Published: Jan. 14, 2015

Continuing the Erickson legacy

When W. Bruce Erickson created an endowed faculty chair at Michigan State University, he knew putting additional funds in the hands of faculty would empower bold ideas. Growing up the son of Clifford Erickson, the former dean, he recognized the quality of the research and teaching in the College of Education. And he believed there was untapped potential to achieve his mother’s mission: to help more people, especially non-traditional students, attain a higher education.

More than a decade later, not one but three professors have held the Dr. Mildred B. Erickson Distinguished Chair in Higher, Adult, and Lifelong Education (HALE). They have used revenue from his $1.5 million investment to deepen and expand their own research and also to hold major conferences and host national experts on campus. They have created new student internships, research assistantships and trips to explore higher education policy in Washington, D.C. and other countries.

Typically, funding for academic programs is already committed to salaries and general expenses, so resources set aside for a faculty chair can provide a much-needed catalyst to start up innovative projects and programs. In the College of Education at MSU, donors can be certain the benefits of creating an endowed chair will spill beyond one individual professor. In the case of the Erickson Chair, the recipient — which rotates every three years — has flexibility to decide how to spend an annual allocation of the endowment.

“It reflects in the culture of our program,” said James Fairweather, HALE professor and former Erickson Chair. “We made a decision as a faculty not to make it a permanent appointment, but figure out the best ways of using the money to promote faculty work and student success.”

While in the position, Fairweather directed much of the funds toward students, such as creating summer internship opportunities to study issues in higher education policy. John Dirkx, professor and most recent Erickson Chair, studied the growing impact of graduate-level study abroad in partnership with the Office of Study Abroad at MSU.  Ann Austin, professor, explored changes in the careers of faculty members across the nation.

“I really appreciated the opportunity to meet with Dr. Erickson and express our gratitude for his gift,” said Austin, who was the first Erickson Chair.

Sadly, Bruce Erickson passed away in 2012. However, his family legacy in the College of Education lives on thanks to his generosity — and the family members who will proudly carry the honor of his name.

Invest in faculty, change the future

As leaders in their respective fields, faculty members in the College of Education at Michigan State University are a collective force for improving education and human development. The faculty is known for contributing powerful new knowledge through their research, modeling excellent teaching for their students and empowering change in local, national and global communities.

The faculty is broad, with more than 120 in the tenure system and on average 10 new hires each year. The college's reputation draws talented scholars to MSU but financial incentives are also needed to bring them here. The college needs endowed chair positions — a coveted honor and powerful funding source — to help the college recruit and retain more of the most sought-after faculty and remain competitive with national counterparts.

In education, Michigan State University is already ranked among an elite group of both public and private universities, competing for the brightest students and faculty, despite the fact that peers outpace the college in private funding for faculty. Endowed chair positions will elevate the reputation, and the capacity to make an impact as Spartans do — not only for their own careers but for the common good.

Learn more about giving and Empower Extraordinary; The Campaign for Michigan State University>>

Photo by Derrick L. Turner

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