Geoffrey Mearns Is Leading Ball State Into the Future
Story & Photography Provided by Ball State University
Having just kicked off his sixth academic year as the president at Ball State University, Geoffrey Mearns is proud of what the university has accomplished both on the Muncie campus and in the greater community. Yet he remains focused on the challenges that remain ahead.
Mearns, hired in 2017 as the 17th president in Ball State’s history, has instilled a values-based, ambitious leadership style. The results are promising – the university’s innovative academic programs continue to grow, its vibrant, beautiful campus continues to expand, and its positive influence has helped lead a struggling city school district back to academic and financial stability.
Those endeavors have been fulfilling, and they have also allowed Mearns to appreciate, as he puts it, “that five years is not much time at all.”
“With each passing day, I have begun to feel a greater sense of urgency,” Mearns says. “This sense of urgency – my sense of urgency – is heightened because I believe that we have an opportunity to do something special, something very special, here at Ball State University.”
When Mearns began as Ball State’s president in May of 2017, the university community sought consistent, results-oriented leadership and vision. A solid foundation was already in place. Ball State’s four-year graduation rate had improved more than any other public university in Indiana, and the institution was being nationally recognized for its groundbreaking approach to immersive learning and its sustainable energy practices.
To continue to build upon that impact, Mearns knew Ball State needed a strategic plan with a small set of priorities heading into the university’s second century.
That plan, “Destination 2040: Our Flight Path,” was built with the input of faculty, staff, students, alumni, community partners and many of the university’s generous benefactors. It articulates five long-term goals for 2040 and a set of strategic imperatives to be executed by 2024.
“This plan is enabling us to prepare our students for fulfilling careers and inspire them to lead meaningful lives, while strengthening our community, providing economic and social benefits to our region and state, and offering leadership by example across our country and around the world,” Mearns says.
The goals set forth in the plan involve undergraduate excellence and innovation, graduate education and lifetime learning, community engagement and impact, scholarship and societal impact, and institutional and inclusive excellence.
Since putting “Destination 2040: Our Flight Path” into action, Ball State has made notable progress in several areas, including:
- Ball State has embarked on a historic partnership with Muncie Community Schools (MCS) to transform the district into a national model for innovative, holistic education. Since the beginning of the partnership in July of 2018, MCS has seen a four-year trend of stabilized enrollment, the district’s budget is operating in the green, and teachers have received the largest pay raises in MCS history.
- Ball State’s Board of Trustees approved a long-term, phased revitalization plan for the Village, a business district immediately adjacent to campus. The plan includes a new performance arts center for university and community events – a catalyst of approximately $100 million in private investment for the district. Plans call for a best-in-class, multigenerational district driven by arts and culture, entertainment, and innovation, with new options in dining, retail, service, hospitality, living and gathering.
- The institution has adopted a university-wide plan to infuse inclusive excellence into every step it takes, defining inclusiveness as a commitment to respect and embrace equity, inclusion and diversity in people, ideas and opinions. In 2021 the university officially opened its brand-new Multicultural Center, located in the heart of campus, with amenities designed to assist and support all students and to promote inclusive excellence.
In addition to those endeavors and many more, Ball State has conferred more than 15,600 degrees and credentials since the advent of the COVID-19 pandemic in March of 2020. That number is “a testament to the persistence and tenacity of our students, and to the dedication of our faculty and staff,” Mearns says.
“No matter the obstacle, we can quantify our impact, we can see the transformative progress we have made, and we can feel what makes our university so distinctive – a culture which makes us all so proud,” Mearns continues. “That’s why I continue to feel great pride and gratitude to serve as the president of Ball State.”