News at Mason
Graduation speaker: M. Brian Blake
December 18, 2018 / by Preston Williams
M. Brian Blake, PhD Information Technology ’00, Drexel University provost and executive vice president for academic affairs, is the featured speaker at the 2 p.m. Winter Graduation ceremony, Thursday at EagleBank Arena.
Q: Your academic career has been a steady climb, but deep down you still consider yourself an administrator and researcher. How come?
A: I still have PhD students and occasionally find myself in the classroom. However, I am a researcher at heart. I approach the administrative job as a researcher in how we examine operations. For example, I have mapped the impact of a meaningful social experience on academic success for students. I have also modeled the university by all of its programs to see which areas are healthy and which ones can use additional investment.
Q: You’ve worked in both the private sector and academia. How important are public-private partnerships to the future of higher education, and what will those partnerships look like?
A: Corporations and universities need each other. Universities cannot rely on federal research dollars that are continuing to dwindle and become more competitive to win. On the other hand, companies need the fresh and fast innovative ideas that our undergraduates can provide. Universities are the perfect think tanks for companies.
Q: What is the best piece of advice you ever received, personally or professionally, and how has that advice helped shape your career?
A: I was once advised to do everything in the “absolute highest quality that you can.” Sometimes you are constrained by time, but if you always deliver the highest quality work, then that becomes everyone’s perception of you. I always spend extra time to make my deliverables as neat as possible. Those who work to just “check the box” are often exposed to others as [being] the low achievers.
Q: What is the best thing you did in college, or early in your career, that prepared you to be successful?
A: My second job was with a consulting firm within Lockheed Martin that was the “fixer” organization for software projects corporation-wide. This unit had some of the top software engineers and was tasked to go, in small groups, to provide additional “horsepower” to projects that were struggling or behind schedule. In that role, I was required to be the expert on each project irrespective of the computing technology. Of course, no one is an expert of everything. As such, over time, I (and other engineers in the division) developed a “stick with it” attitude and an undefeatable spirit. I believe my colleagues today would say that I am optimistic in most situations. That is because I spent three years, early in my career, in a division that taught me that nothing is insurmountable.
Q: What advice do you have for the new college graduate who may or may not have a clear sense of direction for their life and career?
A: Pick three or four potential career choices, even if you are not sure. If you set your sights on a few aspirational goals, I’m sure that, even if you don’t ultimately achieve those specific goals, you will land nicely anyway.