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The John Marshall Statue is seen on campus at Marshall University in Huntington.

HUNTINGTON — Collaboration and comprehensive opportunities are the main focuses of Malaysia native Bernard Arulanandam, one of the five finalists in the search for Marshall University’s next president.

Arulanandam, vice president for research, economic development and knowledge enterprise at the University of Texas at San Antonio, is the fourth finalist to visit Marshall’s campus Thursday, following Robyn Hannigan, provost, Clarkson University; Brad D. Smith, Marshall alumnus, philanthropist and former CEO of Intuit; and Kathy Johnson, executive vice chancellor and chief academic officer, Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis. The last finalist to visit Marshall is Bret Danilowicz, provost and vice president for academic affairs, Florida Atlantic University, who is set to arrive Monday.

The search for a new president comes following current Marshall President Jerome Gilbert’s announcement that he will not seek an extension of his contract set to end in July.

Arulanandam said comprehensive engagement between Marshall’s faculty, staff and students will be a main focus to help enhance programs and advance opportunities.

“For me, the primary focus that I want to bring to Marshall is the primary focus that I have at UTSA. Really everything that we do is really to maximize the potential of our students, graduate and undergraduate, to be highly successful in their respective fields. So number one is student success,” he said.

Arulanandam moved to the United States to pursue higher education and received his Bachelor of Science degree in toxicology and a Master of Arts degree at Minnesota State University. He went on to complete a doctorate in microbiology and immunology at the Medical College of Ohio and fellowship at Albany Medical College in New York before moving to the University of Texas at San Antonio (UTSA) and receiving his Master of Business Administration.

Marshall’s sense of purpose and resilience is what attracted Arulanandam to apply for the presidency, he said, but as a big sports fan, he said he appreciates the athletic department and was excited to learn of the university’s soccer team taking home a national title earlier this year.

As a chief research officer at UTSA, Arulanandam said the university has rebranded itself to understand how to become a comprehensive research institution that can impact society. By doing this, he said, departments are able to better understand why and how their fields are affecting the students and community around them and build relationships between fields.

Arulanandam said Marshall has the opportunity to become a comprehensive research institution because of the variety of programs it offers that can work together.

“Marshall has a comprehensive portfolio that has so many touch points that could be brought together,” he said. “That’s what I think of as career-engaged learning. It’s really not just getting a four-year degree; it’s really a continuum of engaging our students through the variety of programs.”

Through finding ways that arts and humanities programs can work with STEM fields, he said, career opportunities can be made available and research opportunities can be enhanced, he said.

In addition to student engagement, Arulanandam wants to improve student enrollment by expanding recruitment opportunities globally.

While Marshall offers plenty for local students and surrounding states, Arulanandam said, the university can provide great opportunities to international students. With his experience in strategic research and the advancements of technology that could be used to understand where recruitment should be increased, Arulanandam said he could work with other officials to determine what programs are interesting students worldwide.

Margo Dellicarpini, chancellor at Penn State Abington and former dean of the College of Education and Human Development at UTSA, said she worked with Arulanandam for about four years and learned he is an avid listener who puts others’ needs first.

“The first thing that I noticed about him is that he really does listen rather than coming in with a preconceived notion about something,” Dellicarpini said. “He’s able to create collaborative teams. He’s able to be inspirational and help people really move forward, and help collectively come around a shared vision.”

Dellicarpini said she went on to work as the vice provost for strategic educational partnerships and worked closely with Arulanandam. During his time at UTSA, she said, Arulanandam helped departments throughout the university get research grants approved to further their programs.

In her College of Education and Human Development alone, Dellicarpini said Arulanandam helped them go from averaging about $3.5 million in funding a year to about $10 million a year.

As an immunologist, Arulanandam is co-chairman of UTSA’s public health recovery task force and has been studying vaccines and diseases for years. He said the next president of Marshall will have to deal with the reality of COVID-19 cases declining, but possibly becoming a seasonal illness that will require regular protocols.

“We will get over this pandemic because we have the power of science, vaccines and therapeutics, but we are going to go into an endemic state, the definition being that COVID will persist in our community for at least the foreseeable future,” he said. “So the incoming president is going to be taking on COVID as it sort of dissipates, but not taking their eye off the ball and having those safeguards in place to keep our faculty, staff and students moving forward.”

Dellicarpini said Arulanandam is sensitive to the needs of the students and university, is empathetic, organized and highly skilled, and because of those traits would make a great university president.

“I think that obviously the candidate pools are strong, and I know Marshall has done their due diligence in putting together a very strong pool of candidates,” she said. “But I don’t think that there’s a candidate who would do better for the institution and would be more dedicated than Bernard, and I think that the community and the campus would be very lucky to have him as their president.”

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