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New FSU leader knows his business

January 25, 2004|by BOB MAGINNIS

Some academics decorate their offices with pictures of landscapes or modern art. Not Lew Muth. The new interim director Frostburg State University's Hagerstown Center has adorned his wall with a large photo of a big, yellow Grove Manufacturing ATS 540 crane.

"It was the last one I worked on as a team leader," said Muth, who proudly described the machine's ability to travel terrain that other cranes would have to be towed across by a bulldozer.

If it sounds strange to go from building heavy equipment to leading a college campus, it really isn't, Muth said.

"I was an instructor for a while in the Air Force and I was an instructor in 4-H, so it's really kind of a natural outgrowth of that," he said.

He'll continue to teach part-time even as he handles the details of shutting down Frostburg's Frederick Center and moving files from FSU's Hagerstown offices on Public Square to the new University System of Maryland building in the renovated Baldwin House.

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In all, he's taught about eight different courses, mostly to what he calls non-traditional students, 90 percent of whom are working adults.

"Some of them need the degree because they need it to apply for another job, others to advance in the job they have now," Muth said.

Others come straight out of Hagerstown Community College, working in retail or fast food, and need a degree to move into a manager's job.

Asked if most students are realistic about what it takes to advance academically, Muth said that it often depends where they obtained their A.A. degree.

His best advice for doing well:

"Go to class. You can't learn anything if you aren't there," he said, adding that learning to manage time is also important, especially if you're juggling school with a full time job.

"The big thing is that you've got to want to do well. And don't set your goals so high that they're unattainable," he said.

"If you're trying to work full-time and take four classes in a semester, which is a full-time schedule, you're going to get stressed," he said.

As a teacher, Muth said that his favorite thing is "interacting with students and then seeing them walk across the stage when they graduate."

He remembers them fondly, he said, and tries to take a picture of each group he teaches, keeping a photo folder of past classes.

"I taught one gentleman who graduated in December and his wife, who graduated in May. They sent me a picture of their 'team project,'" a beautiful baby, he said.

Sometimes he sees former students on the street or in a business, Muth said, and realizes that based on what they learned at FSU, they've moved up.

One of Muth's duties in the next year will be assisting the new director and his or her assistant, who will work out of the FSU offices until the new USM center is completed.

"Both of them will be appointed by the middle of next month," Muth said.

Muth said he didn't apply for that job because "I was more interested in this one."

That's because the operations aspect of it is more in line with his background and the classes that he teaches, like operations management.

"In business you have the finance people and the marketing people. Everything else is operations," he said.

The course he teaches covers ordering supplies, logistics, quality control, scheduling and product flow for service and manufacturing.

Asked if there was one thing he'd like to communicate about what's happening downtown, Muth said that he'd like everyone to understand that the new center will be run by the University System of Maryland, with courses offered by a number of participating institutions.

As for Frostburg's current offerings, Muth said that "everything but the accounting program is going to migrate next door." (University of Maryland University College will offer accounting and information technology classes beginning in 2005.)

Then hopefully by the fall of 2005 and the spring of 2006, other institutions will begin offering courses of their own, Muth said.

The likelihood of that happening improved this past week, when Gov. Robert Ehrlich commited $1 million in his budget to the USM center. It wasn't the $1.8 million that Chancellor William 'Brit' Kirwan said was needed, but it's enough to get the doors open.

When he was in town recently, Kirwan repeated something that I've written for years - that Washington County has changed and that it's no longer possible to show up on the factory floor with a high school diploma and expect to get a job making a decent living.

While $10 an hour may seem like a big deal to young people who began working for the minimum wage, it's not enough to raise a family on. To move beyond that, you need instruction of the kind Muth dispenses, on how to organize and supervise.

He and others in the local business community and elected office have worked hard to make that opportunity possible. Now it's up to students to decide whether they're going to settle for whatever they can get, or get the education they need for a better life.

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