Dr. Heidi Macpherson reflects on five years as president of The College at Brockport

By on October 14, 2019
Standing in the office of the president at The College at Brockport are: President Heidi Macpherson, Ph.D. and Professor Allan Macpherson, Ph.D. Photo by Dianne Hickerson

Standing in the office of the president at The College at Brockport are: President Heidi Macpherson, Ph.D. and Professor Allan Macpherson, Ph.D. Photo by Dianne Hickerson

“I have been very lucky in my

life to do work that actually transforms

people’s lives.”

“In our fifth year here at Brockport, we were discussing how quickly the time has gone and how invested we feel in the village and the college – I am speaking for both of us now,” Heidi Macpherson said about herself and her husband, Allan. 

Heidi is president of The College with a Ph.D. in American Literature. Allan is Professor of Management at the University of Liverpool in England with a Ph.D. in Management from Manchester Metropolitan University. He advises students working on the Doctor of Business Administration degree (DBA). 

Influencing students’ lives

That statement set a relaxing tone for the interview with Heidi and Allan Macpherson at her office on campus. She likes to be called “Heidi.” She values personal contact over the official labels of academia. For this wise and gentle woman, her leadership is less about authority and more about transforming lives.

Teaching in the classroom* 

“When I was 19 years old, I decided I wanted to be an English professor,” she said. “I have never varied from that. I have been very lucky in my life to do work that actually transforms people’s lives. I started as a professor of American Literature and author (at the University of Central Lancashire, Preston, England). I wrote, I taught classes and I truly loved being in the classroom. I miss it.”

“I feel strongly about public education with really good teachers focused on kids’ success. That’s what I have always looked for in colleges where I have worked.” She cited Brockport and her alma mater, St. Cloud State University in Minnesota as examples. “I loved teaching about 30 students at a time and helping them plan their lives. Now (as president) my canvas is much larger. I have an opportunity to reach more people. I think there is no higher mission than that.” 

A visiting teacher and mentor

She misses the classroom contact, but, “Every once in a while, a faculty member will invite me into the classroom to give a presentation. I love that because it keeps me connected with the students.” She also teaches one student at a time. “I take part in a first-year mentor program working one-to-one with a student who has been selected to work with me for a year. It’s always been a young woman. We have fun talking about her own development as a leader.”

“Actively engaged in the life of the community”

In a March 17, 2019 article, President Macpherson said, “We are always educating new groups of students about how to be good neighbors (as they live in or frequent the village). One of the goals of the strategic plan is that the college engage with our community” she said, adding that “Leaders on campus must role model that behavior. If we are hosted in a village, we have to remember that our hosts need our expertise, our time, our students; they need us to be actively engaged with the life of the village.” 

She was asked how she is involved in the community. “Once a month we do ‘First Friday’ at the Burlingame House – the President’s House or the Alumni House. In July, we had about 150 people in our back yard for a barbeque. In his September 29 Newsletter, Bud Meade said, “Last month a large and ravenous crowd enjoyed the First Friday in September hosted by President Heidi and Allan Macpherson, at their residence. It was a great mix of town and gown (affiliated with The College) people that is expected to be repeated at the 3:30 to 5:30 gathering at the Alumni House on Friday, October 4, 2019.”

Dr. Macpherson said about the backyard barbeques: “It’s a great opportunity. We don’t ask anything of people except to gather together and to celebrate that we live in such a wonderful area.”

Besides the social events, Dr. Macpherson explained the nature of her direct personal involvement in our community. “Most of my volunteering for the community is in Rochester,” she said, adding that her duties do not allow much time for hands-on volunteering. “I do that because it gives an opportunity for the College at Brockport to have a wider presence in the area.” (See side bar).  

Involving students in the community

Dr. Macpherson discussed how students get involved in our community. “Our biggest outreach is called Saturday of Service. About a thousand Freshmen select from sixty different organizations, volunteering up to four hours at a time,” she said. “They work at Morgan-Manning House, local parks, cemeteries, churches, and along the canalway clearing brush or painting bridges. We know in that one Saturday they make friends, meet others with similar interests, and often volunteer again.”

She added that sports teams rake leaves for homeowners in fall, take part in a food drives or clothes drives, and escort kids on Walk to School Day. They also help new freshmen move into their residence hall. 

Involving faculty in community**

Dr. Macpherson described how faculty “engage with our community” in three different ways. One is the Lifelong Learning Program that allows anyone over 60 in New York State to audit classes for free. A second opportunity is attending Mornings with the Professors. “In Mornings with the Professors, they talk about their research and how it impacts community,” she said. “It’s really cutting edge, for example a lot of work on The Great Lakes during concerns about flooding.” The third opportunity is public lectures on the campus with either a professor or a community member speaking on a subject of current interest. (See details at: alumni.brockport.edu/learning.) 

Final comments 

The Macphersons had some brief reflections to cap the interview:

Allan said, “It’s been fun meeting people in the community. At events like First Friday (once a month at the Alumni House) we get to know faculty, staff as well as local citizens. Also, serving on the local preservation board for about three years has helped me connect with people.”

Heidi said, “We feel that this has been such a great move for us. It’s been so nice to be part of the village. I can’t think of any better job than being president of this amazing college.”                 

 

Dr. Macpherson is on the boards of:

•Willow Domestic Violence Center

•YWCA of Rochester and Monroe County

•Chamber of Commerce of Greater Rochester

•United Way

She is President of the Rochester Area Colleges Presidents’ Network. She works with ROC the FUTURE, a collaborative community-wide project to improve the academic achievement of children in the City of Rochester.

 

*In March 17, 2019 Hamlin-Clarkson Herald and Suburban News, “Brockport’s Town/Gown Committee” by Doug Hickerson

**In February 26, 2017 Hamlin-Clarkson Herald and Suburban News, “The College at Brockport brings Lifelong Learning to the community,” by Doug Hickerson