Thank You, Ripon College, for 9+ Years
Dear campus community,
After more than nine years at Ripon College, the fall 2021 semester will be my last one as the President of the College. I will be returning to my hometown of Washington, D.C., to pursue a new career opportunity and live closer to my family and friends. A message from Tom Abendroth ’81, the chair of the Board of Trustees, will soon follow with an announcement about the Board’s plans for interim leadership and the timeline for Ripon’s search for its 14th president.
I would like to thank the Board of Trustees, the faculty, staff, alumni and students for the opportunity to lead Ripon during the past nine years. In particular, I would like to recognize the chairs and vice chairs I have worked with during my tenure: Bob Kirkland ’81, Ron Peterson ’70, Doreen Chemerow ’73, Tom Abendroth ’81 and Susan Meier ’79. I consider many former and current Trustees to be good friends and admire their commitment to Ripon.
I’d also like to recognize the incredible group of fellow administrators I’ve worked with during my time at Ripon, including the current Administrative Council: Christophor Ogle, Jenn Machacek, Shawn Karsten, Andrea Young, Kara Kinas Jankowski, Ryan Kane and John Sisko. I’d also like to thank several past administrators and staff with whom I worked closely: Melissa Anderson, Wayne Webster, Jerry Seaman, Ed Wingenbach, Julie Johnson, Tom Ponto, Karl Solibakke, Meg Carne, Danielle Ficek, Claudia Leistikow and Erin Berry. A special shoutout as well to Professors Jody Roy and Becky Matzke for their work as interim deans of the faculty. And on behalf of my family, a special thanks to the staff of physical plant and housekeeping for all of their care of 1 Merriman Lane.
I have loved being Ripon’s president and a professor of politics and government. While I am proud of many achievements we have accomplished together as an institution since 2012, my time in the classroom, leading students to Rome with professors Diane Mockridge and Travis Nygard, and becoming a part of the Ripon community are among the things I will remember the most.
There is much for all of us to be proud of over the past decade: the most successful fundraising campaign in Ripon’s history, the doubling of the College’s endowment to $112 million, the state-of-the-art Willmore Center for health and wellness, the innovative Catalyst curriculum, the Center for Politics and the People, Liberal Arts in Focus, renovations to nearly every building on campus — including, among others, Kresge Little Theatre in East Hall, Demmer Recital Hall and Benstead Theatre in the C.J. Rodman Center for the Arts, the Franzen Center for Academic Success in Lane Library and labs and lounges in Farr Hall — regularly hitting our enrollment targets and 3% across-the-board raises for faculty and staff in seven of the past nine years. Any successes that we have had in persevering through COVID this past year and a half has been a team effort, and there are heroes among our staff and faculty that I cannot thank enough.
One of the unique things about being president is that I’ve had the privilege of visiting with Ripon alumni all over the country. Whether it was watching a spring baseball training game in Florida, having matzo ball soup at Manny’s delicatessen in Chicago or being welcomed into the homes of alumni from Houston to Philadelphia to Seattle, I have been made to feel part of a special community. During the next four months, I hope to have the opportunity to thank many of you in person for all that you have done (and continue to do) for the College.
When I was announced as the 13th president of Ripon College in March 2012, I told the community that the road ahead likely would hold both challenges and successes, but if we approached problems with an open mind, worked collaboratively and strived to be a better institution, our reward would be knowing that we’ve given our best. I have tried to live up to that ideal every day.
I wish each of you — and Ripon College — all the best in the days to come.
Dr. Zach P. Messitte is the 13th president of Ripon College and a professor in the Politics and Government Department.
Messitte came to Ripon in 2012 and helped lead the Imagine Tomorrow campaign that raised $67 million, the most successful fundraising campaign in College history. He also spearheaded the financing, fundraising and planning behind the 2017 renovation of the Willmore Center, Ripon’s health, wellness and athletic building into a state of the art facility.
In 2014, President Messitte asked the Ripon College faculty to begin the process of reimagining the curriculum for the first time in more than a decade. The new Catalyst program debuted in the fall of 2016 with an $800,000 grant from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.
Under his leadership, the campus has made significant strides in the areas of sustainability and diversity and inclusion and promoting economic development in downtown Ripon. In 2017, he led a campaign in Fond du Lac County to bring together the educational and business community to support a more diverse community. Other initiatives have focused on building morale and community through programs such as the Presidential Staff Awards, and a variety of efforts to help the College and the local business community to work together.
With support from members of the Alumni Board of Directors, Messitte launched the Career Discovery Tour in 2013, a program committed to further expanding student-alumni career networking opportunities. Through this unique program, current students travel to vibrant cities during fall and spring breaks to network and gain first-hand knowledge of a variety of careers directly from Ripon alumni. The Council for Advancement and Support of Education (CASE) recognized this program with a Pride of Case Award for outstanding achievement in concept and execution.
While at Ripon, Messitte’s opinion editorials have been published in the nation’s top 20 newspapers and have covered topics pertaining to the cost of higher education, NCAA Division III student-athletes, Spiro Agnew, the CIA and promoting civil discourse. He currently serves as the chair of the Board of Directors of the Associated Colleges of the Midwest (ACM) and is the past chair of the Midwest Athletic Conference.
When he is not busy doing presidential things or in the classroom, Messitte can usually be found talking with students on campus, hosting student dinners at his home, or walking on the Ceresco prairie.
Prior to joining Ripon, he served as the dean of the College of International Studies at the University of Oklahoma where he also held the William J. Crowe Chair in Geopolitics. While at Oklahoma he hosted “World Views,” an award-winning program on National Public Radio from 2009-2012. From 2002 to 2007, he served as the Director of the Center for the Study of Democracy and a member of the political science faculty at St. Mary’s College of Maryland, the state’s honors liberal arts college.
Messitte continues to be a regular in the classroom as a member of the politics and government faculty at Ripon, and each spring leads students to Rome for a three-week intensive overview of Italian history, politics, culture and language as part of the Liberal Arts In Focus program. In 2018, he taught a special Italian language class for beginners and in spring 2021 he served as a mentor for the Catalyst 300 Applied Innovation course.
He is the author of numerous articles that reflect his interests in politics, international relations, higher education, sports and Italy. His work has appeared in both peer reviewed journals and the national press, including the New York Times, Washington Post and Los Angeles Times. The author and editor of several books he co-authored the book, Republican Populist: Spiro Agnew and the Origins of Donald Trump’s America, published by the University of Virginia Press in 2019. The Wall Street Journal praised the book for “Skillfully drawing on Agnew’s archival papers, the authors show that his serrated rhetorical style dated to his earliest political forays.” Click here to view Messitte’s faculty profile, including a list of teaching, research and other publications.
Messitte was born in Sao Paulo, Brazil while his parents were working in the Peace Corps, and grew up in Chevy Chase, Maryland. A graduate of Bethesda Chevy Chase High School, he received a bachelor’s degree in American history and Italian language from Bowdoin College, a master’s degree in international relations from Johns Hopkins University, and a doctorate in politics from New York University.
Prior to entering academia, he worked for the U.S. Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, the United Nations and the Cable News Network (CNN). He and his wife, Julia, have two sons: Sam and Jules.