George Mason alum Marc Christensen (MS in Electrical Engineering, 1998; PhD in Electrical and Computer Engineering, 2001) will become the 17th president of Clarkson University, with its main campus in Potsdam, NY, on July 1. Marc was most recently the dean of the Bobby B. Lyle School of Engineering at Southern Methodist University in Dallas, a post he held for nine years.
In a recent conversation, Marc looked back fondly at his time here at Mason.
“I owe so much to people there,” Marc noted. “Michael (Mike) Haney was my PhD advisor. He was actually my supervisor when I was a co-op student at a defense contractor. He told me in my second week as a permanent hire that he was going into academia. I wasn’t thinking about grad school at the time, but he told me it was time to start.” Marc credits him for instilling some important leadership qualities. “He taught me that a leader was responsible for getting the resources needed for the people reporting to them, and keeping the things flowing downstream off their shoulders, so they can get their job done. That has stuck with me my entire career. Much of what I know today about leadership, I learned from Mike in those early years.
“Ravi Athale was the professor who recruited Mike to Mason. As a co-op student, I used to sit in Ravi’s old office at the defense contractor,” Marc mused. “Once I was at Mason, a typical Friday afternoon was spent with Mike and Ravi pondering patterns and underlying principles in the science. Ravi’s holistic approach always had me looking for underlying connections.”
Marc also cited former Mason Professor Geoffrey Orsak, from whom he took his very first class, as having a big impact. Orsak moved on to Southern Methodist University (SMU) and brought Marc to SMU’s engineering school when he heard Marc was looking to go into academia. Marc said, “This gave me a tremendous opportunity to be involved with the strategic plan for the school and to learn strategic planning from Bobby Lyle, who went on to become the school’s namesake in 2008. When Geoffrey left SMU years later, I became dean.”
He noted that his time as a grad student was during a turning point for Mason and its engineering program. “I was their first PhD in electrical and computer engineering. Prior to that, it was in ‘information technology.’ My bachelor’s degree is in engineering physics, which I always have to explain, so when I learned I could have a PhD in something with a name that everyone could recognize, I held on until all the paperwork was in place for the new name. And because I was first, I think I had the most rigorous qualifying exam that’s ever been administered! At least the department chair at the time seemed intent on making sure that was so.”
Marc was well aware of the transformation Mason has undergone. “Campus was a lot different when I was there. I was one of those commuter students working full time for a defense contractor. It’s not the sleepy school I went to anymore. I think Ken Ball has been doing an incredible job as Dean. Mason’s engineering and computer science programs have really transformed under his leadership.”
Marc’s burgeoning family started right here in Northern Virginia. “I met my wife, Seema, when I was a co-op student and my eldest daughter was born the month I defended my master’s thesis. I was either writing proposals for federal funding, my dissertation, or something else, so I had tremendous support from my wife, who was a working engineer until we started our family.