New chief executive puts focus on students
Ceremony at Forest Roberts Theatre attended by hundreds
MARQUETTE — Dr. Brock Tessman was officially installed as president of Northern Michigan University in an elaborate ceremony on Friday, featuring a variety of musical acts and speakers.
Pierre Ogea, NMU alumnus from the class of 1992, led Tessman’s entourage from Jamrich Hall to the Forest Roberts Theatre while playing the bagpipes. In the procession, Tessman walked with his wife, mother, two daughters — Frances and Leona and both of their school classes — as well as 124 NMU student organizational leaders.
Current students from Graveraet Elementary School in Marquette led the gathering in the Pledge of Allegiance.
Master of Ceremonies Mike Settles, from the NMU class of ’84, introduced and recognized Northern’s past presidents and first ladies, former members of the NMU’s Board of Trustees and two local government officials: state Rep. Jen Hill, D-Marquette, and state Sen. Ed McBroom, R-Waucedah Township.
Associated Students of NMU President Gwen Feamster welcomed Tessman to the university on behalf of her peers.
“We have seen his openness to change and willingness to help students … I just want to thank you for being here … for diving headfirst as soon as you arrived,” Feamster said. She repeated one of the president’s commonly used phrases back to him: “We got you…. Just like you have our backs, we have yours.”
A representative of NMU’s faculty, Dr. Jessica Thompson of the class of ’01 and recipient of the 2023 Stephen Young and Tricia Kinley Distinguished Faculty Award, spoke next.
She began by quoting Dale Carnegie: “To remember a person’s name is to that person the sweetest and most important sound in any language.”
Thompson stressed that this is exactly what Tessman did on campus.
“Overnight, he knew our names,” she said. “It was an instant community builder. I don’t know whether it’s like a sophisticated party trick or like an innate superpower … but it’s equally magical.”
Thompson further commended his “expand the frame” perspective as he sheds new light on some of the university’s “old, tangled, knotted, gnarly problems.”
Representing staff, executive director of admissions Gerri Daniels praised Tessman’s student-focused frame of mind and asked for the space to collaborate, communicate and support each other.
“Our new president should know that we believe in NMU and that we believe in his ability to lead us,” she quoted from another staff member.
Tessman was further honored by president of the NMU Alumni Advisory Board and 1993 NMU alumnus, Chris Charboneau, as well as NMU Foundation president and 1983 NMU alumnus Mark Pynnonen both of whom applauded Tessman’s qualities for the job.
Tessman’s special guest was a former student of his, Chad Peltier, who works as a lead data scientist for U.S. Technology.
Peltier was a mentee of Tessman while the president was a faculty member at the University of Georgia and vouched for the new president’s people skills.
“Despite what must have been a truly annoying amount of emails, Brock met with me, patiently answered all my questions, connected me with other students of the professors who shared my interests,” Peltier said. “And my experience was not uncommon. When Brock had office hours, students would line up throughout the entire floor of our hall…. He made those office hours a priority even though there are numerous other demands on an assistant professor’s mind. He prioritized the classroom experience that actual teaching the professors do.”
The NMU Arts Chorale provided a small intermission with their rendition of “The Road Home” by Stephen Paulus.
NMU Board of Trustees Chairman Stephen Young called Tessman “a man of vision” prior to honoring him with the Chain of Office.
“He was the leader we wanted. It didn’t take long for the rest of the campus to realize his energy, his intelligence, his creativity. He was announced as the president on Sept. 26, 2022, with an official start date of Feb. 1, 2023,” Young said. “But he didn’t wait until February to get started. Oh no, Brock doesn’t wait … by Oct. 1 … he had already met with about a quarter of the campus community, either through Zoom or in person. He was off and running.”
At this time, Tessman’s mother, Deirdre Tessman, assisted Young in presenting the chain, a symbol of the presidency. The chain displays the official NMU seal encircled with two laurel branches, 17 ingrained banners, listing each president and their years of office linked to a silver chain.
Tessman’s ensuing speech included many thanks, but focused primarily on his students — the 73,000 alumni around the world, the 124 student leaders and the elementary kids.
“I want to be very clear … this university always has been, it is today, about our students,” he said. “The first- and third-graders who stood before you, they’ll inherit a world that’s more complex, more daunting, I think heavier than it’s ever been. But they can look to our current students and they can see in front of them the opportunity that they have, no matter what their background, to lead the kind of change that they believe in. The kind of change that just might lighten the load.”
Tessman further stated, “Our heartbeat is our student body,” reflecting upon the similar sentiment from former NMU President Edgar Harden, who noted, “Higher education should be accessible to all who have the sufficient mental, physical, moral confidence to profit from an opportunity to attend college.”
Tessman further remarked on the moral and ethical strength of students as they face new challenges of a new age, such as artificial intelligence. NMU students “embody SISU,” the Finnish and distinctly human concept of the strength and determination that people have through hardships.
“Our human connections are a territory where artificial intelligence cannot tread … You can walk along the wooden trail next to the Dead River and you can look at the tobacco-colored water running down the street and you can understand in a way that artificial intelligence cannot,” Tessman said.
He told students “It’s OK to fail here and get back up, try something new” with the support system of the university’s community.
The newly invested president ended his remarks by stating, “It is such a great time to be a Wildcat.”
Alexandria Bournonville can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 506. Her email address is email@example.com.