A longtime Anchorage real estate broker who joined the University Board of Trustees in 2000, Bonnie L. Mehner, ’66, is the first female to chair the board following her election May 15.
“As a graduate I have always been interested in raising the University’s profile,” Mehner said. “To be successful in real estate and as board chair requires passion and a belief in what we’re doing to accomplish goals.”
She joins Harry McDonald, ’70, as the only graduates of the University to fill the board’s top post.
Mehner’s connection to the University runs deep: Daughter Bethany Weiser, ’97, and husband, William Mehner, ’65, are alumni as well.
From the June issue of Summit, the APU alumni magazine, here are Mehner’s thoughts on leadership, the University, and what’s ahead:
You’ve chaired the trustees’ Development Committee for most of your time on the board. Why was that role important to you?
It let me serve as an advocate for charitable donations from the community, trying to increase our donor base and develop greater recognition in Alaska and in Anchorage for the University.
Then, two years ago, I was asked to serve the full board as vice chair – a track that would lead to the chair. It was a great honor to be asked. My motivation is an extension of the pride I feel in APU and my belief in the importance of private education in Alaska.
If you inventoried APU strengths now that we’ve passed the 50-year mark, what would that list look like?
Strategic planning initiatives are reducing our costs and improving the way we make use of the University’s staff and physical plant. Under the direction of the current board and President Bantz, the University is meeting its budget. And endowment properties continue to benefit the University as does the generosity of our corporate and individual donors.
You bring a professional’s eye when it comes to evaluating the University’s real estate.
APU is situated on incredibly beautiful land in the middle of a city. The campus features world-class ski trails and immense natural beauty. Our location in Alaska, a state with thousands of miles of coastline, presents boundless opportunity. So yes, I certainly appreciate the value of University property.
But there’s much more to APU. Our faculty members are superb, and they value the small class sizes they teach. Our Board of Trustees includes top leaders in Alaska business, law, education, health and religion. APU trustees have the knowledge and desire to serve the University.
What ideas do you have to capitalize on APU strengths?
We need to continue to build relationships within Alaska Native communities. We need to expand outreach to high schools throughout the state and the nation so that APU opportunities for a wide range of students are well known.
The University must take full advantage of our internationally ranked Nordic Ski Team and its exemplary coach, Erik Flora. The team’s success tells a lot about what APU can offer skiers. But success also underscores the University’s commitment to personalized education – an approach that appeals to virtually all students and families as they look for value in a college degree.
You grew up in a military family and traveled the world. You probably would have been comfortable attending university just about anywhere. Why here?
My four years at AMU were marked by association with brilliant professors who had left careers stateside and moved to a new university at the edge of the wilderness. They were passionate about their subjects, they were engaged with us students.
Everyone from the University president to the admissions director to the food services manager helped foster enthusiasm for learning.
I loved being in school here. I looked forward to my classes every day.
Fair to say you’re applying that learning to this day?
Lessons I learned at AMU affect me daily, whether I’m leading a Development Committee meeting, encouraging others to participate in a fundraiser, or reading a poem to my grandchildren.
As I prepare to become board chair, I realize more than ever that my time at the University gave me much more than an education. My self-confidence and my ability to focus on goals developed here.
All these years later, I still recall professors who prepared us to write well and think creatively. University faculty introduced us to writers we’d never encountered before and history we’d never learned before. Our eyes were opened to worlds unknown. I’ll never forget that.
What’s the main thing you’d like the University community to know about you?
That I’ll continue to work toward increased visibility and appreciation for APU within the community and the state.
Your watchword is “sustainability.”
I define that as a student population larger than the roughly 500 that we’ve been seeing these past few several years. To sustain the University, we’ll need to see full use of our physical plant and faculty even as we continue personalized instruction.
Intentionally small class size and hands-on learning have been key features of the University’s success for more than 50 years. So yes, as a proud graduate and now board chair, I want to see that tradition sustained.