|THE KEENE STATE COLLEGE MAGAZINE FOR ALUMNI AND FRIENDS||VOLUME XX NUMBER 2 Winter 2005|
At ten years and counting - and with retirement looming in June - President Yarosewick takes a brief look back.
With retirement next on his agenda after 10 years in the top leadership post at Keene State College, Dr. Stanley Yarosewick reflected on his life and career as he answered questions posed by the editors of Keene State Today. The interview took place in his office on October 20, just hours before the Red Sox played the Yankees in game 7 of the American League playoffs.
In retrospect, what would you say is the best preparation for being a college president?
First, being a Red Sox fan – it teaches you about adversity. You learn to deal with heartache and frustration.
Actually, I never thought about being one; I wanted to teach. I taught physics at West Chester University in Pennsylvania, and I had a wonderful time with my students. One day the dean of arts and sciences walked in and asked me to assist in his office. I wasn't sure I wanted to, but thought it might be a way to help. I found out I enjoyed it and could have a positive impact. I ended up as academic vice president for nine years, and then one year as interim president. In my second year back teaching, the Keene State job opened up.
I found that being a college president is like running a small city. One thing you need to do is build consensus. To do this, you have to be open to different ideas, be a good listener. I think I've been creative in finding some solutions. But sometimes there simply isn't a solution! I'm not one to read all of those management books – I just try to be myself.
Is there anything you wish you had done differently here?
I haven't really thought about that. I've found that it's not generally useful to second-guess yourself. I don't dwell on things or hold grudges; I move on.
The first big decision I had to make here, oddly enough, was the toughest one in the whole 10 years. It dealt with athletics, and the possibility of moving from Division II to Division III. The campus was on fire! I met with everybody, because I knew it was important for the campus and for me. I kept changing my mind on the issue – it was an extensive back-and-forth process. Finally, a week before the press conference announcing our decision, I concluded that Division III was the best choice for the College. I told the coaches my decision before the press conference.
Some coaches threatened to leave (they're still here), and some students cried. It was tough – it pained them.
Reflecting back, it was the right decision for Keene State. In Division III, our teams have been very successful, and our campus is more united. It is better overall for our graduates. The decision was accepted because people felt they were being heard.
Someone said to me recently, "You really like this job, don't you." It's true. Some of the issues have been tough, but I love problem solving.
What were you like as a kid, growing up?
I grew up in Exeter, New Hampshire. Both of my parents were born here, then went back to Poland during the Depression and grew up there. My parents didn't even finish high school – college was a foreign entity to them. I grew up speaking Polish, French-Canadian, and English as a third language. Unfortunately, I don't speak Polish well anymore.
As a kid, for entertainment I listened to the radio and read Classics Illustrated and other comics. We never had much money. We'd pick blueberries for pie and muffins. We three kids ate a lot of Polish food – galumpkes, pierogis – that my grandmother cooked for us when she came to live with us after the war. My parents owned their house, and my mother still lives there, alone now. There was at least 50 years of wax build-up on her linoleum! My sister stripped it for her recently.
I played baseball and basketball in our neighborhood with lots of other kids. Talk about diversity – we had it. In the summer, we would play baseball for days on end. The field was a gravel lot, not a real baseball diamond. In left field, a cliff at the edge went down into a swamp, and it was an automatic out if you hit there. So we had to learn to hit to right. Third base was a telephone pole. To hit a home run, you had to hit the ball completely over the highway department building at the back of the field. If the ball landed on top, it was a double. We never had a new baseball; ours were always taped and retaped together.
We also played basketball. Sometimes we sneaked into the court at Phillips Exeter Academy to play. Sometimes we could play there for a couple of hours before they threw us out. No one in our neighborhood actually went to school there.
In all of our sports, it was just kids – we had to be our own umpires. You learn a lot of skills that way – you learn to take turns, to compromise. And it was a tough neighborhood, too – one of my old neighbors is in the penitentiary, another one was murdered.
I went to a Catholic school for the first eight grades, then to an all-boys high school. When I was young, I invented board games and sports. I even sent a board game to Milton Bradley once. I used to play chess, too. When I finally got into computers, I got into Myst – it's full of puzzles, which I love.
I had a part-time job as a kid working at Champagne's Supermarket, which was eventually sold to Grand Union. They were hoping I'd become a manager. But I wanted to go to college. I commuted from Exeter to UNH as an undergraduate. I was good in math, and I enjoyed the challenge of physics, although I struggled, especially the first year. But the more I worked, the better I got. I got a C in pre-calc, but second semester I wrote a perfect final in calculus. Finally things began to fit together, but it took nearly a year of struggle.
I think I acquired a good liberal arts education, partly at UNH and partly through life experiences. I took German with Arno Lepke – he told me I had a "Baltic" accent. In Europe he had been a pianist until the Nazis cut off one of his fingers. I also studied Russian history, and one summer during summer school, I studied American government and politics with Bob Dishman at the same time the political conventions were going on. One thing I regret is not taking courses in art.
How would you characterize our students today?
They are more experienced in the world than I was as a student in the 1950s, much more worldly, with more distractions and more information, more media. I think life was simpler for me. Young people get bombarded today. We had to use our imaginations more. Today's students are not prepared for college in the same way I was. It's a different generation, and their strengths are different. Today's kids respond more to TV and computers, and to shorter messages.
Many students come here unsure about higher education and what it means. Our faculty and staff have found ways to nurture them and build confidence. I've seen some truly amazing transformations, often because a faculty member took an interest in a student. That inspires me.
What does Keene State offer that is special?
We call ourselves "New Hampshire's public liberal-arts college," and I think it's worth examining what we mean. The liberal arts as we understand them today include not only the arts and humanities but also the natural and social sciences, including my discipline, physics. All of these subjects are taught side-by-side here with professional programs such as teacher education and safety studies. Liberal arts majors need practical skills; professional majors need a broad understanding of cultural, historical, and ethical issues. The liberal arts are practical – they prepare students to function well in a complex world. Every area of study at Keene State embodies those principles.
The word "public" is very important. We may have the feel of a private college, but we offer access to everyone. We're not Harvard, and we should be proud of who we are. I'm the first person in my own family to attend college, so I'm very proud of Keene State's high percentage of first-generation students and their economic diversity.
"Public" also means having a responsibility to the community around us. It means service learning, internships, volunteering. By making our liberal-arts education accessible to a broad cross-section of students, we can help make higher education in the 21st century what universal elementary and secondary public education was to the 20th century.
As the best colleges have always done, we promise to help students find their own answers to the question we ask in the Viewbook: "Who do you want to become?" We want the answers to come out of rigorous study of the liberal arts and sciences, and we want to help prepare good citizens, people who are flexible, skilled, committed.
So, Dr. Y, who do you want to become when you leave Keene State?
I haven't really had time to think about retirement. The best advice I've heard is don't jump into anything the first year. I just don't want to get over-programmed. I might do some part-time teaching in physics or math, or I might do something completely different. Computer graphics fascinate me – maybe I will finally take art lessons, to grow in a different area. I'm also into fantasy football, which I play with my sons. Last season I made it to the semi-finals!
I know Mary-Lou will miss Keene and her friends here – and the Rec Center and the pilates workouts. We'll be near two of our three sons in West Chester, and we also have a lot of friends there. Mary-Lou taught there for 25 years. We have four grandchildren – the oldest is in college at Washington and Lee; the youngest is only 5 months old. I think my grandchildren will be happy I'm there. Once when they were playing together, they came up to me and announced, "We want an adult to play with, and we choose you!"
Of course, I'll be rooting for the Red Sox. I may have to get satellite TV.