Mark Hagerott takes charge at North Dakota University System
The path back toward the capital was one not envisioned by a farmer’s son from northwest Mandan, but it was one taken with vigor. While he had returned regularly to help out on the multi-generational family farm, he’s now moved back after being selected to head a system housed just across the river.
Chancellor Mark Hagerott has formally taken charge at the North Dakota University System, taking on a new role that is both literally and figuratively close to home. Although he spent many years as a Navy officer, Hagerott is no stranger to the world of higher education. He comes from the Naval Academy in Annapolis, Md., where he served as the top civilian, and the deputy director of the Center for Cyber Security Studies.
Those experiences allowed his perspective to take shape, from the roots of agriculture to the 10,000-foot views of policy. He’s always aimed to be mindful to what students would need to find their own success, but he’s also kept an eye on where policy met reality.
The apple didn’t fall far from the tree. His father, Don Hagerott, spent plenty of time on the farm before striking out into the world to make his way. There, he also found a life as a sailor, working on electronics ranging from the old vacuum tubes to more solid state items.
So it was that service came to Mark. Long before moving back home with his wife, Ann, and before their kids James, Jill and Virginia had arrived, he entered military service.
“I felt that service to the country was important, and I saw an outlet in working with technology and as part of a technical work force,” Hagerott said, noting that myriad moments spent training or in education were emphasized in day-to-day duties. He recalled his time in the Navy and the accountability that came from a formal ship-bound relief-of-duty when the official hand-off with Interim Chancellor Larry C. Skogen drew near. “On June 30 we looked at each other at 5 p.m. and I said, do I take over now? No matter what, on July 1, this system became my responsibility.”
Looking back at his initial time at the academy, he reflected on how his cohort had transitioned from civilians to service members.
“I realized how amazingly my classmates and I had changed – it helped us to see the world in whole new ways: to better understand people, and also understand and master our machines,” he said. “In the early days our challenge was nuclear reactors. Today that challenge has changed.”
As his career matured, he transitioned from the narrow passageways of ships to the broader halls of academe. Hagerott credited part of the transition to Navy leaders who identified a shortage in faculty who’d served outside academia. To remedy this shortfall, they recruited fleet officers and engineers to become professors and administrators.
That experience underscored the value of a broad education, while at the same time giving him different perspective on furthering veterans’ educations.
“It’s crucial that veterans, who have a record of selfless service to the country, return to advance their education so they serve in different parts of our society,” he said. “Their experience fighting and defending our country will help strengthen the values of others who go to college without such experience.”
Hagerott was quick to note that although veterans could add a wealth of experience to programs of study, the focus needed to remain on the larger student body to create an educational environment that was welcoming for all. His background, which includes both education in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) and the humanities, may help.
“I can appreciate the challenge our faculty face teaching technical, but also crucial importance of humanities and social sciences, which help answer, ‘Why are we here?’” he said. “How do we strengthen our state, both the people/communities but the machines they use throughout the oilfields, medical labs and computer centers?
“We have a wonderful ‘team of teams’ in our higher ed system here in North Dakota who have produced generations of N.D graduates,” he continued. “I’m honored to join them, to help understand future needs of the state and its communities and how we can adjust to those needs. Similarly, I’m looking forward to partnering as we can with private and tribal schools in our region to help deliver the best education possible.”
In addition to those possible partnerships, Hagerott is planning to meet with legislative, business and community leaders from throughout the state. He hopes the listening tour will give him insight into how these leaders see the future of higher ed in N.D.
“I want to just get out and listen,” he noted. “I expect state organizations and the North Dakota University System will have to do more than ever to build a competitive, prosperous state. I’ve worked at the federal level in the Navy and at the Pentagon, and the federal government seems to be facing increasing limits on problem solving. That means we have to solve things locally and regionally. You can’t do that without listening.”
Gov. Jack Dalrymple said he is looking forward to a new chapter in the advancement of higher education in North Dakota. Dalrymple noted that the 11 campuses are currently functioning very well and creating great opportunities for our young people, but work remains to be done in improving the public perception of the overall governance and effectiveness of the system. The Governor is very optimistic that Chancellor Hagerott will bring that opportunity.
Hagerott added that he hoped to help bring a positive light to many aspects of higher education.
“Higher education is a crucial tool to make our workforce competitive, lifelong learners,” he said. “We need to explain the importance and value of everything from our two-year programs to our doctorate programs.
“NDUS is a dedicated, committed and robust system,” he added. “I plan to work with the presidents, vice chancellors and the State Board of Higher Education committees to find the right balance of efficiency, quality, accessibility and affordability.”