The new chancellor of Washington State University Vancouver seemed surprised by the thunderous applause he received Thursday night.
Mel Netzhammer, who started in the position July 2, was introduced to the community at a public event at the Fort Vancouver National Site on Thursday.
Netzhammer smiled broadly as he took the podium and went off his prepared script to acknowledge the reception he got from about 140 people tightly packed into a room at the Artillery Barracks.
“It’s incredibly humbling to have so many people here welcoming me to Vancouver, Washington — to the ‘Couv,”
Netzhammer said to raucous laughter.
He then continued to speak about WSUV’s deep ties to the Clark County community, which he said was a big part of why he was excited to become the second-ever chancellor of the branch campus.
Netzhammer was hired this spring after a nationwide search. The position opened up after Hal Dengerink retired for health reasons last summer. Dengerink died one month after retiring.
Dengerink was the only chancellor the Vancouver campus ever knew. He started the branch campus in 1989 in a space borrowed from Clark College.
Netzhammer gave credit to his late predecessor on Thursday, saying that Dengerink “left an incredible legacy.”
A 17-member search committee earlier this year unanimously recommended that WSU President Elson Floyd appoint Netzhammer. Netzhammer will receive $300,000 a year in salary, according to his contract.
WSUV’s new chancellor holds a doctoral degree in communications from the University of Utah. After getting his Ph.D., Netzhammer became an assistant professor at Buffalo (N.Y.) State College in 1987. By the time he left that college in 2006, Netzhammer was the dean of arts and humanities.
Next, he took on the provost’s position at Keene State College, about 90 miles northwest of Boston.
His provost duties there included serving as the liaison for K-12 districts’ adoption of Common Core standards. That new set of national testing standards also will be used in Washington starting in the 2014-15 school year.
On Thursday, Netzhammer talked about the Vancouver campus’ recent accomplishments: A new doctoral program in nursing attracted 23 students to its maiden semester this month. A program in WSUV’s College of Business brings together business leaders and students to mentor small-business owners. The engineering program partners with area high-tech employers.
And a digital culture and technology program that has few competitors in the Pacific Northwest is one of several reasons students from outside of Southwest Washington or Portland are coming to WSUV in growing numbers, Netzhammer told The Columbian before Thursday’s speech.
The Salmon Creek campus is expected to grow in the next few years, and that growth will have to be managed with care, Netzhammer said.
“We need to be cognizant of the immediate community around us,” Netzhammer said. “And we need to add the right programs that attract students and support workforce needs.”
Netzhammer said he’s enjoyed his first summer in Vancouver. He and his partner of 23 years, Lee Faver, have been to the Vancouver Farmers Market every Sunday since the two moved here in mid-June, Netzhammer said. He had a “wonderful experience” at the wine and jazz festival.
And most importantly, perhaps, Netzhammer has found his coffee shop of choice in downtown Vancouver.
“I’ve been to Java House many times,” he said. “I’ve learned that’s the place.”