With Weber State University President Brad Mortensen’s inauguration set for Founder’s Day, Jan. 7, The Signpost took the opportunity to sit down with him and introduce him to the student body.
Where did you grow up? What was it like then and now?
“I grew up outside Rexburg, Idaho, a rural community called Lyman, and I had three younger brothers. I like to say that we grew up on a dirt road, our closest neighbor was a mile away and they were my cousins. My dad worked in a potato processing plant in Rexburg and had a small farm that he kept real busy at, and that gave us a chance to work on the farm growing up. He told me, ‘I knew you would never be a good farmer.’
I’m a first generation college student, and my dad eventually saw how he was being passed over for people who had degrees, so he encouraged all of us to go to school and get our degree, so that was really meaningful to me.”
What is your family life like?
“My wife and I have four kids; our oldest daughter graduated from Weber State. She is married and lives in Ogden. We have a son who just graduated from USU. Our next daughter is a freshman here at Weber, and then we have a son who is a 9th grader at Mt. Ogden Junior High.”
Where is your favorite place to vacation?
“I don’t know that I’m a big traveler, but I always like beaches. I don’t care where as long as it’s warm. But I love being up in the mountains, too, just even all the trails we have around here. When I need to get away, I just like to go on a hike, to go up to Ben Lomond or Lewis Peak or Famous Peak. To just get out and get a little bit of nature and perspective and that’s really rejuvenating for me.”
How did you spend the holidays?
“We just like to spend time as a family, and we like to play games. I’m kind of competitive, so it doesn’t always end well.”
What advice would you give to college students that you wish you would have had?
“I was very much like a lot of Weber State students. I didn’t get involved very much in campus life, and now I see all the research about how that contributes to your quality of your experience, beyond what just happens in the classroom.
Sometimes you make investments in yourself that don’t immediately show up in your bank account. And I realize that it’s difficult to balance. In the long term, they are going to be of more benefit. I would encourage our students to try and find a way to work that in with everything else they are trying to manage.”
What has your time at Weber State been like?
“My time at Weber State has just been more fulfilling than I imagined it would or could be. I’ve come to love the school and what we do, and our students and faculty, staff and community. I really do have the love and passion for it, and I’m really proud of what we do. We are always trying to make it better for our students and our community.”
What is one thing you want to accomplish during your time as president at Weber?
“As a university, we have three core themes and a three-paragraph long mission statement, but it boils down to three words: access, learning and community. If there is one thing that I hope we can accomplish, it’s that we as a university look at how we can learn as well. That will allow us to better serve our students, to adapt as times change in meaningful ways and help us continue to stay relevant.
If there is one thing that I can do while I am president, it’s that we can realize that learning just doesn’t apply to what the students do here, but that we all need to have that attitude of learning and to be a real learning organization as well.”
Did you think this would be part of your career?
“The short answer to that is no. Especially a big, well-respected university like Weber State. I always hoped that I would be lucky enough to work at a place like this but never really dreamed of being the president.
After I graduated from USU, I went and did an internship back at Ricks College for a year. They called it an administrative internship, and I just floated around to any office that needed me to work on a project. It was really cool and gave me a broad perspective on how a college worked. But I remember asking the president, ‘so how do I get a real job in this field?’ He said go and be a budget analyst because that lets you see the big picture.
The entry level jobs let you become an expert in that department, and I think I was very fortunate that my entry into higher education was in a position where you were forced to look at the big picture and that helped me to see how things interrelate beyond the campus.”
What plans do you have to connect with students and others on campus?
“I said when I was interviewing that I was not going to a listening tour because listening tours imply that there is a start and a stop to the listening, and instead, I’m going to embed listening as one of the fundamental tenants of my presidency.
I have gained so much insight talking and listening to students just about their experience at the university that has been really valuable for me as I’m sitting in this position. The same is true of our faculty and staff; we have so many good people involved here in every way, and they all have great ideas and great perspectives.
I don’t believe that all of the great ideas in the future for Weber State will come from the president’s office. They’re going to come from the students, the faculty, the staff and others in the community. My responsibility is to try and understand those ideas and try to remove barriers to help them. It’s really important to me to maintain that open dialogue.
There are a lot of difficult issues out in the world today. I hope that we can foster an environment at Weber State that we can learn to listen to each other and have constructive dialogue, where people can at least leave knowing that they have been understood and they understand the other side’s perspective a little bit better. Not all these conversations are going to be easy, but let’s try to understand where we are coming from. I hope to be able to engage and interact with students and faculty.”
Tell me about your Louder and Prouder tour and what you want to accomplish with it.
“I don’t know how many dozens of times someone has said ‘Weber State is just the best-kept secret.’ They mean it as a compliment, but it’s really not because it is wonderful that people recognize once they find out about us that we’re doing good things, but we don’t want to be a secret. We need to continue to do the right thing but take a little bit of time to tap the many accomplishments that we have.”
It’s the one-on-one connections that make the difference. I think there is a lot of support for Weber State out there, and it is our job to rekindle that and keep the flames burning bright.”