Clarkson University president reflects on 40 years on campus

Updated: May. 4, 2022 at 5:00 PM EDT
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POTSDAM, New York (WWNY) - Dr. Tony Collins is set to retire as president of Clarkson University. 7 News anchor Jeff Cole sat down with Collins to find out what kept him at the Potsdam campus for 40 years.

“If you talk with our students, they’re always satisfied with the academics,” said Collins.

He feels at home in the classroom; it’s where he started his career 40 years ago.

“My wife tells the story that we didn’t throw away our cardboard boxes because we didn’t think we’d be here that long - but here we are,” he said.

Collins became Clarkson’s 16th president in 2003. He’ll tell you it’s the students that have kept him there.

“They are remarkable, they are innovative, creative, thoughtful, supportive,” he said.

Collins thrives on student interactions. We visited a lab where students were building small Zambonis, figuring out how to make them faster, get better traction, have more stability - and land a drone on top, experimenting in Clarkson’s Cheel Arena - tools that could eventually be used to study global warming in the Arctic. And Collins knew every bit of the research.

“It sounds silly, but from Cheel to a major resource space up in the Arctic is a very small step, but these students will be at the front of it,” he said.

Collins wants Clarkson to solve problems closer to home too. An example: Clarkson’s EMT program, new this spring, to help with the north country’s desperate need for more first responders.

“I think it’s critical that we identify needs in our region and create the partnerships to support that,” he said.

Collins has made decisions like that for close to 2 decades - clearly committed to the job - a commitment that eventually becomes something more.

“Once you take a leadership position and people buy into your leadership and vision, then it does become an obligation because they could have been doing other things. Students, staff, or the region could have followed a different pathway and so they followed the pathway that you’ve laid out and I would like to think that I carried that obligation to the very last day that I am here,” he said.

That last day comes at the end of June. And before that is his final commencement ceremony as president at Cheel Arena. That’s next weekend.

“It’s a point of pride for everyone in the arena and beyond that here’s another class that’s going to go and have an impact on the world. And so that’s exciting for everyone and you know it’ll be nostalgic for me,” he said. “We arrived here and we didn’t expect to stay for a long time. We’ve prospered, the institution prospered - we’re grateful for the opportunity.”

Dr. Collins adds it’s important for the community and campus to get behind the next president of the university. Dr. Marc Christensen, who was named the 17th president in March, is currently the dean of the Lyle School of Engineering at Southern Methodist University in Dallas, Texas. It’s noted Dr. Christensen is a well-regarded leader in photonics research and technology development.

7 News will continue its conversation with Collins on Thursday on 7 News This Evening.

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