Rider’s Chairman of the Board of Trustees, Howard Stoeckel ’67 participated in a Q&A with The Rider News via email to gain insight into his background and discuss the current state of the university at Rider. Stoeckel also serves as the president and chief executive officer (CEO) of Wawa, Inc.
Can you tell us about your background?
I grew up in Yardville, N.J. (near Trenton) and attended Hamilton High School West. I attended Rider University from 1963 to 1967 and graduated with a BS in Business Administration.
I started my business career with John Wanamaker, a regional department store chain and spent fourteen years there working my way up from executive trainee to divisional vice president of Recruitment and Development. I subsequently moved on to the Limited, Inc. retail chain as vice president of Human Resources for its contract manufacturing division. In 1987, I joined Wawa as vice president of Human Resources and have held numerous positions before becoming president and CEO in 2005.
I plan to retire at the end of 2012 following my 67th birthday and will remain as vice chairman of the Board of Directors.
How long have you served as chairman? How long does your term run? When does it expire? Is there any limit on how many terms one can serve as chairman?
My first term as board chair began in June 2008. I am now in my fourth and final year as chair of the Board of Trustees, following three consecutive one-year terms. My last meeting as chair will be June 2012. Board officers can serve a maximum of four consecutive one-year terms.
The Board of Trustees has 31 members, including 22 Rider University graduates. It does not have any student representatives on the board, unlike all state schools in New Jersey, which are required by law to include two of them. Many private universities, including Syracuse, Stanford, Hampton University, Winthrop, University of Cincinnati and Miami University, also have student representatives. Would adding a student representative to the Rider board be something you would be willing to entertain?
We are very proud of the fact that of the board’s 31 members, 26 are alumni. That speaks volumes about the commitment they have for their alma mater.
We are also proud of the relationship the board shares with student government leaders on both campuses, particularly through the work of the board’s Student Affairs Committee.
The Student Affairs Committee meetings are an important forum through which each SGA shares students’ priorities, concerns, activities and events. Every year, student government leaders make presentations at the October and February Student Affairs Committee meetings and to the entire board in June. We find this model works well for Rider.
What was your reaction to Rider moving into 21st place among more than 180 Northern regional universities and second among 17 New Jersey colleges and universities in that category — in U.S. News & World Report’s annual rankings. How, if at all, do you think that can help the University?
We are delighted to see that U.S. News & World Report has again validated what we have always known – that Rider University is one of the top tier institutions in this region. This acknowledgement of the excellence of our academic programs is a testament to the talent and dedication of our faculty and staff, who are committed to our students’ success.
Does Rider University have a long-term master plan, and, if so, how far out does it go? Has Rider run out of room to add new academic buildings, dormitories, athletic fields, etc., or are there still ways to accommodate more facilities? With the completion of North Hall and the BLC theater expansion, what is the next priority in terms of new construction on the Lawrenceville and Princeton campuses? What is the status of a new basketball arena, and what is a realistic estimate for when it might be built?
Another example of progress in support of the innovation agenda is the continued investment in facilities across both campuses. This includes both new construction, as we saw with the recent completion of North Hall and the BLC theater expansion, and renovation of existing facilities, including our academic buildings, residence halls and dining facilities. Our draft facilities master plan calls for construction of a new academic building on the Westminster campus and a new athletic arena at Lawrenceville. Both projects are a primary focus of our capital mini-campaigns, donor funding for which is the key factor in determining their construction timelines. We are making good progress with both. In addition, Rider is moving ahead this summer with the renovation of its three dining facilities in response to the interests and needs of both continuing and prospective students.
Are you happy with the way Rider’s Princeton and Lawrenceville campuses have integrated? Could more be done?
Establishment of Westminster College of the Arts (WCA) was a major component of the Strategic Plan. As you know, it comprises Westminster Choir College on the Princeton campus and the School of Fine and Performing Arts on the Lawrenceville campus.
As evidenced by its enrollment growth and new programs, WCA has proven to be remarkably successful in integrating the excellent arts programs on both campuses. As importantly, it has preserved the quality and legacy of Westminster’s core programs. This integration is also evident in the cross-campus activities and programs of both student governments over the past several years. This includes a new integrated constitution.
What are the two or three most important areas you believe Rider should continue focusing on to further improve its academic performance and its reputation? Other than keeping the university fiscally sound, what are the top board priorities for the coming year, and for the future? Do you anticipate adding any departments or degree programs in the future? What departments or majors have the most growth potential?
The board is responsible for overseeing implementation of the next phase of Rider’s strategic planning, namely the innovation agenda you have heard Dr. Rozanski discuss in recent town hall meetings and Convocation. It calls for a focus on the renewal of current programs and the development of new undergraduate and graduate programs that reflect our mission and high quality and that respond to student interest.Given our challenging economy, the new programs must be fiscally responsible and contribute to revenue enhancement. Overall, our goal is to continue to build on Rider’s strengths and reputation and invest appropriately in our people, programs and facilities in order to ensure the highest quality education for all our students.
The board is pleased with Rider’s institutional progress achieved through the dedicated and collegial work of faculty and administration. As you know, several new programs have been established, among them the MA in Applied Psychology and an on-line BSBA completion program. Others are being considered and discussed in the appropriate governance bodies including an MA in business communications, majors in criminal justice and popular music culture, an on-line master of accountancy, an on-line registered nurse to bachelor of science in nursing completion program and several advanced education certificates.
Another important priority is student scholarship support. This is a major fundraising focus for the institution and is particularly important in light of cuts in New Jersey’s Tuition Aid Grant (TAG) program and the continuing effect of the economy on the ability of students and families to afford a high quality college education.
What were the most important lessons you learned at Rider?
Rider provided me with a strong foundation. Little did I know or appreciate when I was in college how I would draw upon my experience at Rider for years to come up to the present. Rider fosters a learning curiosity that has served me well for over 40 years. I continue to learn today as chair of the Board of Trustees. Being in a governance role at Rider has broadened my horizons and “keeps me young.” I am proud to say “I’m a Rider graduate.”
What strikes you as most different about Rider today, compared to the time you spent here as a student?
From a physical standpoint, I used to consider Rider more of an “office park” environment. Today, with the many facility additions and enhancements, I consider Rider to be more of a “town center.” In addition, Rider has become more customer centric and student centric to engage students and increase satisfaction. Rider is approaching 150 years and has preserved its underlying reasons for success while embracing change to be highly relevant in today’s world.