Merriman, Kelman Look Forward to Rewarding Experience at Mount Union
January 11, 2016
Dick Merriman considers himself an advocate for the underdog.
His upbringing in rural Kansas helps him relate to the typical hardworking, American family. His paternal grandfather was a coal miner in the mountains of western Maryland; his maternal grandmother grew up in a sod house in western Kansas and ran a tavern.
“It’s a typical American family tree,” Merriman said. “You go back a generation or two and you find blue collar people.”
Margot Kelman has similar, but urban, roots. Her father’s family emigrated to the U.S. from Latvia during the early 1900s. They settled in the Bronx and her grandfather went to work driving a subway car in New York City. Her mother, Marianne, was from a Jewish family living in Berlin, Germany in the 1930s. At the age of 11, Marianne left Germany for England as part of the Kindertransport rescue operation. She was the only member of her immediate family to survive the Holocaust.
The Impact of a College Degree
“If you check out the American side of the Merriman and Kelman family trees in the 1890s, you find rural and urban laborers, hardship, limited opportunities. Nothing very fancy happening there,” Merriman said during his State of the University address in August. “If you check them out in the 1930s, things don’t look much different, or more prosperous. Then came World War II. Along with millions of others, my father and Margot’s father served in the military during that war. My dad was in the Pacific. Margot’s dad was in Europe, which is how he happened to meet a Jewish teenager from Berlin at a youth hostel in London.”
Thanks to the post-war GI Bill, Merriman’s and Kelman’s fathers were both able to attend college. Merriman’s father studied to become a United Methodist pastor; Kelman’s attended an aviation school and became an aircraft mechanic for American Airlines.
“The GI Bill is one of those ‘black swan’ moments in American social history. Access to college for millions of people who wouldn’t have been able to attend without veterans benefits created huge social mobility,” Merriman said.
“I grew up in a house full of books, and the assumption was that everybody would go to college,” Merriman recalls. “All my siblings went to college and my mom went to college after she got us launched. College was a real game changer for our family.”
Due to their father’s success, as well as their mother working as a secretary, Kelman and her brother were afforded the opportunity to attend college as well.
Advocating for Education
Merriman notes that unfortunately, these types of college opportunities don’t come easily to today’s students.
“We’ve evidently decided that, for most people, a college education is a private purchase, not a public priority. That’s very different from when I went to school,” he said.
Despite the challenges facing today’s families when it comes to sending children to college, Merriman continues to advocate for making education a reality for students.
“I want to make sure all kinds of people have educational opportunities,” he said. “Most of my professional life has been spent in private higher education, and I really care about that.”
Kelman has also been an educator for most of her life and shares that passion. In high school, she volunteered at a center for severely and profoundly disabled children, where she met a speech-language pathologist and became intrigued by her work.
Kelman went on to earn numerous college degrees – Bachelor of Science and Master of Science degrees in speech-language pathology and a Doctor of Philosophy degree in communication sciences and disorders. She also earned a graduate certificate in educational leadership.
Most recently, prior to moving to Ohio, Kelman had her own early childhood speech therapy practice in Kansas in which she worked with families and children with speech and language problems.
“I think we’re both attracted to providing opportunity for people,” Merriman reflected.“She (Kelman) has excelled in helping children who have challenges, and I like helping people who have talent and energy and just need a chance. There are smart people all around us who just need an opportunity to show what they can do.”
In his scholarly work, Merriman has examined the ways Americans’ ideas about fairness and equal opportunity – and their ideas about government’s proper role in shaping the terms of competition for education, jobs and housing – have influenced the politics of race in the United States.
In his State of the University address in August, Merriman discussed the link between ability, effort and achievement, noting that “the world feels right side up” when effort leads to achievement. But he also understands that circumstances – poor health, family issues, unfair treatment or just plain bad luck – can impede a person’s success.
“We all need support. If we’re being honest with ourselves, we know that many people have helped each of us when we have achieved success,” Merriman concluded. “The University of Mount Union is here to provide that help, and we are able to do it so well because our alumni give, out of gratitude, to support this great mission.”
Merriman enjoys watching undergraduate students differentiate themselves during their college years.
“Over the course of four years, they sort themselves out and you see leaders and strengths emerging. Watching people figure out who they are and what they’re going to do with their lives is exciting. It’s satisfying to help that happen.”
Kelman also notes that the most rewarding aspect of working with children is watching them grow and learn.
“Parents have come to me in tears, so happy that their child is finally talking and they can communicate,” she said. “The biggest reward for us is when we can help other people like that.”
A Worthwhile Investment
Merriman is no stranger to the college affordability discussions taking place on a national level. And while he admits that the economy and student loan interest rates pose challenges for today’s student, he maintains that a college degree is one of the best investments a person can make.
“When I was growing up, everyone wanted to go to college – that was the dream.” Merriman said. “No one wondered whether it would be worth it. Now there’s a lot of active wondering.”
One thing that attracted Merriman to Mount Union was the institution’s success in finding graduates their first jobs and in telling the stories of those successes. According to the University’s 2014 post-graduation report, 99% of 2014 graduates self-reporting found success in their searches for degree-required careers or graduate school attendance.
“Strong leadership by Dr. Richard Giese and the Board have put Mount Union in a very good position. In a competitive higher education marketplace, with many people questioning the value of a college degree, we have an outstanding story to tell. Our combination of liberal learning and career preparation is the winning idea for this marketplace.”