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Off and Running

Mazachek lays out big plans in first months of presidency

President JuliAnn Mazachek posing with the Washburn women's basketball team

(JuliAnn Mazachek posed with the Washburn women’s basketball team after she was announced as the university’s new president on Jan. 11, 2023. Photo by Jeremy Wangler)

From The Ichabod - Spring 2023
By Jeremy Wangler

When JuliAnn Mazachek returned to Washburn University as the new president this February, Alan Bearman was asked by a friend what his work would 
be like.

“I told him I’m going to have to buy a new pair of tennis shoes,” said Bearman, who was recently promoted to vice president for strategic enrollment management and dean of student success and libraries. “She is a person of vision. She's going to have the plan, she's going to have the program, and we're going to be moving forward.”

Mazachek became Washburn’s 15th president and the first woman to hold the position on Feb. 1. She’s no stranger to Washburn, though, as she was vice president for academic affairs from 2016-22 before becoming president of Midwestern State University (Texas) last spring. Previous roles in her 30 years at Washburn include president of the Washburn University Alumni Association and Foundation for 15 years and dean and a faculty member of the School of Business, starting on the faculty in 1992 and becoming dean in 1998.

“I've always felt a tremendous amount of responsibility whatever job I've been in for making sure we're serving our people, which has always been our students, our alumni, our donors, faculty and staff,” she said. “But I feel a greater responsibility than I've ever felt in the past. I have the ability to think about what we can do differently and reimagine our future. People really are looking for us to move forward in directions maybe we haven’t been able to in the past. I’m really excited about that.”

“I’ve known Juli to be extremely passionate about Washburn,” said Marshall Meek, mba ’17, president, Washburn University Alumni Association and Foundation. “She’s well connected, extremely intelligent and highly motivated to make Washburn an even better place.”

A Collective Focus on the Student

Since starting, Mazachek reworked Bearman’s role to bring together enrollment and retention efforts.

“With enrollment management, student success and libraries now in a unified unit, we have a singular focus on the student from the first contact in the recruitment process, to the first-year experience, to the student’s success, retention and on-time graduation,” Bearman said. “It's a singular unit now working with that student all the way through.”

Charging Bearman with this task is one example of how Mazachek leads.

“I really believe when you bring smart, committed people together and you have them work on the most important issues, we come up with the very best innovative, creative solutions together,” she said. “I consider it part of my DNA of leadership to be inclusive and listen to a lot of voices before we're able to make the best decisions moving forward.”

President JuliAnn Mazachek meeting with parents and high school students

(JuliAnn Mazachek met with high school students and their parents at a Finnup Scholars event this spring in Garden City, Kansas. Photo by Josh Rouse)

A History of Leading and Connecting

One of Bearman’s favorite examples of Mazachek’s leadership was when she was vice president for academic affairs and he oversaw student success and retention. Mazachek wanted on-time graduation rates to climb more than 10 points to 50%.

“I said, ‘I don't know, Dr. Mazachek. We can maybe get to 44. Fifty may take us 10 or 12 years.’ I remember her saying we don't have 10 or 12 years. We've got four or five,” Bearman said. “But we talked our way through it. We developed an understanding of how to get there, and then we got on with it. In every step of the conversation, every step of the process, there was clarity about what we were trying to accomplish and how we were going to accomplish it. That’s pretty close to the ideal work situation.”

“And guess what? We got there. We were at 54% on-time graduation in five years.”

Meek’s most memorable experience with Mazachek was completing 150 Forward Focus, a multi-year comprehensive campaign that raised more than $140 million for Washburn.

“For me, it doesn't really matter if I'm working on a big, audacious project or something much smaller, I just enjoy working with her,” he said.

Mazachek recently announced a seven-year plan to best use the buildings on campus after the School of Law moves into its new home this summer. Those changes will no doubt offer more chances for Meek and Mazachek to work together (read more about the plan on page 8).

“We're excited to see her vision take shape and to help make it become a reality by connecting alumni and donors to the vision and articulating to them how they can help transform the university,” Meek said.

Ever-changing Student Demographics

Mazachek has stressed the crossroads higher education is at in the United States. The traditional student coming directly from high school will want and need opportunities right away to work in the field they’re studying. Adults will want new degrees, certificates or even just a few additional college credits to build or change their careers. Course delivery methods must be widespread.

“We start to talk about what students are going to want in the future, and you begin to realize, over the years Washburn University has served all of those different student population bases,” Mazachek said. “Now, it's just using the tools and technology we have to reinvent how we deliver education to students and perspective students.”

And those students, in any stage of their career or education, can find professional opportunities in Topeka and the region.

“We're in the capital of Kansas, in a thriving economy, in a growing community and in a place where students can begin to work while they're here and get real-world experiences while they're still students,” Mazachek said. “They can hit the ground running. We believe we're in such a great position to meet the needs of the future.”

Rooted in Topeka and Kansas

Born in Topeka, Mazachek was raised in St. Louis, Missouri. She earned a bachelor's degree in mechanical engineering from Missouri University of Science and Technology (then the University of Missouri-Rolla) in 1984, a master of business administration from the University of Kansas in 1987 and a doctorate in accounting from KU in 1993.

“I attribute my love for education to my experience at Rolla,” Mazachek said. “And I was very well prepared by my experiences with the faculty and staff at the University of Kansas.”

She met her husband, Keith Mazachek, while they were students in Rolla. They both received graduate degrees from KU. Keith’s field is engineering, and he previosuly taught and managed Washburn’s pre-engineering program. He will teach part-time again at Washburn.

They have three children. Garrett Mazachek, ba ’14, is an Air Force pilot stationed in Japan. Kara Mazachek Cade, ba ’16, is a research manager at a non-profit organization in Washington, D.C. Stephanie Mazachek earned an accounting degree from KU and works in Kansas City.

Ready for Liftoff

President JuliAnn Mazachek speaking at a lecturnWith about eight months on the job, Mazachek will deliver her inaugural speech this October. She’s already making it clear students are her focus.

“I am passionate and wholly committed to our mission of education for all and ensuring we are providing opportunities to students no matter your background, no matter where you are in life, to find a way to achieve your educational goals and dreams,” Mazachek said.

Bearman and Meek are ready for the challenges and excitement to come.

“She's been a leader here for 30 years, and yet, you're going to see Washburn change a lot with bold new initiatives and big plans. It's going to be very exciting,” Meek said. “Her vision is going to be shaped by the input of faculty and staff, alumni and students - all the different stakeholders - because she's a good listener. It's not just going to be her and her vision. Washburn is going to be in a better place, we'll be a better university because of it. I'm excited to be a part of it.”

Bearman is prepared to trade his new shoes for space boots.

“You ever see a rocket launch and there's this moment where the energy's building, the energy's building and then boom,” he said. “That's Washburn. The energy is building, and we're about to really fly.”

Spring 2023 Ichabod magazine cover, roses and a rock wall in front of Morgan Hall

The Ichabod tells our story with features on alumni, faculty, staff, students and friends, along with the latest campus news. View the current and past editions


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