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Meeting Dr. Shushok

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by Chamberlain Zulauf

In setting up a time to chat with Dr. Frank Shushok he was excited to have the interview in the Commons. It was important to him, discernibly, to immerse himself in the student culture he now leads. During our lunch Shushok had more questions for me and my friends than we had for him. In fact, he made a point to learn about us before we would get to him. 

Perhaps his desire to meet in commons was more ostensible than discerning; he hadn’t yet truly been through Commons, so me and my friend Josh had the pleasure of giving him a tour. He got the noodles with tomato vodka sauce. A good choice. I’d have thought he’d go for the ‘tendies but maybe those only excite 18–22-year-olds.

I was excited to meet the man who will hand me my diploma in May and was thinking of how nervous some Maroons were about replacing Maxey. After having lunch with him I would say that the first impression you’ll have of Dr. Shushok is that he truly is excited and committed to being in Salem.

Asking him about his highlight of the summer, Shushok gave a typical presidential answer— with a genuine tone.

“I mean this truthfully. The thing I enjoy most about working in higher education is the students. The best part of the summer is when students start to trickle back to campus; finding out from them what they hope for Roanoke college and what they want to do with their lives…

It’s incredibly energizing for me to hear those kinds of things from students. Fundamentally, that’s what Roanoke college is all about— helping you clarify who you are and what your strengths are,” said Dr. Shushok.

What’s a need in the world you can fill? For example, I just met a student who spent the summer in Norway picking up plastic off beaches. Him thinking about how we address that huge climate problem was fun for me.  

The two of us agreed that it’s very quiet on campus over the summer. I personally relished that this past summer. Of course, though, our new president couldn’t wait for everybody to come back. A lot of students at ‘Noke talk about a certain feeling this valley emits into our hearts and I wondered if Dr. Shushok feels the same thing…

Echoing the words of Maxey in our last issue…

“Roanoke college, in Salem, has what architects call a sense of place and that sense of place has a spirit,” said Dr. Shushok, echoing the words of Maxey in my last edition.

“I think that’s what a lot of us here feel. You come here and the psychical environment communicates something to you that feels a bit intangible, but you know it when you experience it. I definitely know exactly what you mean…. Roanoke has a strong sense of hospitality and welcomeness to it and is a quintessential intersection of a community and a college town.

This valley is like a laboratory for students to find themselves in from the serenity of campus to the metropolitan area of Roanoke City and all the people in between,” said Shushok.

Currently, the Shushoks are living in the guest house while some renovations are being done for the presidential house, “so, we have not quite moved in, and I’m still setting up my office. With a job like this you hit the ground running. So, getting ‘set up’ is kind of a luxury,” said Dr. Shushok, who is excited to bring his past experiences and memories to Roanoke College, “I’ve been at a variety of places and students have given me things along the way. I carry those along with me and I could tell you a story about each memento,” said Dr. Shushok.

For the past 13 years Dr. Shushok was the Vice President for student affairs at VTECH. In his time there he appreciated the “relentless pride and spirit that comes with being a part of that community”. Feeling the same sense of pride at ‘Noke Shushok has one idea for everyone to express that pride.

“One of the things I’ve been working on with students, particularly in the Class of 2026— which I am a part of by the way, is a cheer: when I say, ‘here we go’ you say ‘maroons!’ So far, I think I’ve got it going pretty well! I believe it reminds people what a privilege it is to be here and how great this place is. When you express your pride in a place it anchors itself in you. This is important, particularly, after coming out of a tough time with the pandemic. At convocation I got all the students to do it with ease. Not only that, but I’ve had a few students say it to me!

Another tradition I love about Roanoke college is the President’s Ball. I’ve gotten a lot of questions about whether or not I’m going to keep that up and the answer is an unequivocal YES. The president’s ball will continue. My wife Kelly and I are from Texas, and we were thinking about a way we could bring that to campus. So, we’re even gonna’ have a Texas Shindig for the whole campus this fall,” said Dr. Shushok.

Speaking of future plans and goals, Dr. Shushok has some concrete ones for his first year.

“I think the most important goal is to facilitate a conversation that gives clarity of goals for all of us here. As a community we need to be clear about what we dream for Roanoke College. Clear goals help you develop clear pathways, which is how we move forward as an institution. The other thing I think of as a goal is to continue helping students have meaningful exits from Roanoke through internships or a career related job, which can be a hard world to navigate,” said Shushok.   

Lastly, this wouldn’t be a respectable article if I didn’t inquire about Maple, our campus dog…  

“The family does a lot of outdoors type stuff with our dog Maple. I keep up my fitness at Belk and am also very committed to being a fly fisherman. My ‘god spot’ is the Bozeman Big Sky area in Montana. There are also some beautiful streams here in southwest Virginia… with smaller fish. I just use a smaller fly… Here’s what I think about dogs, though,” half-joked Dr. Shushok, “dogs… and babies… are community builders. If I’m alone, about six in ten people will say ‘hi’ walking by. But with maple… a lot of people will say a brief hello to me and then a significant hello to her.”

So, Maroons! The next time you see Dr. Shushok, with Maple or without, remember the cheer: Here we go!