Mark Ferne recalls his time at Westminster as the longest-serving dean of students
by Nicole Rodriguez Cavero (’20)
In 2002, smartphones were not a thing, Facebook had yet to take over the internet, and half of the United States was agonizing over whether or not Rachel and Ross would finally get together in the series finale of the NBC hit show, Friends. Times—as Bob Dylan famously put it—were a-changin’. Having recently completed his master’s degree in higher education administration at the University of Maryland, 26-year-old Mark Ferne took a position at Westminster as the director of student life. Two years later, he became one of the youngest people in the country to occupy the position of dean of students. “I was often mistaken for a student, especially by parents when they came to orientation,” Mark jokes.
Mark spent 16 years serving the student population at Westminster College. In addition to being the longest-serving dean of students in the history of the college, Mark built a reputation within the community as someone dedicated to student success. This commitment shaped many of the innovations that Mark helped bring to campus. In May of this year, Mark announced that he was leaving Westminster, a decision that took a lot of consideration. As he looks to the future, Mark reflects on his time on campus and shares the ways in which both he and Westminster have grown together.
When Mark began his time at Westminster, his youth as a dean of students positively impacted the way he constructed a tightknit community of learners. “When I was an undergraduate student, I stumbled a bit and might have even gotten into trouble on occasion,” Mark laughs. “When you are younger, you are not that far removed from being a college student yourself, and you can better understand some of the things that students are doing.”
Mark helped shape the inclusive atmosphere that characterizes the college, creating a space where personal wellness matters. “We try to ensure the safety, security, and success of the college students—everything from emotional well-being to physical health, academics, and social engagement. I tried to put good people in the right places to interact with students in positive, meaningful ways to help them be successful here at the institution,” Mark says.
As Westminster´s community expanded over the years, Mark saw the need for increasing the amount of staff and campus resources in order to meet the needs of new students in terms of diversity and leadership. “We are experiencing an interesting shift in national and cultural norms when it comes to certain aspects of a college experience,” he recalls. During his 14 years as dean of students, Mark expanded the Counseling Center, implemented Student Health Services, and created many other initiatives with the intention of making the student experience more fulfilling both in and outside the classroom.
“There have been a lot of changes: computers have improved; the internet has exploded. But I think, ultimately, people struggle with similar things: we see people who have trouble connecting, have a hard time financially, or face health issues,” Mark explains. “I tried to be cognizant of what students´ concerns were. Thinking about what we could do as an institution to help them was always important.”
Whether through his famous table-tennis-with-the-dean matches or officiating at the occasional Griffin wedding, Mark strived to ensure that the students knew he was and always would be there for them. “We felt that Mark was one of the few people in our lives who had seen our relationship evolve first-hand,” alum Tyson Smith (’08) says of asking Mark to officiate at his and Adrienne Shaw Smith’s (’10) wedding. “He championed us as individuals in college; he befriended us after we graduated (a very strict rule of his); and, at every turn, he made sure that Adrienne and I appreciated each other. By the time we were married, Mark had become one of our best friends.”
As he prepares to leave Westminster, Mark hopes he will be remembered for his commitment to the students. “We have tried to really enhance the student experience at this institution,” Mark says. “Hopefully, that will be one of my lasting legacies.”
About the Westminster Review
The Westminster Review is Westminster University’s bi-annual alumni magazine that is distributed to alumni and community members. Each issue aims to keep alumni updated on campus current events and highlights the accomplishments of current students, professors, and Westminster alum.