On July 1, 35-year-old Michael Marion became the executive director and associate vice provost of Drexel University Sacramento. Marion replaces Dr. Sandra Kirschenmann, who will officially retire on Sept. 1. For the past four years, Marion has served as the dean of student services and counseling at Cosumnes River College (he was featured in our young professionals feature, “Command and Deliver,” March 2014). He has also served as a member of Drexel’s adjunct faculty in its Master’s of Science Higher Education program.
You and outgoing executive director Sandra Kirschenmann have had a professional relationship dating back to her time at Los Rios Community College District. What impact has she had on your management style?
“I think we are all different. We all have things that we are good at. What I have gained from her is that feeling of commitment, not only to Los Rios or Drexel but also to the city of Sacramento. I’m also inspired by her commitment to young professionals. It oozes out of her.”
The MBA and other graduate programs at Drexel Sacramento are very small when compared to similar programs at Sacramento State, UC Davis and the University of the Pacific. Is Drexel even relevant in this region?
“Those are all incredible institutions. We are just offering another option. Does the public compare the programs? Of course they do. That’s part of the selection process. You have to find what is right for you and your career. If you’re strictly looking at rankings and ratings, then do that for yourself. For me, the institution itself is just as important. It’s my job to make sure Drexel is offering the highest quality of education possible and to make sure our students and alumni are happy and well-equipped to serve the Sacramento community.”
What made the Drexel position attractive to you?
“It’s a phenomenal institution. It reminds me of my time as a student at [the University of Southern California]. As a private institution, Drexel has a lot in common with USC in its instructional approach. My time at USC, both going to school and working, was some of the best times I’ve ever experienced. I think what President John Fry is doing with Drexel is very similar to what I experienced at USC. He’s a visionary. He has great ideas for pushing not only the Sacramento campus, but the national institution as a whole.”
Why make the move now?
“The funny thing is, my boss and I have been talking for a couple years about what the next right opportunity would be for me. I have received some great offers in the Bay Area and Southern California that I shied away from. As much as I would have liked to go to some of those institutions, the time and fit wasn’t right. To me, it’s as much about quality of life as it is about the job. So it’s important for me to be here. My fiancée is from here. We plan on getting married and building a family in this community. So when the Drexel opportunity became available to me, it was a shocker. I look forward to building on the good work Sandy has accomplished here.”
How does this move fit into your planned career trajectory?
“My story was I wanted to be a professor, but ultimately I wanted to be an athletic director. I was blessed enough to get an athletic scholarship to go to college. As an athlete I saw that the graduation rate of student athletes was not as high as it should be. As an athletic director, I thought I could work to improve that rate. A good friend and mentor of mine said that was a great goal, but he also asked, ‘Why not shoot higher?’ He asked, ‘Why not be a vice president or a president?’ In those positions I could affect everybody’s graduation rate. So this position fits my career track just fine. I joke and say I’d love to be the secretary of education some day. In actuality, I just want to do the best job I can in whatever position I’m in.”
Are you relatively young for this executive position?
“You know, that’s an interesting question. The other day someone asked, ‘Aren’t you only 36?’ I said, ‘No I’m 35.’ Regarding the question of 35 years of age being too young to be an executive director, I reply that it depends who you are talking about. I have been in education my entire career. The age thing for some people may be a problem. But for me, I’ll just get in there and do the job the best that I can. I believe I have the background, the infrastructure and the support system at Drexel to be successful.”
No agency is safe. No office off limits. Boardrooms will be infiltrated. Communication barriers will crumble for the sake of collaboration. As the old guard inches toward that horizon called retirement, Sacramento’s young power players are taking center stage.
A 12-year mission to bring higher education to Placer County, spearheaded by local land baron Angelo Tsakopoulos, has gone global.
When Laurie Grimsman graduated in June from the Graduate School of Management at UC Davis, she was 51 and a self-proclaimed “age outlier.”
Bright orange walls and ergonomic chairs. A black conference table flanked by a half-dozen scruffy-chic men (zip-front sweaters, double-pierced ears, turn-of-the-millennium tattoos) and three times as many digital devices (nobody brought just one).