New leader focuses on different mission at MMI

Published 8:56 pm Wednesday, July 15, 2009

As newly elected MMI President Col. David Mollahan prepares for his first year at the helm, he inherits an institution in transition.

Formerly serving as a high school and junior college, MMI graduated its final prep school class in the spring and will begin its inaugural year as a community college, exclusively.

“The difficulties we have, transition has gotten to a point where it’s essentially moved away now to the point of a certain level of comfort with this school being a junior college only as opposed to being both a junior college and high school,” said Mollahan. “What I see the challenges being now that we’re focused on junior college education is expanding that capability and allowing more students that are specifically focused on a junior college experience, and of course having the resources to do that.”

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Curtis Meisenheimer, a physics professor and one of two faculty representatives on the search committee , said the transition was present in “back of the mind” of each committee member when selecting the school’s new leader.

“We were looking for finalists who had a vision; who in their background showed leadership to keep moving the organization,” Meisenheimer said. “We were looking for someone with executive level experience who could handle multiple departments; someone who could be an example to our cadets.”

The nationwide search began with 49 candidates, and was whittled down to 12, five and, finally, three.

“[Mollahan] did express a commitment to growth of the school, both in capital improvement and facilities and expanding student possibilities. He also mentioned maintaining strong ties with alumni,” Meisenheimer said. “I’m very pleased with his selection. I see some exciting times ahead.”

Rapid growth likely will not come in the immediate future. Mollahan said he intends to spend his first year getting the lay of the land, listening to faculty staff and students and expanding his own knowledge of what is already in place.

“The first year will really be spent thoroughly understanding the business at hand, but then beginning to think about where we want to take the school over those next five to 10 years,” Mollahan said. “The first goal is to get ourselves in a position to where the school expands and continue to expand, at least on the current trajectory it has, which projects to have as many as 800 cadets/students by 2012.

“How do we get the personnel we need to support that? How do we bring that number of students into the school? That would be the first thing I’d probably look at, how do we keep that on track?”

Before the opportunity comes to commit his energy to the future of the institution, he will first have to arrive. Mollahan is still at the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis, Md., where he has served as director of the Division of Humanities and Social Sciences and as a senior Marine Corps representative since 2007. He plans to start at MMI on Aug. 3.

The change in scenery will not come as a culture shock. His familiarity with MMI began when he was a chairman of the admissions board. Part of the admission process includes the opportunity to get a year of prep work at foundation schools, such as MMI, for those who do not receive direct appointments to the academy.

“Marion was noteworthy because the foundation folks were very pleased with how well Marion had done with those folks who came to the Naval Academy, so it has a very good reputation,” Mollahan said.

Mollahan spent more than 30 years with the Marines before his move to Annapolis. He served as commanding officer for Marine Aircraft Group 26 during combat operations in Iraq and operations and training in New River, N.C.

He said his leadership experience he gained during his military career prepared him for the educational field and his new position.

“This position is, before its anything else, is a leadership position,” Mollahan said. “I bring a passion for the idea of educating young people. When you spend your time in leadership positions in the military, you’re doing those things anyway. That’s part of being in leadership positions. When you take it into the education world . . . I think the combination of all those various sorts of experiences will be very helpful in helping move the college into the future.”

The growth that will come in Mollahan’s tenure remains to be seen, but his predecessor, Col. Jim Benson, expressed lofty goals as the closing of the high school neared in May. Benson, who left MMI June 1, said the transition to a junior college could lead to the institution becoming a four-year university along the lines of The Citadel or Virginia Military Institute. Mollahan agreed with his assessment.

“I think there’s a potential for something like that,” he said. “I think it would be something interesting to look at, and the fact there is not a high school associated with that certainly presents the opportunity.”