Just try to keep up with President Michael Lovell’s run-up to the inauguration > Al’s Run > a service project making sandwiches > glow Bingo > the inaugural Mass > campus parade > dancing!
Dr. Michael R. Lovell pulls out his iPhone and taps deliberately on its screen. Next week, he will be inaugurated as Marquette’s 24th president — the first lay president in the university’s history. But on this September afternoon, Lovell is moving a step closer to a different sort of milestone: becoming Marquette’s first president on Twitter. At his direction, he’ll take this plunge a week ahead of schedule. “I’ll be doing things with students all week,” he says, his trademark steady gaze now lifted from the screen and sending a disarming mix of enthusiasm and steel-blue resolve in the direction of Tim Cigelske, the university’s director of social media. “I can get started with Al’s Run Saturday morning and the inaugural ball that night.”
An avid runner and triathlete, President Lovell is particularly eager to remind students via Twitter of a challenge he issued relating to Al’s Run — a special “I Leveled Lovell” T-shirt for every student who beats his time in the 8K run that benefits Children’s Hospital of Wisconsin and will serve as Marquette’s inauguration kick-off event.
Around 9 a.m. the next morning the account goes live with this greeting: “Good morning, @MarquetteU! I’m new to Twitter and looking for people to follow. Send me a tweet and introduce yourself.” By 2 p.m., the account has exploded with more than 700 followers and numerous mentions by students ecstatic to find @preslovell on Twitter, sharing brief dispatches from his busy life and interacting with them about theirs.
“I was asked, ‘Was there anything that happened over your first 80 days that made you recognize you made the right choice?’ I said, unequivocally, ‘Something happens to me every day that lets me know that I made the right choice.’”
For Marquette’s new president, the run-up to his inauguration is a sprint to connect and set a new pace for Marquette. But amid the majesty of the inauguration, there remains business to be done on the university’s urgent priorities. “Inauguration week is also a work week,” Lovell observes. On Monday, he meets with the faculty senate and reports on searches being conducted to fill key leadership positions. Tuesday starts with an early morning battery of interviews with reporters from Milwaukee’s four television stations, covering issues ranging from his vision for the university to the response to a crime spike in the area surrounding campus. He also works to spearhead a collaborative police-community effort to ensure the safety of students and others in the Avenues West neighborhood.
On top of all of this, there is a constellation of social activities — visits to residence halls, athletic contests, service work in the community, a campus carnival, a student-initiated inaugural ball. Even Lovell, known for his creativity and collaborative zeal, could be excused for merely showing up to shake hands and smile. But time spent at his side during the history-making week reveals a far from passive participant in the run-up to Friday’s formal ceremony. Each day, Lovell brings nonstop drive and a remarkable set of traits that shed light on his diverse success as a catalyst, bridge-builder, engineer, teacher, husband, father, marathoner and friend.
Although their pace during Al’s Run puts them across the finish line about 17 minutes apart, Amy and Mike Lovell are very much in step with one another. They are at ease meeting often to share thoughts, strategies and, often, on Amy’s part, a dose of playful teasing to keep her husband on his toes. At the inaugural ball sponsored for students in the Alumni Memorial Union, it takes no more than an offer of a quick lesson from student Dan Klingelhoets to help the couple learn a new step. They move side to side in unison with the group and soon master the Cupid Shuffle. Impressed or even amazed to see the president in the groove, more students flock to join them. Before the song ends, students alternately chant “Lovell, Lovell, Lovell” and “We Are Marquette.”
Two nights later, while dining with women from Cobeen Hall, Lovell calls the Cupid Shuffle one of the week’s highlights. He’s promptly informed that Cobeen has its own dance tradition, Wobble Wednesdays, a migrating study break that starts on Cobeen’s eighth floor with a few women doing the Wobble dance and picks up participants floor by floor until dancers spill out onto the plaza in front of the residence hall.
“Hmm, so what are we doing Wednesday night?” Lovell asks the staff member at his side. When the answer comes back that he will be attending the big Marquette vs. UW–Milwaukee soccer game, he smiles and asks: “Would you guys be up for bringing Wobble Wednesdays to Valley Fields?” And 48 hours later, the Presidential Wobble is part of the game’s halftime show. “Thanks @PresLovell!” his friends at Cobeen Hall tweet later that night. “We had so much fun. Can’t wait until Friday!”
Marquette’s president is clearly buoyed by these improvised interactions. Amy and other confidantes say he is energized by them and by the physical workouts he weaves into every day. But even Lovell has limits. During preparation for the official inauguration ceremony, the one task that involves some toil is preparing his remarks. While meeting with communication adviser Brad Stratton (who worked with Lovell in a similar capacity at UW–Milwaukee), Lovell spells out how he will deliver the speech. “I don’t like to stand behind a podium and read a speech,” he says. “I like to move out on the stage and have a talk with the audience. … I already have a lot of this written in my head. That’s what all of those runs are good for.”
Lovell carves out time to work on his speech in between meetings and greetings. Early in the week, he and members of Marquette’s University Advancement Team continue their behind-the-scenes pursuit of support for initiatives he will introduce in his inauguration remarks. For Lovell, that means reviewing proposals, visiting with benefactors and looking ahead to a meeting the following week with more than a dozen local CEOs.
On Tuesday evening, he attends the 10 p.m. student Mass in St. Joan of Arc Chapel — already a favorite tradition — which keeps him on campus well past 11 p.m. The next night, he, Amy and their children are on campus past 10 p.m. while the first couple calls a few rounds of outdoor Bingo for a student event benefitting REDgen, a suicide-prevention organization. After a dinner for trustees and benefactors Thursday evening, he’s up until 1 a.m. putting the finishing touches on remarks that now run about 30 minutes long. The final version will include all the elements that resonated with him as he logged countless miles running around the city — gratitude for family members, mentors, spiritual guides and friends; humor; his faith-guided decision to come to Marquette; and announcements of a staggering set of initiatives designed to move the university forward. His delivery will be a talk given away from the podium. But Lovell isn’t satisfied at the Friday morning rehearsal. “I need to do less pacing back and forth — there’s a tendency to look at your shoes when you do that,” he says. He promises to spend part of the next few hours polishing rough spots.
Two hours later, Amy gathers family members and greets guests backstage in the Al McGuire Center. Only she knows that her husband woke at 4:30 a.m., after just three hours of sleep. “What’s wrong?” she asked then. “Are you nervous?”
“No,” he replied. “I’m really excited.”
When the time nears for the opening procession, she spots her husband, dressed in academic regalia, wearing Marquette blue Allen-Edmonds wingtips with gold laces, and holding the ceremonial mace. Other participants in the ceremony — trustees, deans, faculty, and state and local leaders — stand with him for photographs. “I looked over at him getting those photos taken, the mace in his hand, and he was just beaming,” Amy says. “I was totally reassured. I thought, ‘OK, he’s got this.’” And, of course, he did.
On Saturday, Sept. 20, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel runs a front-page color photo of Marquette’s new president processing past cheering students and delegates. The headline reads: “Lovell announces Marquette campus expansion, new initiatives.” The remarkable package captures an ambitious agenda designed to provide more dynamic opportunities for students, faculty and staff, in part by being more engaged in efforts to energize Milwaukee economically and address its stubborn problems. His favorite line from the newspaper story relates to how he delivered the address. It was contributed, he learns, by Marquette student and MJS intern Kelly Meyerhofer. It reads: “Stepping away from the podium, Lovell delivered his inaugural address in a presentation style that reflected how he seeks to lead the university — conversationally and without barriers.”
The Marquette Tribune’s coverage includes enthusiastic mentions of his red-hot Twitter account.
Around 9 p.m. Saturday night, Lovell arrives on Central Mall for the week’s final event — a DJ-powered inauguration music festival to cap Greek Week. For the first time, the new president looks tired. Within a few minutes, though, he jumps into group photos, having caught his second, or maybe his 200th, wind of the week. He tells Emily Wulfkuhle, a student vice president of Marquette’s Pan-Hellenic Council: “I was actually pretty exhausted when I arrived, but being here has given me a huge energy boost. This week has been a lot of fun, hasn’t it?”
After he’s called on stage to accept a T-shirt with the word “president” inscribed under the Greek Week logo, he returns to a group that includes Amy, Wulfkuhle and fraternity council officer Alex Landry. Inauguration Week is over, except for one final piece of business. “Do you think you could get the DJ to put on the Wobble dance?” the president asks students. After more than 100 fervent Wobblers join him on the dance floor and share high-fives — he finally does call it a night.
See more at marquette.edu/inauguration/videos.php.
Friends help introduce the new president
“Certainly there are many more words that describe Mike Lovell, and the accolades and praise of his work would be long, but the bottom line is that he gets things done. I have had the great fortune of being able to directly work with Mike for several years and have grown to admire him as a colleague and a friend. What has most impressed me is that Mike is passionate about bringing together academia, industry and the community in ways that will serve the betterment of all. Marquette University is fortunate to have a leader who will take this great university to new heights while also helping make Milwaukee a better place to live, work and learn.”
Dean Amhaus, president and CEO, The Water Council
“When I think of Mike Lovell, the word charismatic comes to mind. During his tenure at the University of Wisconsin–Milwaukee, he had the drawing power and collaborative manner that attracted students, donors, faculty, staff and university supporters to partner on opportunities that they had never thought to engage in previously. He brings that same charismatic energy to his role as the first lay president of Marquette University. Congratulations, Mike, I pray that God will continue to bless you and support you in your new endeavor.”
Dr. Joan M. Prince, vice chancellor, University of Wisconsin–Milwaukee
“I have known President Lovell since he joined the University of Pittsburgh in 2000. He is a loving husband and father who always places the welfare of his family first. It is because of Dr. Lovell that Pitt is one of several university partners in the most prestigious award that the National Science Foundation offers, an Engineering Research Center. It is gratifying that in 2013, Dr. Lovell was inducted as a fellow in the National Academy of Inventors for his many impactful innovations, both basic and applied, throughout his truly remarkable professional career.”
Dr. Harvey Borovetz, professor, University of Pittsburgh
“Dr. Lovell is both a visionary and pragmatic problem-solver. In every encounter I have had with him, he continually finds a way to push the envelope while always grounding his ideas in the resources available to him. Beyond this, Dr. Lovell has the rare and unique ability to connect with every person he meets on a fundamentally human level. The degree to which he has already connected with students is unprecedented and speaks volumes about how he sees students in shared governance. There has never been a more exciting time to be a Marquette student.”
Kyle Whelton, president, Marquette University Student Government