of knowledge," "professionalism", "collegiality", "dedication," "selfless service," and, perhaps heard most often, "student-centered focus."
Having served as both a member of the faculty and of the administration, she understands the inner workings of higher education. Her longevity at Fairmont State provides a solid frame of reference and a well-rounded perspective. With only a few weeks on the job as interim president, Dr. Rose could speak knowledgeably and thoroughly about campus issues and initiatives ranging from cloud computing to HVAC renovations in Hunt-Haught Hall to the transferability of classes to developing the state’s only accredited Masters of Architecture program.
Lesson Plan for Success
When asked about her goals and priorities during her interim presidency, Dr. Rose promptly began numbering off a list of initiatives, then paused and said with a laugh, "This is probably going to turn into the Top Ten List." Even so, the depth and breadth of this inventory gives promise of forward momentum and progress during a time of institutional transition.
High on Dr. Rose’s list of priorities is relationship building—specifically to continue to develop an optimal working relationship between the University and Pierpont Community & Technical College. "Even though we have distinctively different missions, we still have a lot of opportunities to collaborate and work together. I think we need to make a greater effort to work on that collaboration as we move forward."
Dr. Rose acknowledges the need for private fundraising to provide University programs with a margin of excellence and scholarship support that state funding alone cannot. A top priority is to partner with the Fairmont State Foundation, Inc., to accomplish this mission. "As the University—deans, faculty members, Institutional Advancement—all of us need to play a role in fundraising in conjunction with the Foundation. When we have open and effective communication among all these groups then we will be able to move our fundraising efforts forward."
The growth and advancement of the University is a goal Dr. Rose tempers with due diligence and the responsibility of keen decision-making. "We want to see the university grow, but we don’t want to grow beyond our capacity. We need to grow strategically." She candidly said, "We need to take a hard look at all of our programs and academic offerings. We need to make sure we are giving our students exactly what they need to be successful in our global economy."
Dr. Rose went on to discuss improving retention and graduation rates, stating that the "consolidation of all student services in the new Turley Student Success Center will help our students, especially first-generation college students, to have the tools they need to succeed in higher education."
In addition to Turley Center renovations, several other construction projects will be managed and completed during the interim period, including the completion of the second floor of the Frank and Jane Gabor West Virginia Folklife Center, remodeling the press box at Duvall-Rosier Field, HVAC renovations in Hunt-Haught Hall and Hardway Hall, the acquisition of property adjacent to the Caperton Center, and installation of an external elevator at the Ruth Ann Musick Library to improve accessibility to parking.
Amid relationship building, community engagement, and academic and capital improvements, reaccreditation is a paramount presidential priority. Also, with the Higher Learning Commission’s accreditation site visit scheduled for October 2012, a steering committee has been formed as well committees to address each of the accreditation criteria. In November of 2010, then-Provost Rose and all committee chairs met with the HLC liaison. The University will receive its final report from the HLC in the spring of 2013.
It Only Takes One
While Dr. Rose was a first-generation college student, "there was never a doubt in my mind or in my parents’ minds that I would go to college," she said. "I could not have had more loving and supportive parents than I did. They are both gone now and I miss them every day."
Coincidentally, Dr. Rose is an only child and her husband of 42 years, Tom, is also an only child. Tom and Maria also have an only child—their son, Alex. Alex, a computer systems analyst, is married to Tanya, a mortgage broker, and they make their home in Florida. Tanya has a daughter, Shelby, who lives in Connecticut with her eight-month-old daughter, Juliett. Dr. Rose uses Facebook to stay connected to her long-distance family.
Tom, an electrical engineer, recently retired from Consol and continues to do consulting work. Tom and Maria attend many events on campus and his mother will often join them for the Masquers or Town and Gown performances in Wallman Hall or at Pricketts Fort.
Dr. Rose affectionately spoke of the four golden retrievers that have shared their home over the years and their 16-year-old cat. Although the Roses do not have a dog now, they enjoy dog-sitting for Pierpont President Doreen Larson’s standard poodle, Jack.
While actively involved in myriad Fairmont State activities, Dr. Rose also enjoys spending time traveling, reading, cooking and flower gardening.
FSU Is Coming Up Roses
While Dr. Rose may have never dreamed of being the president of a university, she has stepped up to the challenge and is leading Fairmont State into a new era.
Dr. Rose has a clearly defined vision for Fairmont State, which is "to provide the best educational experience for all students. Obviously that means academic programs but also so much more—lectures, fine arts performances and exhibits, participation in club sports, internships, co-ops and study-abroad programs," she said. "We want our students to be equipped to enter the workforce as highly-qualified and well-prepared employees, but we also want to prepare them for lifelong learning."
As she finds herself in this leadership position, Dr. Rose is served well by what has been and continues to be her guiding philosophy: "Treat everyone fairly and always do the best job I can do."
About this story: This story, written by Amantha Cole '03, was featured in the Summer 2011 edition of maroon & white. Click here to view this edition. To request a paper copy contact Beth Martin at (304) 367-4009.