10 Questions With New Schreyer Dean Patrick Mather
In June, Penn State announced that Patrick Mather would succeed Peggy Johnson as dean of the Schreyer Honors College.
Patrick Mather, an alumnus of the honors college, is bringing his academic career full circle by coming back to Penn State. We sat down with him to talk more about his experience at Penn State and learn why he decided to return to the place where his academic career began.
Onward State: What brought you to Penn State as an incoming freshman?
Patrick Mather: Well, it was like a strong family pull. My family was huge into Penn State from an athletics point of view, and my dad identified that Penn State was a very good engineering school, and I liked physics. So, we put two and two together, and I applied to Penn State knowing that there was just an admiration for the school overall. It seemed to align with things that I was interested in studying, although I didn’t really know what engineering was.
OS: How is the honors college different now than when you were an honors student?
PM: I was in the University Scholars Program, which is what they called it then. It had a lot of similar features to the honors college today, but not as structured. One thing that it had in common with the college today is a great emphasis on culminating experience with research. That was something I ended up loving. I was a little bit fearful of it at first, but I ended up loving it. It also had sort of a scholarly community. I remember being invited to many different seminars way outside of my major or general area of interest, and that really broadened my perspectives. It certainly sort of challenged me intellectually. I think that lives on today. Now, there’s a lot more structure around student success and student support and resources. Financial resources, but also guidance and connections. So that’s a definite improvement.
OS: What was your favorite memory as a Penn State student?
PM: My professors. My professors in my particular major, which was engineering science, seemed to love their job and love their research. As a student, I was drawn to their energy, excitement, and to their interest in me as an individual. That sort of lit me on fire for what would become a trajectory and sort of doing my own career as a scientist and engineer. But they made it really personal. I remember all of those professors, and they knew me by name. Occasionally, I still remember, for example, being invited to the department head’s house on Foster Avenue for a picnic with just students. It was very meaningful, and I liked the close-knit community of that department.
OS: You previously mentioned that you were in a band while you were a student. How was that experience?
PM: I was in a band from, I believe, starting sophomore year. I played guitar, and we had two guitarists in the band. I was, you could say, the lead guitar player, but we shared that role. That was a great pressure relief if you know what I mean. Being in a band gave me an outlet that brought balance to my life. Instead of studying all the time, or being in the lab all the time, when we would do the band, we were either rehearsing or playing at bars or fraternities. I was just enjoying the songs and making people happy because music can do that. Collectively, we were bringing a component of joy to people’s lives, and that was super fulfilling. There’s nothing like playing live music, enjoying it myself, but also seeing other people enjoy it. That, I think, made Penn State sustainable for me. It gave me energy, relaxation, and it helped me continue sort of the work hard play hard kind of mentality. I’m naturally an introverted personality, and being in a band was like a really good way to be social and not have to start conversations with people. Although, now I can do that.
OS: What brought you back to Penn State to be dean of the Schreyer Honors College?
PM: The opportunity seemed, and still does, perfectly aligned with my preparation in leadership. There was an arc of my career that was being a professor, then being an institute research director, and then an academic dean. In all of those different things, I was sort of learning how to lead, what the student experience was like, and what it meant to develop a strategic plan. This was all sort of learning on the job. And then I see this opportunity for leadership at the Schreyer Honors College, which is a student-focused college as opposed to maybe a research or faculty-focused college. That seemed perfectly aligned with my values. Not to mention, it is the place that got my career started. So I feel like a certain draw to give back to Penn State. It checked all of the boxes, not to mention, I love State College. For my family, my wife and I, in particular, we just saw the personal life, family life, career trajectory, and the job requirements made it the perfect job.
OS: What has been your favorite experience as dean so far?
PM: SHO Time. On orientation week, I didn’t really know what I was getting into, but it is the best student orientation program I’ve ever been part of. I was along for the ride. It was well organized by Donna Meyer and her team of many, many students, orientation mentors, etc. I just got to see the excitement. I got to explain my story to new students, Mr. Schreyer’s story to new students and families, and then celebrate the beginning of the academic trajectory for our new students with a very entertaining couple of events such as the brain game, and then talent show, which I got to play guitar in, actually.
OS: Do you have an initial vision for the honors college?
PM: Honors students are really special students that have the potential to transform themselves when they graduate or even while they’re still here to do something transformative for other people. So my philosophy, sort of my vision for the college, which is already outstanding, is to head in a direction where they begin to make their impact as students and bring their major to life or bringing their major and sense of purpose to life while they’re here at Penn State. Not just with their thesis, but sort of complementing their thesis, I picture that happening towards big, challenging problems of the world, but occurring locally, possibly. I picture any of the sustainable development goals of the United Nations may be brought home right here in Centre County, or things like that where students can work on teams to bring their scholarly activities to life for an impact now. So that when they graduate, they feel emboldened, like to take something from nothing, like an entrepreneurial kind of mindset, and start new things because that’s truly what I see in every student I’ve met. My goal for the college, sort of my initial vision, is to just do that as students, and the college is a perfect platform for that.
OS: What Penn State sport are you looking forward to watching most?
PM: Hockey. It might seem to be an unusual answer, and I am trying to be a little bit provocative, but I’ve been to two Penn State hockey games so far, and the student section is just crazy. I would go just for that good food, and Pegula Ice Arena is the best place I’ve ever seen hockey, and I’ve been to many places. So I would say that’s number one. A close second is women’s soccer. And, by default, I do also love football.
OS: What is your favorite Berkey Creamery ice cream flavor?
PM: Peachy Paterno. I went in skeptical about that, but my wife suggested it, and it’s amazing. So I pretty much get that every time now.
OS: Per Onward State tradition, if you could be any dinosaur, which would you be and why?
PM: I will pick triceratops. They seem so sustainable because they seem designed to be very efficient with their energy with the fins that collect energy from the sun. I care a lot about sustainability, but with not being an expert on dinosaurs, I’ll go with triceratops. I also think they look really cool.
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