Marc Johnson was a Wolfpacker long before he became the leader of the Wolf Pack, having been a student and a professor at NC State.
But the new president of the University of Nevada, Reno, knows better than to pick against his new school and the name for its athletics teams when asked whether Wolfpack should be one word (NC State) or two (Nevada). Johnson says his favorite mas cot (Shouldn’t that be one word?) these days is the Wolf Pack.
“Definitely, since I’m employed in Nevada now, it should be two,” Johnson told us this week by telephone.
But Johnson was quick to add that he will still cheer for NC State’s Wolfpack whenever it squares off against the likes of UNC or Duke. “Absolutely,” he says. “NC State is one of my alma maters.”
Johnson grew up in Kansas and did his undergraduate studies at what is now known as Emporia State University in Kansas. But he was drawn to NC State by the chance to be involved with a program that studied science and its place in society, with instructors who were scientists and theologians from NC State, UNC and Duke. In 1971, Johnson earned a master of technology degree in international development.
Johnson returned to NC State in 1978 as a member of the faculty in the Department of Economics and Business. His position was half research and half extension, giving him the opportunity to explore North Carolina. “I know it’s a 13-hour drive from the Outer Banks to Cherokee County,” he says. “It’s a beautiful state.”
While he was not yet thinking about becoming a university president, Johnson got his first taste of university administration at NC State, serving as an associate department head. Johnson says he enjoyed the opportunity to work with other faculty members and help them develop plans to improve their career paths. He left NC State in 1985 to become a department head at Kansas State University.
Johnson followed Wolfpack athletics during his time at NC State, easily recalling the national championship the men’s basketball team won in 1983. “I was a fan of the Wolfpack,” he says. “They were doing so well during my years there, so it was exciting.”
Johnson is now president of the University of Nevada, Reno, having been named to the post in April after serving as interim president since last April. Like NC State, the University of Nevada is a land-grant institution, a role that Johnson takes seriously.
“There’s a balance between basic research and applied research,” Johnson says. “We have the ability to take research from basic to applied and then carry it out to businesses and community members who can use the results of that research. We have all the responsibilities of a regular arts-and-sciences university, plus doing problem-solving research.”
And, like NC State Chancellor Randy Woodson, Johnson has to be strategic about how to make sure the university excels in difficult budget times. That requires university leaders, Johnson says, to focus their efforts on a handful of areas of study, research and outreach.
“Whatever resources you can get,” he says, “you have to support depth and real impact in the fields you have chosen to maintain.”