Meet the Chancellor: Part 2

For an interview with Dr. Matt Lucas, the former chancellor of IWU-National & Global, keep reading here. If you'd like to read an interview with our current chancellor Dr. Eileen Hulme, check out our more recent blog post.

Q: So, the first job that you had post-grad was as a high school English teacher. Even after you got your doctorate, you still were working in the high school setting, what led you to stay there?

A: It was the students. I was a young man, a 26-year-old and had completed my doctoral coursework and thought that I was the smartest guy on the block and already knew everything that I needed to know. In my undergrad, one of my degrees was in education, so I already had my teaching certification and figured that I would just teach for a little bit. And then I got the list of classes that I was teaching and saw I was assigned freshman English. I thought I should be teaching AP English and I had the lowest level classes. Near the end of the first semester, God really started pointing out my arrogance as a teacher, and I found out that I really wasn’t as good of a teacher as I thought I was.

So, I started asking myself, what would it look like to love my student? I don’t tell many people about this; I don’t even really know what possessed me to do it in the first place. But I started writing my students’ parents letters. When you start writing a letter, you have to be honest and sometimes you really have to look for things to say… because some kids aren’t easy to love. Especially when you’re teaching remedial English. In some instances, I was like, “What can I even say?” 

I wrote the first batch of letters and didn’t hear anything back for about a week. Then the feedback started trickling in from students and they started changing. I had parents coming into my office just crying, saying, “I’ve never had a teacher ever say anything nice about my kid.” I’m getting emotional here just thinking about it. That broke me as a teacher. I realized I have more influence than I realized and it forced me to reckon with what is wrong with our system. Kids are getting to ninth grade and their parents haven’t heard a positive thing about their child from the school system. 

I really miss that. When I started in education, I told my wife “I’ll never work in administration.” The second job I had after graduation was part-time administration and I’ve never left. I run into a handful of students at different events or things and it’s nice, but it’s not transformative for them. They’re probably just like you, asking, “Who is this guy? What even is a chancellor?” If they do understand, that’s great, but they want to talk to the faculty member who had that impact. That’s what I want, truly. Even though I can’t experience it firsthand, there’s a lot that I can do to make sure that our students can be as successful as possible. 

Q: What’s your greatest accomplishment?

Dr. Lucas: I’ve never really been good at identifying what my great accomplishments are professionally. I don’t really think I’ve ever set out to accomplish anything individually. I know this sounds cliché, but I have tried to live this out: The greatest accomplishment for me is when I create an opportunity to thrive and a team accomplishes more than they thought possible. My definition of leadership is serving and empowering a team, so they can accomplish more than they thought possible for a better future. That’s something that I want to permeate our culture, so it’s not even something that can be traced back to me, it’s just a part of who we are as an organization.

Q: Finally, what advice would you give a student who is about to pursue higher education?

Dr. Lucas: This is the advice I gave my daughters when they went off to college, my students, and the advice I wish I could have given myself at 18: permission to fail. 

This is from a book that has been most transformative in my thinking called Mindset by Carol Dweck. She was an educational psychologist who studied failure and motivation in kindergartners who hadn’t been jaded by the educational system yet. In her study, she discovered a group of five-year-olds who were finding difficult tasks and failing them. But they were completely entranced and weren’t getting frustrated over them. They hadn’t reached the thought process of, “when I fail, that means there’s something wrong with me.” Which is a fixed mindset. Dweck realized that you can train your mind to have a growth mindset. After further research, she identified that everybody has both a fixed and growth mindset, it’s a matter of focusing in and honing the growth mindset.

So, I would say this to a student: failure is okay. Your failure doesn’t define who you are. How you respond to your failure defines who you are.

Q: Is there anything that we didn’t talk about that you think is important for our students to know?

Dr. Lucas: We try to live our mission out and I think we do a good job most of the time. But we are human and we fail. There are things that we’re not performing well in. If you see those things, we want to know because it is not intentional and we do want to get better. And I believe the best way to do that is to listen to you, our students.

Q: So if a student has a concern or comment, where should they go?

Dr. Lucas: We have an email set up that students can email: This is something we’ve been working on for a while and there are other ways that we’re looking to engage students in the future.

IWU National & Global | 1886 W. 50th St. | Marion, IN 46953