Throughout the nearly 25 years of his presidency at Saginaw Valley State University and during a career that spans more than four decades, Eric Gilbertson has remained committed to higher education. That commitment earned permanent recognition Monday
, Oct. 13 as SVSU’s Regional Education Center was formally re-named Gilbertson Hall.
“Throughout his tenure as president – which was nearly four times the national average for college presidents – Eric was committed to creating opportunities for students – all students,” said SVSU President Donald Bachand, who joined the SVSU faculty in 1978 and served as provost under Gilbertson before succeeding him.
Many of those opportunities are supported through endowments. Private fundraising advanced dramatically under Gilbertson; the market value of SVSU's endowment increased more than twenty-fold and currently stands at nearly $77 million.
Examples of new endowments established and dedicated toward providing special opportunities for students include:
• the Roberts Fellowship, a year-long leadership development program for 12 outstanding students that culminates in a three-week trip to Asia;
• the Herbert H. and Grace A. Dow Student Research and Creativity Institute, which supports and promotes outstanding and innovative student work in any discipline by providing up to $10,000 per project;
• the Vitito Global Leadership Institute, which provides extraordinary business networking and international travel experiences for students in SVSU’s College of Business and Management.
Gilbertson’s daily schedule frequently included attending multiple student events, and he would regularly visit with students in his office. That level of interaction stands out to Elyse Ledy, a 2013 SVSU graduate who now works for the university as a resident director; she is a current student of Gilbertson’s in the Master of Arts in Administrative Science program.
“What I have seen over the past five years,” she said, “is a man dedicated to encouraging a culture of accessibility, visibility, and respect for the students and employees of the university. I believe this culture has become his legacy.”
Jerome Yantz has served on SVSU’s Board of Control since 2001. He addressed another aspect of Gilbertson’s legacy, namely encouraging cooperation among the communities of Bay City, Midland and Saginaw, ultimately forming what is now known as Michigan’s Great Lakes Bay Region.
“We can't forget when he first came to the area,” Yantz said. “He started talking about the importance of regionalism. He put the university in the forefront of becoming the neutral site for conversations to begin.”
Gilbertson joined SVSU in 1989. When he arrived, SVSU's enrollment stood at 5,915 students; it had increased to more than 10,000 when he retired. The number of students living on campus has more than quadrupled from 616 residents in 1996 to 2,722 this fall.
SVSU’s physical campus also was transformed under Gilbertson's leadership, tripling in size to more than 1.5 million square feet of building space. In addition to student housing, major new construction projects during his tenure include Curtiss Hall and the Performing Arts Center in 1996, the Doan Science East building in 2001, Gilbertson Hall (formerly the Regional Education Center) in 2003, and the Health and Human Services building in 2010. In addition, Zahnow Library and Pioneer Hall saw major expansions.
Prior to SVSU, Gilbertson served as president of Johnson State College in Vermont for eight years. He also served as executive assistant to the president at Ohio State University and as legal counsel to the Ohio Board of Regents.
Following his retirement from the presidency in February, Gilbertson was granted a sabbatical. He returned this fall as an executive-in-residence to teach courses in leadership and administration, and constitutional law; he also serves as an advisor to SVSU’s moot court program.