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Message from the President

Update from Washington - January 28, 2013

Dear Colleagues and Friends,

On the Friday before the Presidential Inauguration, The University of Montana held a most inspirational event in Washington, D.C. About 140 alumni, friends, employees and students gathered for a reception to honor the accomplishments of Jim Messina, a UM graduate in both Political Science and Journalism. Jim is the person who ran President Barack Obama’s re-election campaign. Regardless of your politics, you must agree that Jim’s work was remarkable, enhancing his reputation as a master political strategist and bringing tremendous visibility to The University of Montana.

Jim Messina

President Royce Engstrom presents alum Jim Messina with his own UM jersey.

The gathering was fittingly held in a venue with a dramatic nighttime backdrop of our nation’s Capitol. Senators Baucus and Tester came; and as part of the ceremony, David and Monica Paoli, who are friends of Jim and UM alumni, announced an endowed scholarship in his name.

Importantly, 15 current UM students were there. They were taking a special Inauguration Course put on by the Washington Center and coordinated by Professor Rob Saldin from our Political Science Department. I was impressed watching our students interact so professionally with the crowd.

When Jim addressed the reception, one thing was perfectly clear: He deeply loves UM and attributes his success to the education he received here. He spoke from his heart about the mentoring and guidance he received from the faculty and two professors in particular – Bill Chaloupka in Political Science and Carol Van Valkenburg in Journalism. Jim remembered that, when he arrived at UM, he was scared and didn’t know anyone. He found tough professors, lifelong friends and mentors who helped him follow his passion. His message essentially was this: UM is a place that can launch an individual onto a world-changing life path.

Senator Bacus and UM students

Senator Max Baucus talks with UM students who were in Washington, D.C., for a seminar on the Presidential Inauguration.

We would have a difficult time finding a more dedicated ambassador for the University. Jim is such a die-hard Grizzly fan that we gave him his own No. 1 Montana Grizzlies jersey with “Messina” across the back.

The next day, on the plane back from Washington, I finished a book called “Abelard to Apple: The Fate of American Colleges and Universities.” The author, Richard DeMillo, is a professor at Georgia Tech. The book was given to me by Liz Marchi, a UM supporter and successful businesswoman who now lives near Polson. DeMillo speaks about the critical need for innovation in colleges and universities if they are to remain vibrant and relevant, with an emphasis on technology in our approaches to education.

Reflecting on Jim Messina’s comments and DeMillo’s writing, it’s clear that UM must continue to think and act in educationally innovative ways, adapting to online and other technology-based approaches. At the same time, we must preserve that defining characteristic of our campus – the nurturing, mentoring relationship between faculty member and student. Whether that relationship grows from a traditional classroom setting, a research laboratory, a performance studio or via the most innovative digital medium, we nurture future leaders at The University of Montana.

The trip to our nation’s Capital inspired me in so many ways! We will redouble our efforts to create the next generation of leaders.


Royce C. Engstrom
The University of Montana