Brett Barger was familiar with the buildings, finances and enrollment figures at Lindenwood University-Belleville long before he became the campus’ new interim president.
What he didn’t anticipate about the new job was how much he would enjoy the new opportunity to meet and mix with students on a regular basis.
“In my previous role, I was probably at the Belleville campus about once a week,” said Barger, who was vice president for operations and finance for the Lindenwood University system, based in St. Charles.
“But I didn’t interact directly with students then. I am really enjoying the opportunity to do so now. It’s exciting to meet parents who are dropping their kids off at school for the first time and to see students who are returning. There’s a lot of excitement on campus right now.”
Barger, who is settling in after being named to his new job last month, found a few minutes recently to hang out between the campus’ auditorium and its main building to meet with students and football players for the Lindenwood Lynx.
Adrian Williams, a senior linebacker from Centralia, said the positive buzz at the school is what attracted him to Belleville.
“This campus and the atmosphere” Williams said when asked why he chose Lindenwood Belleville as the place for his studies and his football career. “This is the kind of situation I wanted to be around.”
Barger said the diversity of the background of students is amazing.
Earlier in the day, he met a pair of students who had just arrived at the Belleville campus after winging their way to the middle of the United States from their native Holland. He met another from Columbia.
“It’s a vibrant place that attracts people from all of the world,” Barger said.
While it was a sudden change for Barger to take the reins in Belleville after former campus president Jerry Bladdick left earlier than expected to take a job in Sarasota, Fla., he said he was confident he was prepared for the new job.
“I was here in the early days when things were just starting out for the Belleville campus,” Barger said. “So I knew what to expect. But I still find it amazing to see how much excitement there is here now and how it’s grown. I drive by at nights when the lights are on and it’s just spectacular.”
While he still has the “interim” tag in front of his title, Barger said he wants to be the permanent president of the Belleville campus.
“I view every day as if I will be here forever,” Barger said. “And I hope I will be.”
Lindenwood Univeristy system president Michael Shonrock said Bladdick’s departure so early to the start of the school year forced an interim president to be hired because there wasn’t time for a full search. But Shonrock said it was a great opportunity for both the school and for Barger to have a trial period to make sure he was comfortable in the job and that it was a good fit.
Barger said his management style isn’t much different from his predecessor. He’s a hands-on guy who collaborates with students, faculty and school executives to generate ideas. So don’t expect radical differences in the way the school has been run.
One of the first changes Barger made on his watch was a small-yet-sensible one: Pruning campus trees to make the renovated historic buildings that make up the school more visible from the street.
“It’s amazing how people feel about this place,” Barger said. “There are so many Township High School and Belleville West graduates who come here to look at the campus.”
Barger said he’s glad when they’re impressed with how nice the nearly 100-year-old former high school looks. But he’s especially happy when they feel good about the education Lindenwood offers and the positive impact the school has had on the community.