As a chemist, teacher, musician and fundraiser—not to mention husband, father of three and new grandfather—Andrew J. Leavitt brings an energetic nature and an impressive skill set to the University of Wisconsin Oshkosh as its 11th chancellor.
Leavitt began his leadership of UW Oshkosh on Nov. 1, following the Aug. 31 retirement of Richard H. Wells.
In his first whirlwind months on the job, Leavitt has spent many hours meeting and talking with hundreds of alumni, students, faculty and staff members, legislators and community partners.
“I’ve learned what an incredibly complex organization this University is,” he said. “I’ve been really impressed with the depth of feelings that people have for UW Oshkosh. Certainly the students, but also the faculty and staff are a very dedicated group of people who do amazing things for our students under increasingly challenging circumstances.”
Through those initial conversations, Leavitt is beginning to set an agenda for how to move UW Oshkosh forward. With recent upgrades to the campus infrastructure and a new general education curriculum in place with the University Studies Program, he is hoping to now turn attention on student success and accessibility in the region.
To that end, some of his goals include making the University more self-reliant, lessening the burden of student debt and shortening the time to graduation to alleviate the financial burden of higher education on students and their families.
“As an institution, we owe it to the constituents within our region to provide the highest quality higher education experience we can, and we need everybody’s help to do that,” he said.
Leavitt learned the great importance of education early in life.
Growing up with college-educated parents in a household that valued learning (his father was a Harvard-educated physicist and he and his four siblings all completed post-graduate studies), he quickly took to the family tradition. “I really loved learning,” he said.
As an undergraduate studying music at the University of Arizona in Tucson, Leavitt learned a powerful lesson and took to heart Shakespeare’s famous line in Hamlet: “To thine own self be true.” He found his interest out measured his talent, prompting him to switch his major to chemistry.
Yet, Leavitt believes pursuing varied interests and talents leads to being a “whole person.”
Throughout his career, Leavitt has continued to be an avid amateur musician, playing the saxophone in a variety of university jazz and classical ensembles.
With a bachelor’s degree in chemistry and minors in physics and mathematics in hand, Leavitt next headed to the University of Utah in Salt Lake City, where he earned a doctorate in chemistry.
Although he had opportunities to pursue a career as a competitive research scientist, Leavitt chose, instead, to concentrate on teaching and working directly with undergraduate students. He found helping students find their potential, especially in the research laboratory, very gratifying.
“Seeing that light switch go on is a powerful thing,” he said. “To me, a successful college experience is one where an individual can really explore the variety of interests that they have in life and in learning.”
To do well in college, Leavitt said students don’t have to be the smartest in the class, but they need to be curious and tenacious.
During his teaching career at the University of West Georgia, Leavitt rose through the ranks to become a full professor, and he garnered three university-wide teaching awards.
His career then took another turn, when out-of-the blue, he was asked to take on a role in the fundraising and development arena. As it turns out, he was a pro at asking people to support higher education.
“It’s an easy case,” he explained. “People want students to do well in life. They also want to help people. So, all I had to do was help facilitate that,” he said.
Most recently, Leavitt comes from the University of North Georgia, where he served as the vice president for university advancement, successfully leading fundraising efforts and a strategic planning process as well as chairing a university committee to develop ways to make higher education both more accessible and affordable.
The chancellor role at UW Oshkosh interested Leavitt because of the intersection and synergy between the City of Oshkosh and UW Oshkosh.
“I realized what a rare opportunity this was,” he said. “I think the city and the University together makes UW Oshkosh one of the best state universities in the country. I just wanted to be a part of it.”
Hear more about Chancellor Leavitt’s educational journey and plans for championing UW Oshkosh’s future …