In preparation for a new year, The Cluster has asked Mercer’s President William Underwood a few questions.
Cluster: How long have you been President at Mercer?
Underwood: I began July 1, 2006. This is my seventh year.
Cluster: What attracted you to Mercer?
Underwood: Mercer has great students and a great academic reputation. My predecessor, Dr. Kirby Godsey, was also a great recruiter. He very effectively made the case that Mercer is a special place with the potential to accomplish things in the lives of students that could not be accomplished elsewhere.
Cluster: What does the ‘D’ in William D. Underwood stand for?
Cluster: Describe a typical work day.
Underwood: Fortunately, there is no typical day. Among my favorite things about being president is that each day presents new and sometimes unanticipated opportunities and challenges.
Cluster: Favorite memory at Mercer?
Underwood: I’ve got many great memories, but my favorite recent memory is of Mercer Village packed with several hundred students and alums watching outdoors on a giant screen television as Mercer defeated Utah State for last year’s CIT championship.
Cluster: What is your choice restaurant in Macon?
Underwood: Macon is fortunate to have many really good restaurants, including all the restaurants in Mercer Village. My favorite is the Tic Toc Room, which is located downtown.
Cluster: If you could have any other job, what would it be?
Underwood: I’ve never thought about this. When I was a courtroom lawyer, I loved that job and thought I would never do anything else. Then I became a law school professor, and loved that job. I love my current job as well. When my time as president is complete, I will probably return to teaching law school.
Cluster: There have been some significant improvements on campus over the last few years, including the new Mercer Village and the football stadium, how important was the implementation of these factors for the future of Mercer?
Underwood: I think these changes have been necessary to create an even more vibrant learning environment at Mercer, something necessary if we are to continue attracting talented students, faculty and staff. Mercer is rapidly becoming known as one of the most vibrant and energetic universities in the Southeast, which is a very good thing.
Cluster: Where do you see Mercer ten years from now?
Underwood: I see Mercer becoming nationally recognized among the premier private research universities in the Southeast – recognized as a place with an intensive focus on every student being engaged in empowering and inspiring learning experiences.
Cluster: What has been your greatest accomplishment at Mercer thus far?
Underwood: Presidents often get credit for accomplishments that are really the work of others. I am proud of many things that have been accomplished by members of the Mercer community over the past six years, but I am probably most proud of the Mercer on Mission program, which offers an unrivaled and life changing learning experience for students. Dr. Craig McMahan has done extraordinary work in leading this program, and many of our faculty members have been engaged in developing exceptional learning experiences for students, combining study abroad, service learning, and research in ways that are unique to Mercer.
Cluster: What are your hobbies and interests?
Underwood: I enjoy reading, especially good fiction and history. I’m also very competitive, so I like sports. I’m a fan of the Mercer Bears and the New York Yankees.
Cluster: What does it mean for you to actually live on campus? What are the advantages? Any disadvantages?
Underwood: There’s always something interesting going on within walking distance – intercollegiate athletics contests, concerts, theatre productions, and provocative lectures. Also, the UC is nearby, as is my favorite coffee shop – Jittery Joes.
Cluster: Mercer has been stepping it up in sports, what are your expectations for this season?
Underwood: Our men’s basketball team will be favored to win the conference and represent Mercer in the “Big Dance,” following last year’s 27-11 season and CIT championship. Our baseball team will likewise be favored to win the conference. Our women’s basketball team will surprise people this year. And several of our other teams are poised to make major strides this season as well.
Cluster: What are you looking forward to this year at Mercer?
Underwood: I always look forward to students returning and the campus coming alive. We have a very strong class of entering students this year. I’m also looking forward to seeing the completion of the footballlacrosse complex, the opening of the Center for Collaborative Journalism, and completion of the Emily Parker Myers Welcome and Admissions Center. The CCJ is the single most exciting initiative currently underway in the field of journalism. I’m proud that Mercer is taking the lead nationally in developing a new model for preparing future generations of journalists that emphasizes experiential learning in the digital age.
Cluster: What advice would you offer freshmen?
Underwood: The same advice I gave my son when he began college last year. You only get to do college once. Squeeze all you can out of the experience. Take advantage of all that college has to offer. Study hard. Think about the great questions. Learn everything you can. Get to know your professors. And take time to be involved with student life, religious life, athletics, music, and theatre. But also get some sleep.