Take Five: Dr. Peter Will
Dr. Peter Will, who teaches management classes and principles of finance, is the 2012 Emerson Excellence in Teaching Award
and the 2011 Grandy Faculty Award winner.
A lifelong learner, in 30 years he earned bachelor’s degrees in chemistry, industrial technology and business administration; an MBA in general management, a master’s in financial economics, and a doctorate in biochemistry. He was a research scientist and industrial manager at the general pharmaceutical company Hoffmann-LaRoche until he returned to the classroom for good.
What prompted you to change careers?
I was working in the lab on research for many years, and enjoying that process. I thought it was going to be my career. One day my boss asked me to go to a product team meeting for him, and this sort of brave new world opened in front of me. There were scientists there, but there were also marketing people, production people, from places in the company I didn’t know existed. Suddenly this sounded really, really interesting. Hoffmann-LaRoche had a liberal education tuition policy, so I started taking some classes. I realized that I had so little business knowledge that I started at the bachelor’s level again and just worked through it over time. A few years later, I met a guy at Fairleigh Dickinson University who was looking for someone with industry experience to teach on that part of the pharmaceutical industry. That match was perfect and I moved over there. I had taught anatomy at Case Western Reserve and I really liked teaching.
What do you enjoy most about it?
Interacting with students. They are my highest priority. I don’t think of myself as a professor, I think of myself as a teacher.
You’re a big supporter of student events and athletics.
I go to a lot of things because the students are involved in them. I like sports, I like music. My father was a potter; my son is a painter; my son and daughter-in-law run a gallery in Philadelphia. Art is part of my life, so going to an art show is something I really enjoy. Curiously enough, the art gene skipped me. When I draw something on the board, my students laugh.
You are a Lebanon Rotary Club past president and you help find hosts for international visitors through the World Affairs Council. On campus, you serve on the Student Affairs and Distinguished Speakers Series committees, advise the Alpha Phi Omega national service fraternity and organize its Red Cross blood drives. What inspires this?
Alpha Phi Omega (APO) is deep in my heart. It was founded by the Boy Scouts. I’m an Eagle Scout, so it is sort of my soul. APO is a service organization. I think of service more as sharing. I like to share what I have, whether it’s cartoons on my door that I’ve cut out of the newspaper, or a news article for another faculty member. I focus on the kind of service that gives me satisfaction and that I see a need for.
How has your role as Faculty Athletic Representative (FAR) changed as the athletic program transitions to the NCAA?
I was made FAR about seven years ago. In the NAIA world, I was expected to support the student-athletes if they had problems with a professor or whatever, but my involvement was pretty minor. When we started to go after NCAA Division II, I was on the committee to discuss it and look at it from different perspectives. Then the decision was made and I got more involved in that.
What boosted things beyond anyone’s expectation was when we were selected for the Great Lakes Valley Conference (GLVC). It is one of the singular conferences in the NCAA, especially D-II, for a number of reasons. It has very high GPA student-athletes, and some very top notch schools. One factor that makes the GLVC practically unique in the NCAA world, is that the voting entity within the conference is the FAR. I carry the vote for McKendree in the GLVC. That is really unusual. It has put far more responsibility and involvement on me than ever before.
Interestingly enough, it falls into my teaching world. One of the big things we talk about in the management world is change. Well, the last three years have been about managing change! It’s extremely exciting. We’ve put our heart and soul into it. It’s a vision that we deeply believe in.
One thing that’s hard to transmit is the magnitude of change, the tiny little thing - literally thousands of them - that had to change. Athletic departments don’t join the NCAA; universities and colleges do. You have to change the records office, admissions, business office, financial aid, IT stuff. We’re partners on a team.
How do you challenge yourself?
I try to do things that I think need to be done that I’ve never done before. And it’s scary. Let me give you an example. I’d gone to a couple of NCAA national meetings in 2011 and 2012, and there were major workshops and presentations about diversity - particularly gender diversity, gender equity and LGBT (lesbian-gay-bisexual-transgendered) issues, rights and so on. Suddenly, I remembered something from grade school. We were learning to write, and a little boy in the next row, they tied his left hand down because we weren’t supposed to write with our left hand. He wasn’t doing anything wrong. Retrospectively, it sort of frightened me. Why would you do that? Handedness is a natural choice. All of us make it, left-handed or right-handed. Well, there is another natural choice we make: straight or gay. That comparison came to me last spring and I realized, this is really important and we’ve got to do something about it.
As FAR, I have a bully pulpit. So we had two LGBT sensitivity training sessions in August; one for the coaching and athletic staff and one for Student Affairs, RAs, RDs, Admission - people that interact with students the most. The football players were to arrive the next day, so I wanted to have this top of mind.
Through the GLVC we got a microgrant for a sensitivity training speaker, a poster campaign, and three magazine subscriptions for the LGBT community on campus. Those three things set a base for the first year, to build awareness.
I believe in visions. Getting involved in LGBT issues has been the latest challenge. I’ve never done anything like this before; I’m a chemist! Nothing prepared me for this. But I think nothing prepares you for a lot of real challenges.
Are you a sports fan?
I’ve followed professional baseball since I was about ten. Growing up in Red Oak, Iowa, my best friend was a Cardinals fan, so I semi-randomly picked the Braves and followed them forever. When (manager) Bobby Cox retired, it was the end of an era, and I switched to the Cardinals.
How did the new sport management major come about?
It was student-driven. In 2005, they said, “We’d be really interested in taking something in sport management.” So I had to do some research. I taught it every other year. We had no trouble filling the classes. Clearly there was an inherent interest. We started realizing if it has “sport” in the name, our students are really paying attention.
During the early years of working toward NCAA, we started doing some accounting of how many student-athletes we had. Over 46 percent of our student body was in varsity sports - not counting junior varsity, intramurals or cheerleaders. Probably have more than half of our student body is involved in athletics. If we talk about people that are involved in “sport” - including hunting, fishing, auto racing, etc. - it’s pushing threequarters. That is a huge number. It’s a reflection of society; it’s not unique to McKendree. For the number of sports that are played, we have about the same number of student-athletes as Ohio State. They have more sports, so you adjust for that, but a football team, a basketball team is the same size. I expect our sport management program to just take off like crazy. And the athletic equipment side of the major is the only one in the United States.
What would people be surprised to know about you?
I have about 800 slide rules. I’ve collected them for probably 25 years, back to my science days when you carried your slide rule on your belt. I also collect art.