Marc Minnick, Provost and Vice President of Academic Affairs at Manor College, spoke with MONTCO Today about growing up in Ridley Park, discovering a deep sense of community at his first job at Swiss Farms, a Delaware County-based drive-thru convenience store chain, finding his calling as a teacher while completing his undergraduate degree at four separate Philadelphia-area colleges, enrolling in the accelerated MBA program at St. Joe’s before landing his first teaching gig at Pennsylvania Institute of Technology (PIT) in Media.
After landing the position of Director of Manor College’s Business Department in 2014, Minnick led the initiative to develop seven four-year Bachelor’s degree programs, the first ever offered by the two-year college in Jenkintown and is currently shepherding the school’s faculty through the pandemic-induced shift from an intimate classroom-based learning model to an online distant learning model.
Where were you born and where did you grow up, Marc?
I was born the middle of three children in 1973 and grew up in the Ridley Park area of Swarthmore.
What memories do you have of growing up in Ridley?
Ridley had a small-town feel. My house was the neighborhood house where everyone just hung out. I remember having 15 to 20 kids over, playing kick-the-can. It was a fun and simple time!
What was your first job?
I don’t remember not working! There’s never been a time when I didn’t have a job.
My first job was delivering the Town Talk, a once a week community newspaper, beginning in fifth grade. My first hourly job was at a Swiss Farm store in Swarthmore. I began as a retail clerk and over several years throughout high school and college, I worked my way up to be the assistant manager of the store. Even now, I jokingly refer to my time at Swiss Farms as my favorite job ever.
Why do you remember your Swiss Farm experience so fondly?
Swiss Farms had a community feel to it. I always worked Sunday morning and would take care of the people stopping at the store on their way home from Mass. I remember a one car with two elderly African American women who came through every Sunday morning and bought the same thing every week, half-and-half, a quart of whole milk, and a Tastykake family pack. Over time I got to know them and would have their order waiting for them when they pulled up to the window. I remember the Sunday before Christmas surprising them and paying for their order. It really meant a lot to them but then connection meant more to me. It is something I remember to this day!
You found yourself at Swiss Farm?
I loved the connections I made at Swiss Farm with the employees and customers. Getting to know the regulars is what made the job special. I got to meet people, see people and connect to people through Swiss Farms
Where does your sense of community come from?
I think it was something I was born with. I like to be surrounded by people who care about each other, who care about me, and doing what I can to make everyone better.
What kind of music did you listen to growing up?
Although I listened to many types of music and compiled a large CD collection, music was never a passion of mine. Even today I listen to more sports-talk and news or audiobooks than music.
Where did you end up going to college?
While academics came fairly easy to me, I admit I was lazy and a procrastinator. I only applied to Penn State Main Campus and got accepted at Penn State Delco, now Penn State Brandywine. Because other options required an essay, I settled for the easy way.
I was a first-generation college student and my parents were not involved with my college search or choice. Things are much different now.
How long did you stay at Penn State?
Looking back, I wasn’t ready for college. I think I went to college because that was the path everyone took. I started out majoring in Accounting but always felt like I wanted to teach. I quickly realized that the desire to teach wasn’t going away and I decided to change to become a Math teacher. A cousin who was a career counselor at Delaware County Community College talked me into transferring to DCCC. A year later I transferred to West Chester for a year before deciding college wasn’t for me after all.
I often reflect on how similar my experience is to that of the typical Manor student. So many times, I see students at Manor that remind me of my younger self. I want to shake them and plead with them to listen and not make the same choices I made.
What did you do?
In 1991, after a bad day at Swiss Farms in 1991, I went to work for my aunt and uncle who were starting a mortgage company in Chadds Ford. Real Estate was booming and I was making a good salary, dating my now wife – who needed college. Eventually, I was helping open up branch offices around the country. I trained new employees, teaching them how the company worked. I loved the education and training side of the business. The teaching desire came back!
Between the business skills I was able to obtain and the desire to teach, I knew I needed to go back to school. I enrolled in Immaculata University to complete a Bachelor’s Degree in Business. I continued to St. Joseph’s University for my MBA. Then finally earning my Doctorate in Business Administration from Wilmington University.
Where does your passion for teaching come from?
I’m not sure. I have often said that teaching has given me the most satisfaction professionally. When I step in front of a class I feel energized. It doesn’t matter what kind of day I am having, good or bad, being in front of a class gives me a spark. The positive energy makes every day a little better.
Who were the people who helped get you to where you are today?
While studying at St. Joes, I made my career teaching aspirations known to classmates in my cohort. After graduation, and with the knowledge of my passion for teaching, one of my classmates, Judy Ward, sent me information about a teaching position at PIT in Media. I applied, was hired on the spot and I’ve been teaching ever since.
The experience at PIT confirmed that teaching was the right place for me. I knew with my business experience and MBA, the next step was the Doctorate degree. In 2009, I left the mortgage business. Judy Ward offered me a job at her company, Advanced Enviro Services, that gave me the freedom to leave work in the middle of the day to teach knowing that my end goal would be to teach full-time. In 2014, I was offered a position at Manor College and I accepted.
What do you bring to the Manor College experience?
I’m blessed in two ways. First, my own experience as a first-generation college student with not a lot of family guidance just 20 years ago is so similar to the trajectory of Manor’s typical student.
Second, as a father of teens and now a college student, I can relate to what this generation of college kids are seeing and experiencing. My 20-year-old son, who is a Junior at George Washington University, is at home taking college courses online. I get to see his real-time struggles with, and adjustments to, remote learning. I’ve been able to spot flaws in our approach earlier than I would have because I have a student at home living the remote learning experience.
As you look forward to the rest of 2020, what are your challenges and opportunities?
Under President Jon Peri’s leadership, so much is happening at Manor. We’re no longer just a two-year school. We now offer Bachelor’s degrees, seven of which I’ve created. I feel like I have a place in history at Manor College.
The opportunities are endless. We just need to be what we all know we’re capable of. There are a lot of talented, dedicated people that work for Manor College. So many of our professors and staff came to Manor College after a career in their profession. Their collective experience brings a unique presence to the classroom.
How has the college adjusted to remote learning brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic?
While our faculty and students adjusted to online learning quickly, we’re all missing the human connection and day to day interaction with each other. As much as you can teach everything online that you can in a classroom setting, there’s nothing like being in a classroom and experiencing a student’s ah-ha moment face-to-face. I also think that the creative ways professors have enhanced their teaching being online will only make them stronger when we return face-to-face.
How does Manor College feed into your sense of community, Marc?
The Manor community is a special place. We all have the same drive and passion to help our students succeed and know each of us can make a difference in our students’ lives. When of my proudest accomplishments so far is the creation of Manny’s Madness!! Manny, our Blue Jay mascot, keeps the library open for extended hours before midterms and finals. The library is filled with students and faculty helping each other, you may even find me making pancakes! A definite buzz exists. It is a great community experience.
As you lay the foundation for the post-pandemic reality, what is your highest priority?
Our focus is on making sure the opportunities offered by Manor College do not change. We may alter how we deliver the classroom experience, we want to make sure our students embrace the changes while continuing to experience the hope Manor offers even in these chaotic times. Our presentation may change, for the health and safety of all, but the opportunity remains the same.
When you’re not working, what do you do in your spare time?
My family means the world to me and I try to do as much together with them as time allows. We’ve been playing more board games and watching TV together. I’m currently reading There There by Tommy Orange, a Manor College book club recommendation that I finally have the time to read.
Finally, Marc, what is the best piece of advice you ever received?
Not so much in words, but when my aunt and uncle hired me to work in their mortgage business, they encouraged me to take on what I could, do whatever I wanted to do, challenge myself, keep pushing and know that there are people there to support you.
We have been doing many virtual Blue Jay Q&A sessions recently. I tell every potential student that the key to starting college is ‘don’t be shy.’ They have dreams but may not realize there is help available to allow them to achieve their dreams. If they aren’t shy and share their dreams, we will do whatever we can to get them on the path to someday reach their goals.
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