Presidential Reflections on the Past, Present and Future of Merrimack
Since 2010, President Christopher Hopey, Ph.D. has led Merrimack College through a period of unprecedented growth and transformation. On the occasion of the College’s 75th anniversary, President Hopey shared his thoughts on the recent history of Merrimack, and its future.
During your tenure at Merrimack College, which accomplishments are you most proud of?
The most joyous part of being president is seeing talented people perform, grow and succeed. That applies to the students, of course, but also to the staff and faculty who come to Merrimack as young professionals and have since taken on leadership roles.
I also think we restored a lot of faith in Merrimack, both in terms of what the College is capable of and where it’s going. The physical transformation of our campus is one example. By making purposeful decisions and focusing on the details that matter, we created an environment that our community is proud to call home.
And the College has not just grown physically, but as a leader in higher learning as well. We’re part of the national ranking conversation, we’re seeing higher enrollments and have established new graduate programs. All of those things reflect and reinforce one another and point to a bright future.
When people ask me, “How did you get Merrimack to where it is?” I tell them there’s not one thing we’ve done, it’s a thousand things. There’s no magic pixie dust. It took a lot of hard work by a lot of dedicated people – students, faculty, staff, alumni, our donors and trustees – working together.
Even amid so much change, how does Merrimack continue to demonstrate its Augustinian values?
Our Augustinian values are evident, above all, in how the College treats its people: staff, alumni and students. We treat everyone as individuals, with respect, and value what each person brings to our campus.
With our students, we don’t feel bound by the traditions of higher ed. We’re willing to meet them where they are to ensure we’re providing the resources that give them the best chance to succeed.
We are also deeply invested in our community here in the Merrimack Valley. We engage with the City of Lawrence through Hands to Help, the Early College Program, Pioneer Scholars and other critical initiatives. Our students, staff and alumni all give generously of their time and resources.
In many ways, the Augustinian values boil down to seeking truth and justice, and helping those with the greatest need. We’re living those shared values and it brings us together as a community.
What do you love most about your job?
I learn for a living. I learn something new every day. And I learn from everyone around me.
In your eyes, what makes Merrimack great?
What makes Merrimack great is the people. We are fortunate to have a diverse, dedicated group of people living, learning and working here.
And that’s not just my opinion. The other day, one of our trustees characterized the environment at Merrimack as fast-paced and intense, and said he could tell the people who work here truly believe in the mission, are totally committed to it and clearly enjoy working with each other.
I agree it’s an intense place to work, but the rewards are evident. There’s a momentum here that few places have, and I think you can sense it when you’re on this campus. That’s why the students come and that’s why the staff stay.
What’s next for Merrimack? What do you hope the next 75 years will bring for the College?
I think Merrimack is on a trajectory that’s pretty spectacular.
There are few colleges that have accomplished what Merrimack has in the past decade. For me, our capacity for change and our ability to establish new programs so quickly and efficiently is paramount. In a short period of time we have positioned Merrimack as a highly desirable school, which bodes well for the future.
I can picture Merrimack being a top 75 nationally ranked institution. And it’s not impossible to imagine that in the near future Merrimack will become a research university that offers doctorate degrees. That’s not just an idea or vision. There’s a clear path.
What’s the best advice you’ve ever received?
My mother once told me: “Always apologize. When you apologize, people don’t know what to do.” Everyone makes mistakes—I make mistakes—and it’s important to be open enough to recognize when you’re wrong, and humble enough to acknowledge when that happens. The second part of that advice, about how people react, reflects how rare a genuine apology is.
Can you share a favorite memory from your time at Merrimack?
I have such happy memories of my inauguration. My wife and son were there with me, along with other members of my family. That day, I laid out what may have seemed like an overly ambitious plan. I said, “We’re going to be a Division I school, we’re going to be a school of 3,000 students, we’re going to be a top-50 ranked school in the nation.” A lot of that has happened, and more.
Outside of your job, how do you like to spend your time?
I like to travel with my wife and my son. When I first became president, my wife and I wrote a bucket list of all the places we wanted to travel as a family, and we’ve been working our way through it. We’ve been to a lot of cool places and created many fond memories.