At 35, college president is one of nation's youngest

The face of McPherson College has drastically changed. When Michael Schneider assumed the presidency in April, he became the youngest president in McPherson College history and one of the youngest presidents at any higher-education institution in the U.S.

Schneider is 35.

"The college needed something different," said Schneider. "And I was that difference the board thought they were looking for."

Schneider is not a newcomer to the college. He earned his bachelor's in communication there in 1996 and went back to work at the college as the director of career services in 2002. He later became the vice president of advancement and, in 2007, added the duties of the vice president of admissions.

He said his ability and passion had been proven.

"We had a lot of positive momentum moving forward," he said. "There's continuity there."

But that's not to say he hasn't noticed the added interest and extra curiosity people have had about him. He said he knows the jury is out and people are waiting to see what he can do.

"There's some natural reluctance," he said. "I am so much different than the typical college president."

However, Schneider is embracing the novelty of his age and appreciates that it can bring more attention to the college, which aligns with one of his catchphrases.

"Success isn't measured by how you fit in," he

said. "It's how you stand out."

The college has an enrollment of about 540 students and offers majors in about 20 academic disciplines.

Schneider said he thinks private colleges are worried too much about how to fit in with the state colleges. McPherson College is related to the Church of the Brethren, and Schneider said that means the school's traditions are church-related and modest. Being boastful or proud isn't the typical way to do business, and Schneider is trying to change that.

"Great organizations can't afford to be modest," he said. "They needed someone who wouldn't be afraid to help them stand out."

McPherson College has a history and tradition that extends back to 1887. Schneider said he understands that they have to be respectful to their roots and to their heritage, but he can add a new perspective.

"I'm not caught up in the bubble of 'This is how we've always done it,' " he said.

He wants to use all the advantages that a small school situated in a town with nearly 14,000 residents has to offer. He said he's focused on getting his students as many internship opportunities as possible and preparing them for life after graduation.

"We've got to keep beating our students' expectations," Schneider said. "We've got to give students a reason to come here."