On August 14, 2014, former Dean of Science, Engineering and Mathematics of Montgomery County Community College, Dr. Eun-Woo Chang replaced Dr. Donald “Guy” Generals as the new Vice President for Academic and Student Affairs at Mercer.
In an interview with The VOICE, Dr. Chang said he began his career studying chemistry. He explained that one of his first chemistry teachers was “scary.” He went on to say that the teacher “wanted to show the students that he was a tough teacher and that chemistry is not easy. I was not really comfortable about it.”
He thought about going to medical school or becoming a pilot, but decided in the end that he did want to pursue chemistry: “So someday I would come back to that high school and tell that teacher I’m better than you at chemistry.” Dr. Chang said, laughing.
Dr. Chang grew up in South Korea and attended Yeungnam University. In his junior year, he moved to America to continue his studies at the advice of his brother.
Lacking confidence in his English, Dr. Chang decided to get his master’s degree in chemistry at what he described as a remote location: Minnesota State University.
After that he continued his studies and received his Ph.D. at the University of California, Los Angeles, choosing it over U.C. Berkeley and University of Illinois at Champaign-Urbana, which are top schools, because, as he says: “I thought I could get married to Koreans, because there is a huge Korean community there. But in the end, I married a Chinese from Hong Kong.” He and his wife have now been married for 26 years.
Prior to his administrative position at Montgomery College, Dr. Chang was program director in the Division of Undergraduate Education for the National Science Foundation. He was also a professor of chemistry at Truckee Meadows Community College, in Reno, Nevada for 17 years.
Dr. Chang eventually kickstarted his administrative career by taking a leadership position at Truckee Meadows, which led him on to the Faculty Senate. There he led a faculty group for four years.
After a one year fellowship for the American Council on Education (ACE) at the College of Southern Nevada, Dr. Chang was asked by the program’s president to serve as Dean of Math and Sciences. It was then that Dr. Chang decided to move towards education administration.
When Dr. Chang was first introduced to Mercer, President Dr. Patricia C. Donohue said, as stated in the MCCC News, that “Dr. Chang brings with him years of experience as a leader in higher education, as well as innovative ideas that will help us expand our mission of creating greater opportunities for learning and student success.”
Dr. Chang told The VOICE that his approach and goals for Mercer are to make “a few bold moves.”
First, he has pushed back the starting date for the fall term to August 29, which is a week later than the semester used to begin. The winter term will begin January 4, 2016 (December 21 for online classes). These dates coincide with other community colleges in the area.
“Students are still working during the summer, so they cannot start earlier” says Dr. Chang. “We want to see if the enrollment is going to be better with this structure or not.”
Dr. Chang has also changed the tuition refund policies. Previously, if a student wishes to receive a refund on their tuition, they had to request the day before the term begins.
“It did not appeal to me,” Dr. Chang said. He has changed the refund policy so that students can receive a 100 percent refund for the first week of a 15 week course and for shorter courses a full refund after the first two days of the term.
Dr. Chang pointed out a common issue, saying: “you don’t know who the instructor is and sometimes you have to have a match between the faculty and student. Even though the faculty is very good, they may not be your style.” The new plan gives students the opportunity to switch between available professors if they need to.
Work conflicts are another reason for the shift. Dr. Chang says: “So many students have come to the deans saying they cannot take a class because their work schedules have changed and so on. They lose 50 percent of their money. This is not good for the students.” By changing the refund policy, Dr. Chang hopes to reduce any of the financial strains that the previous policy has caused students.
Dr. Chang is also introducing a free, two week refresher courses for lower level mathematics courses called the Math Summer Bridge Program. Many students have learned the information that the full courses teach previously and only need to be reintroduced to the concepts that are taught. This program’s goal is to save students time and money.
Dr. Chang states that “at the end of the summer program, either your instructor signs the student off to the next level or they retake the accuplacer. I bet 70 percent of students will place into a higher level.”
Top priorities for Dr. Chang are improving enrollment trends and the college budget.
“I’m very careful about the enrollment trends,” he says.
With an incremental improvement in the American economy, colleges nationwide have seen drops in student enrollment and Mercer has as well. Dr. Chang says addressing this issue is a major priority and that he plans to combat the problem by creating more programs to help students financially.
“Our budget is really tight at the moment.” says Dr. Chang. “We have to have some interesting projects to increase student success. If we do not have resources, we cannot do them.”
Dr. Chang states that he is trying to combat this issue by securing grants from funding agencies, such as the National Science Foundation and the Department of Education.
Faculty reaction to Chang’s initiatives and performance is generally positive, though some are still cautious.
In an interview with Jared S. Krause, an adjunct professor at Mercer and licensed professional engineer, he states that “[Dr. Chang] seems talented and credible.” He adds that the later start date in the fall is a good change because “the start date should be in line with other community colleges. It makes sense because people have off for Labor Day.”
Another faculty member, Professor of Mathematics Jamie Fleischner, told The VOICE that “[Dr. Chang] came in with such excitement and a willingness to listen … he had an eagerness to be open to the faculty.”
Fleischner also says that “the new refund policy is so much better. Students are paying for classes themselves and don’t want to waste their money.”
Like many, Fleischner is still cautious though, saying she hopes Dr. Chang “is true to his words” and that “his actions reflect his words more so than his predecessor.”