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3 finalists to interview for top job at Penn State Harrisburg; one is a graduate from there

By Jason Maddux

jasonmaddux@pressandjournal.com

717-944-4628
Posted 2/7/18

The search for Penn State Harrisburg’s new chancellor has been narrowed to three candidates, who will be on the campus in the first half of the month for further interviews.

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3 finalists to interview for top job at Penn State Harrisburg; one is a graduate from there

Posted

The search for Penn State Harrisburg’s new chancellor has been narrowed to three candidates, who will be on the campus in the first half of the month for further interviews.

Penn State Harrisburg Chancellor Mukund S. Kulkarni plans to retire on June 30, after more than 30 years of service to Penn State, including the last eight in his current position.

The three candidates are:

• Dr. William Behre, provost and chief academic officer at Georgian Court University in Lakewood, New Jersey. He was scheduled to be on campus Feb. 6.

• Dr. John Mason, vice president for research and economic development at Auburn University in Auburn, Alabama. He is a 1972 Penn State Harrisburg graduate. He is scheduled to be on campus Feb. 12.

• Dr. Kumara Jayasuriya, provost and vice president for academic affairs at West Virginia State University in Institute, West Virginia. He is scheduled to be on campus Feb. 15.

William Behre

Behre has nearly 25 years of experience as a public school educator, university researcher, professor, faculty leader and higher education administrator.

He became provost at GCU in February 2014, and he is responsible for partnering with deans, department chairs and members of the President’s Cabinet, according to the school’s website. As provost, he is also charged with academic program development and review, research and sponsored projects, and faculty development.

He earned a doctorate in education with a focus on special education policy from the University of Michigan, has a master’s of science degree in education from Hunter College and a bachelor’s degree in economics from Vassar College. He worked briefly with a New York public relations firm before entering the education field.

Prior to joining GCU, he was on the leadership team at The College of New Jersey. He served as vice provost, interim vice provost, and as assistant vice president for grants, enterprise initiatives, and summer and off-campus programs. He is a former dean of TCNJ’s School of Education.

Behre lived in Pennsylvania for 16 years, in Bucks County, when he worked for The College of New Jersey, so he said he’s familiar with the Pennsylvania educational system.

“I value strong institutions that serve first-generation students, who might not otherwise have access to education,” he told the Press & Journal. “Smaller institutions serve this really, really well.”

He said Penn State is in a great situation to have the large main campus that serves one set of needs while having branch campuses that help serve another.

Behre said there is a great deal of similarity between PSU Harrisburg and The College of New Jersey in terms of the scope of degrees.

“I think I’m very good at helping faculty build programs to lead students through to graduation,” he said. “I have a broad background in higher ed governance.”

He said he understands the concerns some residents have about colleges in their communities.

“Any college in a community is probably seen in that community as a mixed blessing. Colleges bring traffic, potentially noise, all those types of things,” he said.

He added: “What a college can bring is engagement.”

The enthusiasm of students can be marshaled to enrich the community, he said.

While at The College of New Jersey, a center there helped mobilize 1,400 students to go out and do significant amounts of service in the community, from working at soup kitchens and environmental cleanup to helping translate documents from English into other languages.

He said he is excited to have gotten this far in the interview process.

“When you get to this state, it’s an interview in both directions. They are trying to figure out who this guy is and if he is the right person to lead this campus. I’m trying to figure out the same thing, as it relates to my career,” he said.

“There’s a lot of potential for the college to be seen as a real benefit to the community.”

John Mason

John Mason received his bachelor’s degree in transportation technology from Penn State Harrisburg in 1972, one of the first years there was a graduating class from the college that then was known as the Capital Campus.

Since then, he has had a varied career that has taken him to Texas A&M for his doctorate degree in civil engineering, 20 years in a variety of jobs at Penn State’s main campus in University Park, and nearly 10 years at Auburn University in Auburn, Alabama.

As vice president at Auburn, he serves on the president’s cabinet and provides leadership for strategic planning for the university’s research enterprise and economic development initiatives, according to the university’s website.

He is responsible for economic and research program development, public and private externally sponsored programs, technology transfer, commercialization efforts, the Auburn University Cyber-Initiative, and the Auburn University Huntsville Research Center. His duties include budget planning and allocations, personnel, compliance, economic development relations, and research related legislative (federal and state) initiatives.

He worked at the University Park campus from 1987 to 2008, the last 11 as the associate dean of the College of Engineering. He was also the director of the Pennsylvania Transportation Institute, Penn State’s transportation research center, from 2005 to 2008 and a professor of civil engineering, among other roles.

He holds a bachelor of science degree in transportation from Penn State University, a master’s of science degree in transportation engineering from Villanova University, and a doctorate in civil engineering from Texas A&M University. He is a registered professional engineer licensed in Pennsylvania.

He is working on the Capital Campaign fundraiser for Penn State Harrisburg. From 1988 to 1990, he was on the board of directors of the Alumni Society for Penn State Harrisburg and chairman of the bylaws committee.

In 2012, he received the Penn State Harrisburg Alumni Achievement Award, from the School of Science, Engineering and Technology, for “leadership in the profession and significant contributions to the betterment of society.”

“I just simply have an affinity and a passion for that place,” Mason told the Press & Journal about Penn State Harrisburg.

“It was an excellent opportunity for me when I was an undergraduate student, and I’m just so proud to see how it’s matured. It would be exciting to come back there and work with that group of students and faculty and share some of the things I’ve done over my career and hopefully be of some benefit to Penn State Harrisburg,” he said.

He and his wife are from the Allentown/Bethlehem area. He spent his first two years at the Penn State Allentown campus before getting his degree here.

Attending Penn State Harrisburg worked well for him, he said, because it was an affordable place and he could work on weekends or on breaks and afford the tuition.

He has had his eye on the chancellor job.

“When I heard of the opportunity, I said, ‘Boy that’s something I’ve been thinking about for a long time.’ Sometimes you have to wait for certain things to line up as an opportunity,” he said.

He has been impressed with how Penn State Harrisburg has advanced to “almost a destination campus” with a large number of international students and a diverse student body, he said.

When he attended Penn State Harrisburg, there was a diversity as well, but he said it had more to do with life experiences.

“You had returning (Vietnam) veterans — our senior in age, older than most of us — to learn from them the experiences they had, that always stuck with me that it was a campus that had the traditional people coming up from high school but also was more of an adult population, completing their degrees,” he said.

In the early 1970s, graduation was held at University Park. However, he said, Hurricane Agnes wiped out those plans.

Other than his experience in the Penn State system, he said one of his strengths is the interest he said he’s always had in teaching and working with students.

He said working in the Penn State system previously is also a huge benefit.

“It was good to have an understanding of the people and the mind-set at University Park and being familiar with the way the system works and the organizational chart,” he said.

“When someone said, ‘What’s going on there in Harrisburg?’ I could stand up and say, ‘I know exactly what’s going on in Harrisburg. Let me tell you about it.’ I was more of an advocate also. There was a definite allegiance to the place,” he said.

While there will be plenty of questions asked of him during his visit, he also plans to gather information from students and faculty and listen.

“I want to find out from the students, what kind of issues are they facing? Tuition is an obvious one. But there could be other things. The probability of getting a class when you need it. What about the facilities? Advising? Have the students been placed in jobs after graduation? I’m trying to get a feel for their production because you are an institution and the production is the students. So I’d like to know what are the students’ concerns,” he said.

He said the “town and gown relationship” between a college and its surrounding community involves constant discussion.

“I would be arguing it’s a win-win situation. There are communities that would love to have an academic institution as a driver in their community. There’s got to be an open dialogue with community leaders, leadership on campus, dialogue with students about the realties of life. I don’t think there’s a playbook per se,” he said.

He cited one of his titles at Auburn, which is vice president for economic development, which requires him to do a lot of outreach, including with the local mayor and developers.

“I think that’s very important, that the university shouldn’t be separate from the local community. They should be an integrated whole,” he said.

To attract good students, you need scholarly faculty, he said.

“My background in the research area, I really encourage faculty to keep coming up with new knowledge. That way, the students are the best-trained students. It really affects the curriculum. To me, I don’t see research as something separate. But research makes the faculty member give better information to the students,” he said.

Kumara Jayasuriya

Jayasuriya was appointed provost and vice president for academic affairs at West Virginia State in July 2014. He previously served as associate vice chancellor for academic affairs and a professor of mathematics at Purdue University North Central, from 2011 to 2014. From 1993 to 2011, Jayasuriya served in a variety of positions at Indiana University East, rising from assistant professor of mathematics to dean of the School of Natural Science and Mathematics.

During his tenure at the Indiana University System, he received numerous teaching awards including the Faculty Colloquium on Excellence in Teaching which is presented to a faculty member who has demonstrated an exceptional commitment to teaching and learning through areas of self-evaluation, course preparation, research, instructional skills and student impact, according to the West Virginia State website. In 2003, he received the highest faculty honor awarded at IUE, the Helen Lees award for excellence in teaching.

Jayasuriya was one of 15 individuals chosen from the Midwest and Western regions of the United States to serve on the Higher Learning Commission’s “Design Think Tank,” a committee asked to design the organization’s Academy of Persistence and Completion, addressing retention and graduation rates.

Jayasuriya earned his doctorate in mathematics from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee in 1993.

He holds a master of science from Southern Illinois University and earned his bachelor of science from the University of Colombo-Sri Lanka.

Attempts to reach Jayasuriya for comment were unsuccessful.