Dr. Mary Ellen Mazey’s path to the University

She never thought she would be at the University. From a four-room schoolhouse with eight grades in it, to room 220 of McFall Center, President Mary Ellen Mazey now leads the university and serves as a primary representation of students and faculty.

Her path to this position, filled with its share of challenges and obstacles, gives her a perspective that is rare in this form of leadership.

With a far-from-privileged childhood, Mazey realized early on that education was going to be vital for her success. As her mother was without a high school education, Mazey was always encouraged to be successful in the classroom so she could be successful in her career.

“Education has really been a key to what I want to do in life. I want to give every student and everyone I work with the same opportunities that I had,” she said, sitting in a bright orange suit for the interview.

After the passing of her father when she was only a year old, Mazey was raised primarily by her mother. However, her mother’s long work schedule meant that a lot of her relatives and family friends pitched in to help raise her.

“My aunt and two older brothers were very influential for me,” she said. “My brothers always looked to me as equal. I remember my one brother didn’t think I could be valedictorian, and he bet me $100 that I couldn’t be valedictorian of my class, so I proved him wrong!”

Mazey would continue on to beat the odds as she moved toward higher education. After, she earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees from West Virginia University and a doctorate in geography from the University of Cincinnati. But this was no easy task.

Moving on from the small town of White Sulfur Springs, West Virginia, where she was born and raised, to the flagship institution of that state, West Virginia University, was a daunting task for Mazey, as she went from a graduating class of 92 students and a population of 2,500 to Morgantown, and was a first-generation college student. However, she found the motivation to succeed in her studies, and not once did her status affect her motivation in herself.

“We grew up in a time that was prior to Title IX, but my mother never believed that there was (not) anything a woman couldn’t do,” she said.

However, Mazey wasn’t the only one to beat the odds. Her older brother, a current Federal Appeals Judge, is also an alumnus of West Virginia University. After being successful in ROTC and the Air Force, he also showed the value of education by attending law school and becoming a judge.

It’s clear that the values they were raised on were vital to their success, as they persevered against odds.

“My mother often said we were so poor that we didn’t realize we were poor, and that’s the best way, because we were always very humble and had a great deal of respect for others. We valued every individual off of their abilities of what they can do. The sky is the limit,” she said.

Those values seemed work in her favor as Mazey would continue on to serve in many different high-profile positions in higher education. She served as provost and vice-president of academic affairs at Auburn University, as dean of the Eberly College of Arts and Sciences at West Virginia University, and as dean of the College of Liberal Arts at Wright State University.

Between 1996 and 1997, she had an intergovernmental personnel assignment and served as director of the office of university partnerships at the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.

Mazey never sought out these opportunities, but she never hesitated to peruse them because she believed that she could better help students.

“When opportunities come to you, you just want to take them and ensure that you can contribute along the way. It’s all about helping others,” she said.

Lisa Mattiace, Mazey’s Chief-of Staff since 2012, was brought on board after Mazey started her tenure as university president. She has learned a lot about Mazey since then and shared her commitment to student success.

“She is very genuine and student focused. Everything that she does is to better help our students succeed. She is certainly well grounded and can therefore use the experience that she has gotten from either other institutions or the way in which she was raised to do the right thing,” she said.

Mike Rutkowski, second-year Graphic Design major, has sat in on multiple meetings with Mazey for his art program and has been able to see the same things Mattiace commended.

“She’s very outspoken and she says what’s on her mind. And when she talks, she doesn’t just talk to talk, she talks to listen. She really cared about what other people had to say. She wanted to understand things and hear what other people thought. I noticed that she wants to do the best job that she can, and I know that she means well,” he said.

It also is clear that Mazey’s drive to make the University better is a passion that is shared among her core staff as well.

“It’s also made me think, and I think and it’s made the people around her think, ‘how can we make BGSU better?’ I probably thought about that during the course of my whole career when I worked at other institutions, but I think about it much more now and more overtly than I did before,” Mattiace said.

However, with all of the accomplishments and the high regards that she has achieved throughout her career, the one passion that launched Mazey into success is still held very close with her.

“I decided to go ahead and get a Ph.D. because I love to go to school. I thought I’d always just be a college professor. I never intended to go into administration. If worst comes to worst, then I just go back to teaching. And what’s better than working with the students?” she said.

This has led Mazey to live without any regrets, knowing that she has worked hard to achieve her goals and passions for helping students.

“I don’t think I’d change anything about my life. I feel like I have been very fortunate throughout life and I’ve always felt to never look back. Always look forward,” she said.