Getting to know students around the pingpong table

Dean of Students Mark Ferne gets ready to serve the ball in a game of ping pong. Photo by Brittany Punjabi

Dean of Students Mark Ferne gets ready to serve the ball in a game of ping pong. Photo by Brittany Punjabi

Mark Ferne challenges students to Defeat the Dean in hopes of connecting with them over a game of pingpong.

Ferne arrived at Westminster in January 2002 and was named the dean of students in June 2004. Around that same time, he started the Defeat the Dean challenge.

Originally, Defeat the Dean consisted of students challenging Ferne to a game of racquetball. But as he kept developing tennis elbow, he decided it was time to change the game.

Now, Defeat the Dean allows students to challenge him to a game of pingpong for a chance to win a free dinner.

Ferne said he chose to start this activity in hopes of humanizing and demystifying himself. He said he hopes the challenge will allow students to see him as more of a person and not just a college administrator.

When a person gets to a certain level of administration, it can be more challenging for them to work with students one-on-one, he said.

“I want students to get to know me outside of this structure,” Ferne said. “One outcome I hope for is that if students have a good idea or have something going on in their personal lives, they’ll come into my office.”

Griffin Mullin, first-year psychology major and pingpong player, challenged Ferne to a game on Aug. 25.

“It’s an interesting kind of thing that he does to get involved with the students,” said Mullin before his game against Ferne.

“I want students to get to know me outside of this structure. One outcome I hope for is that if students have a good idea or have something going on in their personal lives, they’ll come into my office.”
— Mark Ferne

Nate Wooldridge, first-year geology major, played for the first time on August 18. He lost to the dean 26–28.

But, on Aug. 25, he came back for a rematch.

“I’ve been looking at restaurants all week,” Wooldridge said with a laugh.

A free meal can be a great perk, but winning gets players more than that. When a student beats him, Ferne sits down and chats with them about life. He said it “speaks to the Westminster way.”

Though Ferne wins more than he loses, he said once players figure out his secret serve and strategy, they will beat him.

“And once you beat me, you’ll always beat me,” Ferne said with a smirk.

President of the pingpong team, Peter Seppi, junior economics, pre-law and finance major, also came to play the dean on Aug. 25. Seppi echoed Ferne’s idea.

“I’ve beat him quite a bit,” Seppi said. “It’s not a big deal to beat him.”

Ferne is looking for students to challenge him every Tuesday at 4 p.m. in HWAC. Students can stop by and maybe walk away with free food and get to know the dean of students better.