2020 vision: President Underwood reflects on his time at Mercer and plans for the new decade

At the start of a new decade, Mercer University President William Underwood reflected on his time at Mercer and what’s in store for the 2020s.

Underwood has been a part of Mercer’s history for 14 years. He took his position at Mercer following his position as Baylor University Interim President and the Leon Jaworski Chair at the Baylor School of Law. He was also designated as a Master Teacher at Baylor, and in 2008, he received the W.R. White Distinguished Service Award from the Baylor Alumni Association. 

“What I love about Mercer is the fantastic students, the interesting students that do so much with their Mercer degree,” he said.

One student Underwood highlighted was Zechariah Zac” Rice, a 2018 Mercer graduate. Rice was an offensive lineman on the Mercer football team, and the first football player to win the Barry M. Goldwater Scholarship. 

Beyond campus, he said that Mercer students’ activities across the globe impress him. 

“The Mercer on Mission program was started my second year here. I think the impact students have around the world is great since my time that I’ve been here,” Underwood said. 

Underwood said that Mercer on Mission in Vietnam has helped 13,000 amputee victims get prosthetics fitted.

He also said that the institution and establishment of Mercer as a Phi Beta Kappa school, along with the level of research Mercer students conduct, are other significant changes he’s seen. 

“Mercer was admitted into the Georgia Research Alliance along with schools such as Georgia Tech and the University of Georgia. This alliance allows Mercer to share pieces of equipment with these universities, such as a million-dollar microscope that can be used in research anywhere at Mercer,” Underwood said. 

The last major change that Underwood discussed was the recognition and reclassification of Mercer as a top-tier university. 

In 2016, Mercer was reclassified from a regional master’s university to a national doctoral research university, allowing Mercer to be moved under the national universities classification. 

In 2018, Mercer was ranked number 35 in best value schools in the nation, according to U.S. News & World Report’s annual “America’s Best Colleges” issue.

Underwood said there are still changes that he hopes are made, the first being a change to the campus itself. 

“Next fall, when everyone returns to campus, the computer science building will be gone. We are planning to take it down this summer in order to put a garden space there,” Underwood said. 

The computer science department is now located in the new Willet Science Center with an entire floor being used solely for the department. 

When he looks back at his time at Mercer, Underwood said that the first memory that came to mind was Mercer’s famed defeat of Duke University during the first round of the NCAA tournament back in 2014. 

But he also said he remembers visiting the Mekong Delta in Vietnam with Mercer students.

“A team of Mercer students and I went to an area of the Mekong Delta to fit amputees with prosthetics. A woman had lost both of her legs and the prosthetic was very hard to fit because of how they had amputated her legs. The students allowed me to work hands-on with them, so we moved slowly, mostly because I didn’t know what all I was doing,” Underwood said, laughing. “At the end of the day, though, this woman was able to walk through the clinic on her new legs. She couldn’t wait because she told us she was getting married. She wanted to dance at her wedding.” 

Making more of these fond memories at Mercer and having students change the world is Underwood’s main goal looking into the new decade, he said.

“I want Mercer to keep doing more of what it is doing,” he said. “I want us to continue to do what we’re doing but even better. We have come so far in the level of student achievement that I hope to continue that. Mercer is Mercer because of its students. I can’t wait to see what all they accomplish.”