After 32 years serving the Castleton State College community, Academic Dean Joe Mark will retire at the end of this academic year.
Mark came to Castleton in 1980 after being Dean of Students at Pitzer College in Claremont Calif. The son of two Bavarian immigrants with sixth grade educations, Mark said he was always forced to recognize the importance of education.
“They believed education is how you moved up the ladder and made a better life … I was fortunate to be allowed to pursue interests beyond what my parents understood or were interested in,” he said.
After attending parochial and Jesuit educational institutions for 17 years, he went on as a first generation college student to earn his bachelor’s degree in psychology and philosophy at St. Peter’s College.
“I settled on psychology and philosophy. I would always say, psychology was for the future and philosophy was for fun,” he said.
With the guidance of faculty member at St. Peter’s, Mark was encouraged to apply to graduate school.
“When I got accepted to some of the places, he said, ‘You’re going to Rochester.’ He was an Italian, an immigrant like my parents. I liked it there. I ended up going for clinical psychology,” Mark said.
Upon completion of his Ph.D. in clinical psychology at Rochester University, he took positions at Hobart and William Smith Colleges in Geneva, N.Y. as assistant professor of psychology and then moved on to Pitzer College where he was academic dean for four years.
“At that point, I had been working with mostly private colleges and two things happened, we wanted to move back east … and the other was that I wanted to try working with public colleges. I had many good relationships with students from the colleges I had been working at but as a group, I was becoming less interested in working with students whom I will describe as of privilege,” he said.
Mark said at these very expensive, private colleges, he found the students less than gracious about the education they were being provided. He wanted students who were more “salt of the earth.”
“I’ve always thought of myself as being a servant in educational terms, so even though I had gone to a private Jesuit college, it was really serving a much more population as Castleton does — a salt of
the earth, lower middle class, and often first generation populations, as I was, that I was interested in,” he said.
Upon taking the dean of students position at Castleton in 1980, he describes the circumstances as less than desirable.
“The facility was in horrible shape. Dorm life was terrible; there was a lot of vandalism, and disruptive behavior. I’ve always loved challenges and clearly, there were a lot here,” he said.
But after only three years of hard work and dedication to the institution, the challenges had already begun to be overcome. The retention rate went from a loss of 29 percent the fall of 1980 to a steady 7 percent by the end of his third year as dean of students.
“It was a lot of work, in fact I’ve never worked harder in my life, but it felt meaningful,” he said.
While Mark will be leaving the Castleton College community, he and his wife, Nancy, plan to remain here in the town of Castleton in the home where they’ve raised their children.
“I feel very, very fortunate that I have been able to stay in the same community, to raise my kids here, allow my wife to get equally settled into her own profession — she’s been an elementary principle for 20 plus years — without having to disrupt all of that, I’ve been able to have these constant opportunities and challenges,” he said.
And even with all of the challenges and progress made here at Castleton in 32 years, he credits the student body and the institutional goals for distinct successes.
“So what am I most proud of? One is that we’ve preserved that culture on campus where we treat each other respectfully… I’m very proud of the college’s commitment to students who haven’t yet realized their potential,” he said.
Who will succeed Dean Mark? The decision is ultimately up to President Dave Wolk, but Mark is quick to place few expectations on his successor.
“My hope is that they enjoy this job as much as I have. But I think it’s wrong for an individual who’s departing to place expectations on his or her successor,” he said.
Mark hopes that the college will continue to thrive and cater to students, modern knowledge and civic engagement. He believes that the school still has improvements to make and that, “…most students need, or will benefit more from, engaging pedagogies and approaches to designing courses and classroom experiences that really force students to participate, to do the work of the discipline, not just listen to people talk about the work of the discipline,” he said.
Beyond Mark’s contributions and hopes for this institution, there is simply Joe. Familiar to many by his various and always colorful bowties and often brilliantly tinted pants, his academic achievements here are not the essence of his presence.
“Joe is Castleton. He sleeps, eats, and breathes Castleton. He is, in reality, Mr. Castleton,” raves administrative assistant, Rita Geno. “He’ll be impossible to replace, he’s too knowledgeable. He will be sincerely missed.”
Wolk echoed Geno. “I’ve known Joe in many capacities over the years and it would be unfair to name any of his achievements as the best. If I mention one, I have to leave something out,” Wolk said.
He said Mark has been essential to the development of this school and that, though we will continue as a college, he will be greatly missed not only for his achievements here, but for his vast knowledge and appreciation for Castleton State College history and traditions.
“He has been essential and excellent in the academic leadership of this college over the last three decades,” boasts Wolk.
As far as retirement, Mark says he’ll be happy to just be retired.
“I’ve been working probably an average of 60 hours a week for a long, long, time. In a way I wish I could just have that time back. I’m most looking forward to reading during daytime hours. I would like to take some courses, learn how to speak Spanish and indulge in things like biking, building, and kayaking.”
His wife, Nancy, is scheduled to retire on approximately the same day and Mark looks forward to more time with her, perhaps traveling, if it’s in the budget.