WMU News

Superintendent-turned-professor to lead College of Education

April 1, 2003

KALAMAZOO -- More than 30 years after he started his career at the head of the class as a math teacher in South Bend, Ind., Dr. Gary L. Wegenke has been tapped to head Western Michigan University's College of Education, one of the nation's top-four producers of new teachers.

The former school superintendent and recognized expert in educational leadership, begins work as dean effective April 1. Final approval of his appointment is subject to a vote by WMU trustees.

"Dr. Wegenke brings to the position a long and successful career in school administration, in addition to his recent work as a faculty member in the Department of Teaching, Learning and Leadership," says Dr. Elise B. Jorgens, WMU Interim Provost.

As dean, Wegenke will lead WMU's largest professional college, the fourth-largest producer of first-time teachers in the nation. More than 5,800 undergraduate and 1,500 graduate students are enrolled in the college, which offers degrees through the doctoral level.

Wegenke says he is excited about taking the reins of WMU's oldest college, especially in the University's centennial year.

"I'm looking forward to working in my new role and having the College of Education take a good, hard look at itself, focus on its heritage and move forward with a renewed vision," he says. "Western began as a normal school, and this college has served people quite well over the course of its 100-year history.

"If we can continue to act on our heritage, help re-create communities for tomorrow where schools are at the center, and continue to work toward making the college a place where the very brightest can be sent to be educated, we'll be in excellent shape," Wegenke says.

The South Bend, Ind. native brings a wealth of experiences in--and outside--the classroom to his new role.

Wegenke earned his undergraduate degree from DePauw University in 1961, completed master's work in physical education at Indiana University in 1964 and earned a Ph.D. in education administration in 1971 at Ohio State University. There, he worked as a research associate and as a statewide planning and evaluation project director.

From 1972 through 1983, he was a high school principal, director, and an assistant and deputy superintendent in the Lansing, Mich. schools. He left to become superintendent of the Waterloo (Iowa) Community School District and in 1988, was appointed to lead Des Moines' schools.

In 1998 Wegenke returned to Michigan to work as a senior research associate with the WMU Evaluation Center and as an associate professor in the WMU College of Education. His work has involved several projects and public school collaborations, including the college's customized master's and doctoral program for educators in Oak Park, Mich., and WMU's $14.7 million GEAR UP effort, a federally funded program aimed at encouraging low-income youngsters to attend college.

He also is working with faculty researchers and the Kalamazoo Public Schools on a $1.9 million grant from the U.S. Department of Education to help teachers transition into school administration and to help existing principals improve in such areas as instructional and community leadership.

Wegenke's wide-ranging experiences, including his track record for creating win-win partnerships and bolstering diversity efforts, make him a good fit, search committee members believe.

"Dr. Wegenke is a seasoned administrator," says Dr. Margaret Merrion, dean of the WMU College of Fine Arts and chairperson of the search committee. "He brings decades of experience forging partnerships between K-12 education and higher education; collaborations between education and the business community; and collegiality among faculty, staff and management."

Wegenke also understands what the College needs at this point in its history, she says. "He has an excellent command of its formidable programs in undergraduate teacher education, the imperative of funded research, its capacity to continue excellent graduate education and the important disciplines in the College that are also in service to the community."

Throughout his career, Wegenke has drawn praise from community and professional groups for his work. In 2002, the WMU chapter of Phi Delta Kappa honored him with their Service Key Award for distinguished services. In Iowa, he was honored by the National Asian Family/School Partnership Project and the Black Ministerial Association of Des Moines. And as Iowa's 1994 Superintendent of the Year, Wegenke also was one of four final candidates that year for the American Association of School Administrators' national award. A year earlier he was named one of the nation's "100 Best School Executives" by the journal, Executive Educator.

Media contact: Gail Towns, 269 387-8400, gail.towns@wmich.edu


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