A Wholesome Appreciation

Posted on Monday, July 28, 2014

Joshua Merchant (Ph.D., Educational Leadership) is the new Vice President of Development and Alumni Affairs at University of North Florida.

Sixteen years ago he began working in the field, and has since been a fundraiser for Michigan State University, Central Michigan University, Interlochen Center for the Arts, and was most recently a Vice President at Albion College.

“I tried something when I was young and I realized I was good at it and I liked it. I liked the climate of higher education, the diversity of the people,” says Merchant, “It was very rewarding for me.”

But that wasn’t the end of the road. Merchant knew he wanted to pursue Ph.D., always asking himself ‘what if?’

“I wanted to be more than one dimensional. It was about me having options, whether I want to be a university president, or teach, or do research,” says Merchant.  “I’m very inquisitive and curious.”

After meeting with Andrea Beach, associate professor for Higher Education Leadership and director for the Office of Faculty Development, the ‘if’ became more concrete, and Merchant decided to sit in on some classes at WMU’s Beltline Campus in Grand Rapids.

“I wanted to be challenged, and pushed to learn, not just from the coursework, but from the people around me as well. I was very critical, I’m very picky,” Merchant says.

Despite his critical observation, Merchant liked what he saw and decided it was time to continue his education. Being a development and alumni affairs professional, the Educational Leadership program was a good fit for Merchant, who found high value in the faculty and program.  

Aside from a better understanding of academic affairs, Merchant gained a wholesome appreciation for academic affairs professionals and their efforts. He learned how to better partner with faculty, make decisions with more inclusivity, and to be more open, honest, and transparent in his efforts.

“Getting a Ph.D. is not easy,” says Merchant. “It was a dedication beyond anything I’ve ever known and I made it through because of Andrea and the Education Leadership program. I am so thankful.”

Merchant pointed out that he is different from most alumni because he didn’t have a connection to campus. Most of his time as a student was not spent at Main Campus in Kalamazoo.

“I had to find Miller on the map the night before graduation, if that tells you anything,” he said. “I just took the courses there, they were buildings. It was the people that helped me get through. The people I gained an affinity for and with. I’m forever grateful to Western.”

Of those faculty, Merchant noted that Andrea Beach, Dan Gaymer (Faculty Specialist, Educational Leadership and Organizational Learning and Performance), Sue Poppink (Associate Professor, Educational Leadership), and Louann Palmer (Professor, Educational Leadership) were instrumental in his educational efforts, and the completion of those efforts.  

Merchant arrived at University of North Florida in April to start his new journey. He comments that he has a great career, but it took some work to get there.

“Once I quit chasing what I thought my career should be, that’s when I began experiencing fulfillment. I did what was right for me and made me happy—what was good for my family, and that’s when my career skyrocketed and everything balanced,” says Merchant. “The benefits of that were greater than I ever could have imagined while I was chasing.”

Merchant encourages current students or other professionals charting their career paths to be open, thoughtful, and to ask questions.

“Be mindful or where you want to go and what you want to do,” he says, “but be open to experiences and adventures… and the opportunities will come.”

“Trust and let go,” says Merchant. “Instead of trying to lead the world, let the world lead you.”

To read more about Merchant’s new role at University of North Florida, please click here.