Seth Bodnar, one of four candidates for UM’s presidency, has held many titles. He’s a Rhodes and Truman Scholar, a former Army Ranger and Green Beret and a senior executive at the General Electric Company all rolled into one. But he’s never worked in university administration, and now he’s after UM’s most important role.
Bodnar said he decided to apply for UM’s presidency because he’s passionate about education. His parents were both educators, and he wants to bring his family to Missoula, where his wife grew up. He said he’s spent the past 20 years as a student and a leader and that his set of diverse experiences have have helped him become resilient enough to lead UM.
“This job is not one that’s for the faint of heart,” Bodnar said. “The best leaders aren't just ones who can run the fastest and jump the highest. They’re the ones who can get knocked down and then just keep getting back up and moving forward.”
Although Bodnar holds two master’s degrees from Oxford in economic and social history and comparative social policy, he does not have a doctorate, and he’d be only the second University president not to hold one.
Bodnar says one of his first moves as president would be to create an interdisciplinary team made up deans, faculty and especially an experienced chief academic officer to fill the gaps in his experience — namely, running a university.
“I’m a big teams-based person,” Bodnar said. “Everyone has a position to play on the field. You shouldn’t expect a leader to come in and be able to play every position perfectly.”
Adam Yeloushan, human resources leader for GE, said in the 14 years he’s worked for the company, he hasn’t seen a leader like Bodnar, who’s in charge of the digital business in GE’s transportation wing. In the midst of of two acquisitions with hundreds of new employees, he said Bodnar was charged with bringing the 125-year-old, industrial culture at GE into the digital age.
Yeloushan believes Bodnar’s beginnings near the working-class area of New Castle, Pennsylvania, helped informed how he thinks about leadership.
“Seth comes from a pretty humble environment,” Yeloushan said.
Mike Erwin, who first met Bodnar 20 years ago at West Point where Bodnar now serves as a visiting faculty member teaching economics, said even though he had a nearly unheard-of 4.18 GPA, took more than 1,800 hours at West Point and was a senior cadet and residential commander, he was humble and always had time for people.
Erwin said that Bodnar graduated first in his class from West Point on a Saturday and then packed up and began Ranger School on a Monday instead of celebrating. He went 60 straight days through the school with three to four hours of sleep per night and no breaks — evidence, Erwin believes, which points to his ability to succeed and make personal sacrifices.
A “once in a lifetime cadet,” Erwin said Bodner’s atypical background also has prepared him to become a “once in a generation type of leader.”
Bodnar said coming to UM, he would listen and learn from those on the campus and in the community. And ultimately, he would rely on the results from the current strategic planning committees and prioritization processes to then plan the next steps for the University.
As UM president, he said he would focus on amplifying the University’s strongest programs, such as wildlife biology, ecology and creative writing as well as strengthening ties between the community and the University, especially through research. He said he would also advocate for the Griz at the state, national and local levels and recruit talented in-state students.
Bodnar said he does not want people to think he would run the University like a business and treat students as customers, since student input, empowerment and engagement is the lifeblood of any university. Ultimately, he said, students are not being served something, but coming to school to transform themselves and learn.
Instead, Bodnar said his chief role as a leader would be as a catalyst to help UM reach its highest potential.
“I’m not sure what the University needs right now is a leader they think is going to come down with Mount Sentinel with stone tablets with what exactly the University needs to do,” Bodnar said. “I think the university needs someone who can harness energy, that excitement, and channel it toward the things that we could do most effectively.”
Bodnar plans to engage students by hiking up the M and inviting them to talk with him, as well as having them over for dinner. He also wants to meet them in daily activities — at practices, at the gym, in dining halls and in classes.
“It’s just so invigorating and exciting to spend time with young, passionate people who are not just excited to learn but care about the world,” Bodnar said. “So that’s what gets me up in the morning.”