Biermann begins Blackburn presidency

Biermann begins Blackburn presidency

Posted Friday, Sept. 25, at 11:45 a.m.

On Aug. 15, Dr. Mark L. Biermann officially became the 18th President of Blackburn College. Dr. Biermann arrived on the Carlinville, Illinois campus after serving as Provost and Executive Vice President for Academic Affairs at Valparaiso University, where he was responsible for all academic programs, student affairs, retention and student success, diversity and inclusion, innovation, mission and ministry, and institutional effectiveness.

With 29 years working in higher education, Dr. Biermann recognizes how profound the Blackburn College experience can be for students.

“For the second consecutive year, U.S. News & World Report has recognized Blackburn as a national leader in what is probably the single most important area for a college or university: social mobility,” Dr. Biermann said. “Blackburn not only aspires to but is clearly succeeding in providing a distinctive and high impact model for higher education in America.”

Dr. Biermann continued, “As president, I hope to share Blackburn’s unique story with a wider audience and strengthen our enrollment by ensuring that we are connecting with students who can benefit from Blackburn like they could from no other college or university.”

During his six years at Valparaiso, Biermann launched a comprehensive retention strategy that improved first-to-second year retention by 4.7 percent in 2019, year to year, and he provided strong support for a $250 million comprehensive campaign. Prior to Valpo, Dr. Biermann served as Chair of the Department of Physics and Astronomy at Eastern Kentucky University, the inaugural dean of the School of Natural and Applied Sciences at Taylor University, and as the Dean of the Faculty and Vice President for Academic Affairs at Wartburg College.

Mike Smiley ‘71, chairman of the Blackburn College Board of Trustees, cited Biermann’s exceptional administrative and academic background as well as his demonstrated enthusiasm for Blackburn’s unique student-managed Work Program as being among the reasons he emerged as the best possible candidate to lead Blackburn at this key moment in the College’s history.

“Dr. Biermann’s proven leadership and educational experience is the perfect fit for Blackburn,” said Smiley. “We believe he is the right person to help shape the College’s future and we welcome him and his family to the Blackburn community.”

Even before his official start date, Biermann was collaborating with Blackburn leaders to address the challenges caused by the COVID-19 pandemic that closed college campuses across the country last spring. The goal of that work was to develop protocols that would deliver the transformative Blackburn College in-person experience while keeping the campus community as safe as possible.

“Our faculty and staff have created robust return to campus guidelines and plans to maximize the Blackburn experience while simultaneously keeping students and faculty as safe as possible by observing the Center for Disease Control (CDC), Illinois Department of Public Health (IDPH), NCAA, and related guidelines,” Biermann shared. “Some of those updated guidelines involved restructuring campus events, including an upcoming all-virtual homecoming weekend. Also, our COVID-19 Response Team, which is made up of administrators, faculty, staff, and students, meets regularly and actively monitors factors and issues related to the virus.”

The College is also working hard to fill two critical executive positions, the Vice President for Inclusive Enrollment and the Vice President for Diverse and Equitable Student Life and Dean of Students, Title IX Coordinator.

“There are few responsibilities of a president that are more important than working to thoughtfully and effectively staff the senior leadership positions of a college,” Dr. Biermann said. “I take my responsibility in this regard very seriously. By filling these open positions, we will strengthen Blackburn and create a more sustainable and vibrant program for our students.”

While they have only been in McKinley House on Blackburn College’s campus a short time, Dr. Biermann and his wife Lois already feel at home. “Everyone has been so warm and welcoming,” Biermann noted. “Each day members of our community are creative, thoughtful, and innovative as we learn to address the unique needs of our campus during these unprecedented times. During 2020, the institution and our entire society have been tested in many ways, but Blackburn has always been resilient. Our dedicated faculty and staff continue to prioritize safety, to work to ensure educational equity, and to demonstrate a true commitment to our entire community. I deeply appreciate the work that our faculty and staff are doing to best serve our students and to continue to fulfill our mission.”

He continued, “I am grateful for the opportunity to serve the Blackburn community. The Blackburn College model is powerful and its mission is timely. From the impressive current students who call our campus home to the tremendous alumni who helped build our campus one brick at a time, Blackburn’s story needs to be shared. I look forward to supporting this work as we begin a new chapter for this remarkable institution.”