STEPHEN JAMES KOPP - NINETEENTH PRESIDENT, 2005-PRESENT
Stephen James Kopp took over as "36th President" of Marshall University on July 1, 2005. Although he is called the "36th President" of the institution, he is actually the nineteenth person to hold that title—former chief administrators were called "principals." However, Kopp is thirty-sixth in number of those who have overseen the institution since it founding in 1837—seventeen principals and nineteen presidents.
On June 28, 2012, the University’s Board of Governor’s recommended that he continue as President for another five years, which was approved by the West Virginia Higher Education Policy Commission. If he remains as president for the entire length of the contract, until 2019, he will become one of the longest serving presidents in Marshall University’s history, with a twelve-year-tenure. Under Kopp’s tenure the University has made major strides forward on many fronts.
President Kopp came to the University with a desire to improve undergraduate education. He reversed a six-year decline of student enrollment. He reinstituted the Freshman Academic Convocation and began a common book reading program for all incoming freshmen, in which the students read the same book and integrate a study of it into their first-year educational experience. In the Fall Semester 2011 he introduced a "Core Foundation" program, which is designed to prepare graduates to "perform the intellectual work demanded by the complexities of life and career in the 21st Century." He also launched major initiatives to increase the enrollment of international students. He did not neglected graduate level education, introducing two new doctoral level programs in the School of Pharmacy and the School of Physical Therapy.
He succeeded in stabilizing the University’s financial situation, even producing budget surpluses from 2009-2011, which brought about an upgrade of the University’s bonds by Fitch in 2011. He worked effectively to improve the Marshall University Foundation portfolio, succeeding in raising more than twenty-five million dollars in major gifts. He was responsible for issuing four major bond issues—two new bond and refinancing two existing bonds.
He has overseen a $300 million expansion and renovation of the University’s structures, including: the Byrd Biotechnology Center (2007); the Welcome Center (2007); the Dot Hick’s Playing Field (2008); the Weisberg Family Engineering Laboratory (2008); the Health and Wellness Center (2009) and the completion of a new multi-level parking garage (2012), with plans under way for the construction of a $50 million Biotechnology Incubator/Applied Engineering Complex to commence construction in late 2012. Future construction includes a $5 million Soccer Stadium Complex and a $25 million Indoor Practice Field Complex, to be built between 2013 AND 2014. 1914 will also see the completion of a the Fine Arts Incubator in the former Stone and Thomas Building in downtown Huntington.
During the Kopp years the University teams have found success. In 2011 the Thunder Herd’s football team won the Beef O’Brady Bowl at St. Petersburg, Florida, in a 20 to 10 defeat of Florida International University. The basketball team won a bid to the National Invitational Tournament in 2012, the first time since 1988, but lost in the first round to Middle Tennessee University. As a cap to the University athletic endeavors, Kopp shepherded the reintroduction of the old "Kelly Green" and White as the official school’s colors, a highly popular move to Marshall fans that lead to a surge in the proceeds of the University’s copyrighted resources.
Former interim President Alan Gould assessed Kopp’s place among the pantheon of Marshall University’s leaders:
I have served in various capacities with the faculty and administrators at Marshall over the past forty plus years, and have had the pleasure of serving under a number of Presidents. While a few stand out in my memory as being important to the growth of the university, no one has had a more profound effect on the growth both fiscally and programmatically than our present Chief Executive, Stephen J. Kopp.Stephen J. Kopp was born in Panama in 1951, where his father, a military physician, was stationed. Because of his father’s military service, he moved around a lot as a boy. He graduated from Lyons Township High School at LaGrange, Illinois, in 1969. That fall he entered the University of Notre Dame at South Bend, Indiana, where he received his B.S. degree, cum laude, in biology in 1973. Between 1973 and 1976 he was a teaching assistant at the University of Illinois in Chicago, while he worked on his Ph.D., which he received in 1976. Between 1976 and 1977 he was a post-doctoral fellow at the St. Louis University Medical Center. From 1977 to 1978 he was a research associate at the University of Chicago, and from 1978 to 1979 he held a National Institute of Health postdoctoral fellowship at the University of Illinois. In 1979 he accepted a position as an assistant professor of physiology and assistant director of Magnetic Resonance Laboratory at the Chicago College of Osteopathic Medicine. In 1983 he began the chairman of the department of physiology, and in 1991 he was the acting dean of Allied Health Programs at the same institution. In 1992 he came the founding dean of the College of Allied Health Professions at Midwestern University, where he remained until 1997.
Between 1997 and 2002 he was also the founding dean of the Herbert H. and Grace Dow College of Health Professions at Central Michigan University. In 2002 he became the provost of Ohio University, where he remained until 2004. Upon leaving Ohio University, he took a position as special assistant to the Chancellor, Ohio Board of Regents. This was the position he held prior to becoming the current President of Marshall University.
In 1972, he married Jane Schade, whom he met while a high school senior; she was a freshman at North Central College at Napierville, Illinois. She recalled hearing about the 1970 plane crash in her senior year: "‘I heard about it just like everyone else—from television news reports.…I felt terrible for Marshall University—I couldn’t imagine a school losing so many athletes, coaches and community members.’ Little did she know that one day she would live in Huntington, WV, and experience firsthand the ‘ripples from this tragedy.’" They have two grown children.
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