Cover Stories: The Erickson Legacy

May 18, 2015
Roger Baldwin, current Erickson Chair

Roger Baldwin, current Erickson Chair

When W. Bruce Erickson created an endowed chair at Michigan State University, he knew putting additional funds in the hands of faculty would empower bold ideas. Growing up the son of former Dean Clifford Erickson, he recognized the quality of the research and teaching in the College of Education. And he believed there was untapped potential to achieve his mother’s mission: to help more people, especially non-traditional students, attain a higher education.

More than a decade later, not one but four professors have held the Dr. Mildred B. Erickson Distinguished Chair in Higher, Adult and Lifelong Education. They have used revenue from his $1.5 million investment to deepen and expand their own research and also to hold major conferences and host national experts on campus. They have created new student internships, research assistantships and trips to explore higher education policy in Washington, D.C. and other countries.

Typically, funding for academic programs is already committed to salaries and general expenses, so resources set aside for an endowed faculty position can provide a much-needed catalyst to start up innovative projects and programs. In the College of Education at MSU, donors can be certain the benefits of creating an endowed position will expand beyond an individual professor. In the case of the Erickson Chair, the recipient—which rotates every three years—has flexibility to decide how to spend an annual allocation of the endowment.

“It reflects the culture of our program,” said professor and former Erickson Chair James Fairweather. “We made a decision as a faculty not to make it a permanent appointment but to figure out the best ways of using the money to promote faculty work and student success.”

Sharing the impact

Each of the chairholders advanced knowledge about aspects of higher education while simultaneously creating research and learning experiences for their graduate students.

Professor John Dirkx studied the growing impact of graduate-level study abroad in partnership with the Office of Study Abroad at MSU. Professor Roger Baldwin, the current Erickson Chair, is embarking on research about the potential of retired faculty organizations to extend the academic impact of professors.

And Professor Ann Austin, who was the first Erickson Chair, explored broad changes in the careers of faculty members across the nation.

“I really appreciated the opportunity to meet with Dr. Erickson and express our gratitude for his gift,” said Austin.

Sadly, Bruce Erickson passed away in 2012. However, his plan to create another endowed chair, this time in his father’s name, through a $2 million gift is now being realized with the recruitment of a professor in K-12 Educational Administration. His family legacy in the College of Education lives on thanks to his generosity—and the faculty members who will proudly carry the honor of his name.