Throughout the many stops in his illustrious university career, Andrew Rogerson found college football and basketball difficult to follow. In fact, he never tossed a baseball in his life before throwing out the first pitch at a recent University of Arkansas at Little Rock baseball game.
"It nearly made the catcher -- not as easy as it looks!" Rogerson said poking a little fun at himself.
By all accounts, Rogerson, 65, a native of Scotland and chosen as the UALR chancellor in 2016, is immersing himself in Arkansas culture. He spends time with community leaders and advocates strongly for his university's unique niche in higher education, serving students in an urban area while beefing up research. He says he's putting his all into his new role, trying to think of all sorts of ways to enhance UALR while teaching himself the nuances of American sports.
"We have a fabulous Beautification Committee doing new flower beds and painting things -- little things but they make the campus attractive and people notice," he said pointing proudly out his office window. "Every yellow [parking barrier] pole has been painted yellow. They were all rusty before. Hundreds of them."
And he has become quite a basketball fan, playing a key role in the recent hiring of head coach Darrell Walker.
• DATE AND PLACE OF BIRTH: Jan. 1, 1953, Glasgow, Scotland
• FAMILY: Wife, Janessa, a former marketer of boutique wines; daughter, Zoe, 28, of Santa Rosa, Calif.; sisters, Margot and Ann, both of the United Kingdom.
• IN MY FREE TIME, I: Join my wife at a gym and on walks in the neighborhoods around UALR. I also like to paint and ride bicycles and motorcycles.
• WHEN I MET MY WIFE: It was a beautiful sunny day and I thought I didn't want to go home yet so I went to a [California] winery. I had a glass of wine and read my book and she happened to be working there. We met on a wine tasting. It was very nice, pure chance.
• MY FANTASY DINNER PARTY GUESTS WOULD INCLUDE: Scientists Stephen Jay Gould and Charles Darwin, artists David Hockney and Edward Hopper, and musicians Leonard Cohen and Natalie Merchant.
• A RECENT BOOK I ENJOYED: The Lewis Trilogy by Peter May.
• ONE WORD TO DESCRIBE ME: Innovative.
"We have to realize that we are Division I and we are in the Sun Belt. ... We have to take it seriously. [The basketball coaching search] opened my eyes," he says. "I had endless phone calls from everyone who was an expert in coaching with unsolicited advice. It's not my world -- I didn't play these sports, but I love going to them."
Rogerson describes his latest job as the "pinnacle" in his education career, which includes previous positions in Great Britain, Canada, Florida, South Dakota, West Virginia and most recently Sonoma State University in California where he was provost.
He's a man of the world, geographically and figuratively, a scientist by training with a specialty in oceanic microbiology. He loves motorcycles and old British sports cars. He also loves to paint, mostly landscape scenes, every Saturday morning. It's mostly a way to relax, but he has become an accomplished artist with an exhibit recently opening at the Butler Center of the Central Arkansas Library System downtown.
"He went down to Pine Bluff to watch a football game when he had a free weekend," said CALS director Nate Coulter. "It's hard to imagine someone who doesn't have any exposure to college football, but he's very eager to expand his horizons. He's very enthusiastic about the basketball program and the excellent faculty at UALR. All of this relates back to his commitment. He works so hard to help people appreciate why Little Rock needs this university. People are eager to listen to him."
HAPPY NEW YEAR!
Rogerson was a New Year's baby, born Jan. 1, 1953, in Glasgow, the largest city in Scotland, to William and Margaret Rogerson. He grew up hanging out at the rail yard where his father worked renting out railroad cars. With plenty of tools nearby and the mentoring of his father, he soon became quite a mechanic.
"I was always his sidekick when doing house repairs or doing anything with the cars," Rogerson said. "My first car was a Mini [Cooper]. My father insisted that we take it all apart and put it back together. He said, 'Now you know how to take care of your car.' It gave me an incredible confidence in life that I could cope with anything and be self-sufficient. It's served me well over the years."
When it came time for Rogerson to choose a career path, he initially considered art school.
"But my parents had invested so much in my education that they were definitely leaning toward something like science, which was more tangible," he recalled. "So, I became a scientist."
He received a bachelor's of science degree from Paisley College of Technology and a doctorate from the University of Stirling, both in Scotland. His thesis was titled "The Energetics of Amoeba Proteus."
Asked about the scientific work he's most proud of, he brings up a stop early in his career, as a research associate in the mid-1980s at the Atlantic Research Laboratory of the National Research Council of Canada in Halifax, Nova Scotia.
"Being able to work in top-end laboratories as the only biologist on a team of chemists trying to understand how these little plankton can make these little walls of silica," Rogerson recalls. "It was phenomenal. No one was worried about whether we were published or how much money we spent. It was really a team effort."
After a while Rogerson got the itch to advance in higher education administration. In 2006, he became the dean of the College of Science at Marshall University in West Virginia; in 2008, the dean of the College of Science and Mathematics at Fresno State University in California; and in 2011, the provost at Sonoma State.
"I had a good job [at Sonoma], but the general feeling was if I was going to make a jump to being a president, it's now or never," he said. "It's not too much of a shock [being a chancellor]. The really big difference I would say is that half of my job is being out in the community being an ambassador. The day-to-day, I delegate. There is a huge interest in this city to see this university succeed. Half of my interview [for the job] was with community members."
Becky Blass, president of the UALR Alumni Board, describes Rogerson as funny, engaging, smart and earnest. She said he's sincerely trying to learn everything about his new home while bringing a worldly perspective to UALR leadership. She praises him for streamlining the university administration by reducing the size of his cabinet.
"There are so many brilliant men in science who cannot carry on a conversation, but he's not that way at all," Blass said. "[As a scientist], he's not what I would have imagined. I was just thrilled to get someone from Scotland. He really takes everything in. He has really put forth the effort to meet people."
As chancellor, Rogerson is placing his focus on two areas: focusing on how best to provide higher education to a largely commuter student population and transforming UALR into a top-notch research institution.
"We're really pushing the teacher-scholar model," he says. "We're only hiring faculty with a strong research ethic. We need to be engaged in research/scholarship with students so students can think creatively, work as a team and learn skills employers are crying out for, especially innovation and critical thinking and communication skills."
He's proud of the Trojan Pathway program in which UALR works with and counsels high school students about the benefits of college. If they choose UALR and are college-ready, they receive $2,000 in scholarships. To local high school students, he emphasizes the financial benefits of attending UALR as opposed to somewhere out-of-state.
"Don't go to university and come out with a $30,000 debt -- you will never get rid of it until you are 50," he says. "You won't be doing anybody any good. Consider staying local because 50 percent of the cost of education is moving away from home. We are really looking to expand our commuter base and bring in more local students."
While some may thumb their nose at UALR as a "commuter school," Rogerson embraces the label.
"A person who lives off campus can work just as hard on research as someone who lives in a dorm," he said. "I was at Fresno State and it was big research school and a commuter school. It's a matter of hiring the right staff and faculty. This is a beautiful environment."
ATTRACTING MORE STUDENTS
So much of recent academic trends are focused on STEM (science, technology, engineering and math), but Rogerson takes a different view.
"It does not matter what the degree is," he said. "We are trying to take young immature adults and give them an education. Hopefully, they will come out as free-thinking adults ready for the world. I'm a STEM major, but unless you actually commit to getting a Ph.D, you are not really on a better career path than someone who did more liberal arts-based subjects. And we could easily saturate the market with computer science degrees. We love being a broad-based university."
What's his biggest challenge? Building enrollment, he said, because much of the university's budget is dependent on tuition. There are about 11,600 students now, and he'd like to get that up to 15,000, a number he says UALR could easily handle -- without more dorms.
"There is so much inexpensive housing in Little Rock -- come on, kids, get creative!" he says, smiling.
A report studying the feasibility of UALR starting a football team is due to be complete by July 1. Meanwhile, Rogerson is excited about UALR starting the first Division I wrestling program in the state, funded by a $1.4 million donation from Little Rock businessman Greg Hatcher.
"We are not going to do [football] on the back of our students," Rogerson said. "It would have to be a private investment or from the city or from the stadium [War Memorial]. We're really proud of our basketball program. When you look around at Villanova and Gonzaga, you can do really well with existing programs. I'm realistic. We want to support the sports we have at the moment. We don't want to dilute them by diverting to one new sport."
Rogerson displays a candid demeanor. He often says what he believes when others may give more carefully crafted or political answers. He gave a two-hour one-on-one interview for this article without a handler or an assistant sitting nearby, which is often the case with those in high positions.
For instance, he said he was "horrified" after taking the job to see buckets collecting water from roof leaks in the astronomy and physics building, something he quickly addressed. He describes his frequent stops in academia as coming about because "basically I went where the money was." He half-jokingly described a recent four-story Florida beach house purchase as excessive to the point of being "ridiculous."
"He's very factual," said Ruben Arminana, the former chancellor at Sonoma State who hired Rogerson as provost. "He doesn't act out of emotion. He acts on facts. He's very straightforward. There is no double talk or hyperbole. What he tells you you can take to the bank. He's very comfortable in his own skin. He has a great sense of humor. I've never heard him say a mean word to anybody, but he makes fun of himself."
He praised Rogerson for helping start a Wine Business Center at Sonoma. Perhaps because Rogerson's background offers the "rare combination of scientist/artist/mechanic," Arminana said his former colleague exhibits the empathy and communication skills to talk genuinely in detail about many things with anybody including students, donors, faculty, and "the people who cut the grass."
Rogerson and his wife, Janessa, have both come to love exploring the neighborhoods and restaurants of Little Rock. He said he had only driven through the city once back in the 1980s; his wife would visit family in Arkansas during summers as a child growing up in California years ago. They have become especially enamored of the old stately houses that fill areas throughout Little Rock, such as the Quapaw Quarter.
"It was almost a disappointment that one of the requirements of the job was staying in the chancellor's house, which has its advantage because it's free, but we had our heart set on finding an old house from the 1900s or 1910s," Rogerson said. "I don't mean to be insulting, but it's really much more of a cosmopolitan city than both of us imagined. We love downtown, SoMa and Hillcrest. It's like mini Berkeleys everywhere."
“Don’t go to university and come out with a $30,000 debt — you will never get rid of it until you are 50. You won’t be doing anybody any good. Consider staying local because 50 percent of the cost of education is moving away from home.” - UALR Chancellor Andrew Rogerson
High Profile on 06/10/2018
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