Leading a college that was two colleges until this year can be no easy task.
That will be Christopher Blake's challenge next month, when he takes up the post of president of Middle Georgia State College. It was formed this year through the merger of Macon State and Middle Georgia Colleges, one of several consolidations designed to cut costs in the University System of Georgia.
Mr. Blake, 53, comes to the new college's helm after seven years as president of Mount Mercy University, a Roman Catholic liberal-arts institution in Iowa. There he started graduate programs, revised the curriculum, and presided over a 30-percent rise in enrollment.
Those accomplishments were among several that prompted Georgia officials and trustees to choose Mr. Blake from among more than 150 candidates. Of special interest was his managing Mount Mercy's elevation to university from college status in 2010, a step that Georgia officials would like Middle Georgia State to take soon.
Mr. Blake will lead an institution comprising five diverse campuses, one of them the School of Aviation. They are spread over 150 square miles of central Georgia, and enroll a total of nearly 9,000 students.
System officials want the new college to draw students from that growing region of the state and beyond. Nearby is Atlanta, a "burgeoning global city that really has an open door to the world," in Mr. Blake's view. The new college's name suggests it is regional, not global, he acknowledges, so "it really does need branding and marketing work" as well as "loads of partnerships" with area businesses.
Leading such an undertaking was not on Mr. Blake's radar last May, when he began a sabbatical at Mount Mercy. "We'd had a fantastic run—in seven years we'd achieved way more than I had imagined we could," he explains. He wanted a pause to consider: What next? Then the Middle Georgia post opened, in what he calls "an alignment of the stars": his goals had been met at Mount Mercy, his children were grown, and he felt he had at least another decade to contribute.
The Georgia system's chancellor, Hank Huckaby, says he and his colleagues viewed favorably Mr. Blake's having taken time out to think about how to match the "strong years" he'd had.
As Mr. Blake readies to take over from Middle Georgia's interim president, John B. Black, some might wonder why the Georgia system chose a Catholic-college veteran to manage a tricky state-system change. Before leading Mount Mercy, Mr. Blake was provost at Mount St. Mary's University, in Maryland. Add to that his bachelor's and master's degrees in theology at the University of Oxford, and he begins to look like a diverted man of the cloth. He chuckles: "I'm a person of faith, an Episcopalian, but I wasn't going to become a monk or ordained. It's hard enough to work with people's minds, let alone their souls."
With a Ph.D. in education from King's College London, however, he has spent half of his career so far at public institutions. He came to the United States in 1993 from Brunel University, a research institution in London, as part of an exchange program with Towson University, in Maryland.
Still, he says, "Oxford and theology developed in me systematic thinking. That theological, cosmic, global way of developing one's mind is directly of benefit in understanding the nature of a complex organization that is changing, as a university does."