Back where it all started, a homecoming of sorts.
It took just two words to convince Dr. Ronald Elsenbaumer to move from Texas to Fort Wayne.
“Purdue University,” he smiles. “I earned my undergrad degree from there and have considerable respect for the institution. It obviously changed my life.”
Elsenbaumer seems to adapt well to change. He’s spent the past seven months settling into his new role as chancellor of IPFW, overseeing its monumental transition to Purdue University Fort Wayne.
But being here – or at any university for that matter – is something he never expected.
“Working in higher education was not my plan at all. It wasn’t on my radar,” Elsenbaumer says of his intentions after getting his degree in chemistry.
His love for science bloomed during his freshman and sophomore years of high school. “I was hooked,” he says. “That’s all I wanted to do.”
The Allentown, Pennsylvania, native was the first in his family to go to college. He went on to earn his doctorate at Stanford, worked in the private sector for more than a decade and then spent 26 years at the University of Texas at Arlington.
That’s where he grew to love academia.
“I appreciate the important components of higher education. It’s more than just sitting in a classroom and learning from a textbook,” Elsenbaumer says. “It’s about engagement and involvement and taking what you learn in the classroom and finding ways to apply that knowledge in a multitude of ways.”
Now he is applying his own knowledge to formulate and execute his vision for Purdue University Fort Wayne.
“It’s very exciting because we’re doing so many things so well. Taking the two flagships, IU and Purdue – it’s like having two parents instead of one. Using all those resources to provide a broad-based education for students,” he explains.
Elsenbaumer plans to build on that strong foundation. He says the realignment and rebranding, which became official on July 1, will make it easier to promote the university and everything it has to offer.
“Our promise is education with a purpose. Everything we do when we look at it, we are teaching, training and developing students with a purpose. This is an opportunity to expand what we think is important: internships, service learning, study abroad, leadership, athletics, on-campus living, clubs & organizations,” he continues. “There are so many dimensions that need to come together to provide a well-rounded education. All the stuff you don’t easily see.”
He also hopes to increase the number of graduate programs, attract more students from other states and develop more mutually-beneficial partnerships with local businesses. Doing so, he believes, will help the school play a crucial role in boosting the economy.
“We graduate 1,800 students a year. We need to double in size for us to have meaningful impact on the economy. They want this region to grow to a million people. How are we being part of that solution? How are we bringing people in and educating them and keeping them here?”
He’s focused on answering those questions and determined to make Purdue University Fort Wayne a key to northeast Indiana’s success. He says 89 percent of IPFW graduates stay in the region; a good number, but one he plans to improve upon.
His to-do list also includes buying a house and getting his wife, who’s still in Texas, moved here. He’s eager to show her the school, the city and the region that he’s become so fond and proud of.
In addition to bringing his wife here, Elsenbaumer says he wants to be deliberate in his approach to bringing more students to PFW.
“It’s really important to grow – and to grow in multiple dimensions. Not just getting individuals here but recruiting from further distances and even looking at the international student population. Increasing on-campus housing. Those are must-dos for us. And we have to do them in lockstep with the community.
“We’ve become a very important asset to this region. We need to make sure we’re listening to what the community needs. It’s an exciting time for the evolution of this institution and I’m happy to be a part of it.”
Address: 2101 E. Coliseum Blvd. Fort Wayne, Indiana 46805
Phone: (260) 481-6105