Mark Nook might've been the last of four Montana State University Billings chancellor candidates to visit the campus in April, but he finished at the top of the list on Tuesday when he was tapped to lead Montana's third-largest university.
"This is very exciting, for my wife and I both," Nook said. "We're delighted to be joining the Montana State University system."
Currently the senior vice president for academic and student affairs for the University of Wisconsin System in Madison, Nook accepted the MSUB chancellor position on Tuesday morning — offered by MSU President Waded Cruzado — after a months-long national search by an 18-person committee. He begins on July 1.
He said on Wednesday that leading a university fulfills a passion he gained as a college undergraduate at Southwest Minnesota State University.
"When I was a student, I went to college to study physics but didn't know what I wanted to do with it," Nook said. "I just fell in love with the college environment. Whatever it is, there's just this exchange of ideas and thoughts and I've continued to appreciate that as a faculty member and on campuses."
He earned bachelor's degrees in physics and mathematics from SMSU, a master's in astrophysics from Iowa State University and a doctorate in astronomy from the University of Wisconsin-Madison.
He's worked much of his professional career in higher education, including as a professor, research assistant, department chair, dean, provost and vice chancellor, all at universities in the Midwest.
Part of the appeal of seeking out and eventually accepting the chancellor job was a desire to have more face-to-face interaction with the people around him combined with MSUB's smaller size, which nook said allows more contact with faculty, staff and students.
"I really want to get back to being able to work with the faculty and the staff," Nook said. "I've had some opportunity (to meet them at MSUB) and I'm really looking forward to doing a great deal more. They're very engaged."
The Wisconsin system has about 181,000 students, while about 5,000 attend MSUB.
Nook plans to move to Billings with his wife, Cheryl, and hit the ground with as much momentum as he can. He said his first step will be learning about a university and city to which he hasn't had much exposure.
"The first thing that's going to be really important for me to do is to listen and learn," he said. "I've got a lot to learn about this university and how it operates, I've got a lot of people on campus and throughout the community to meet. I need to build relationships so that I can do all of the things that a chancellor is asked to do."
Coming into the position, Nook said he knows there'll be challenges and he's already zeroed in on a few to work on immediately, including finding ways to fund the university as state and federal resources either remain stagnant or dwindle.
"We've got to make sure that we get the financing and how we fund the university," he said. "And I think we need to take a close look at some of the student success measures, like retention."
Nook replaces Rolf Groseth, who retired as chancellor following MSUB's May 3 commencement after three years on the job and nearly 40 working in the Montana University System.
Before Nook can begin, the MUS Board of Regents must approve his appointment during a vote scheduled for May 23.