Q&A: New Bush School Dean Mark Welsh
Gen. Mark Welsh has taken the reins as dean of the Bush School of Government and Public Service at Texas A&M University after Ambassador Ryan Crocker stepped down earlier this year.
Welsh comes to Texas A&M after retiring from four years as chief of staff of the United States Air Force. His record of service to the nation also includes commander of U.S. Air Forces in Europe, associate director of Military Support and Military Affairs for the CIA, and commandant of cadets at the U.S. Air Force Academy, just to name a few. He graduated from the Air Force Academy in 1976.
We sat down with Dean Welsh to discuss his distinguished military career, his family, his respect for the students, faculty and staff of Texas A&M, and his hopes for the future of the Bush School.
Q: You were born in San Antonio; how does it feel to be back in Texas?
A: I love everything about Texas, just like every other Texan does — the way we love the state and nation, respect the flag, respect each other. So getting back here is a huge thrill.
Q: What first inspired you to join the Air Force?
A: My dad inspired me. He was a pilot in the Air Force for 35 years, and an Aggie, Class of ’46. He was part of the greatest generation, part of creating the country we have today. I joined because I was in love with airplanes, but I stayed in because I fell in love with the people. Every day in uniform was a privilege for me. It was routinely inspirational and always humbling. The people I served beside made me proud every single day.
Q: What was your best day as Air Force chief of staff?
A: I had a thousand best days. But if I had to choose one, it would be the first day. I was sworn in on a Bible that every chief of staff has sworn on since the day the Air Force was started. My wife was holding the Bible. That combination of faith, family and a feeling of overwhelming gratitude and humility set the tone for me in that job.
Q: What were the challenges of leading at such high level?
A: Some days it was scary and intimidating because you don’t want to let your people down. There were some days that were horrible; there was human death and suffering – the sacrifices people make for their country. But to see what people are willing to endure for their country, the belief they share in its greatness and potential, it’s inspiring and truly humbling.
Q: What drew you to accept the job as dean of the Bush School?
A: I’m a big believer in the idea that institutional pride is critical to success and no institution demonstrates pride better than Texas A&M. I see it when I’m greeted with a “howdy” — Aggies just value tradition in so many ways. I remember when I was in high school, the first time I came to a football game here with my dad. I was struck by the Corps march-in, and when the flag came by and everyone took their hats off and put their hands on their hearts. I first came to a Bonfire when I was in the ninth grade, just me and my dad. I’ve been to Muster in five or six different countries and many midnight yells. They’re remarkable traditions carried on by remarkable people. The Aggie network is amazing; I’ve met grads of the Bush School all over the world, and they are quick to tell you where they came from. The Aggies I’ve had the privilege of meeting are talented, engaged and active, and they truly want to make a difference.
Q: Tell us about your family
A: Although I’m not an Aggie, I consider myself one by association – in addition to my dad, five of my six siblings, all my children and many of my nieces and nephews are graduates of Texas A&M. My dad passed away in 2008, but my mom still lives in Austin and she is a saint. She travelled all over the world hauling seven kids. She’s the matriarch of our family and terrifyingly intelligent, a trait she passed on to all her female children! She also loves this university. I’m extremely proud of my own children. My son Mark IV was the Corps Commander here in 2000-01 and is a proud graduate of Mays Business School. He won the Brown Foundation-Earl Rudder Memorial Outstanding Student Award in 2001 and is now in the private equity business. My son John was an Air Force pilot, then returned to Texas A&M to earn his MD and is now an ER physician. Matthew graduated from the College of Liberal Arts, was an All-American rugby player here and is now an infantry officer in the Marine Corps. Elizabeth graduated from the Business Honors program at Mays, works as the director of marketing for an IT firm, and travels the world. And my wife Betty is Texas A&M’s most enthusiastic supporter! She’s also a remarkable woman. She is very involved in programs that benefit military families and excited to be back in Texas reconnecting with family. We have an amazing relationship because she needs me for nothing and I need her for everything!
Q: What are your hopes for the future of the Bush School?
A: The Bush School is young as far as colleges go, but has in that short time been remarkably successful. As we look to the future, we need to examine where we’ve been and where we’re headed. We’re doing that review now. The results will allow us to properly prioritize funding and resources, and keep us on our planned track while also ensuring we adjust to how the world is changing around us. We need to hear everyone’s voice as we do this review, from students to faculty and staff. I have lots of opinions, but none are well enough informed at this point – it’s the curse of the new guy. So I’ll rely on our great team to fill me in.
Q: Where can we expect to see your Aggie Spirit on display?
A: I’ll be looking to meet the newest Reveille. I can’t wait to join the 12th Man at Kyle Field and many other sporting venues. And while I don’t look forward to one being necessary, if there’s another Silver Taps, I’ll be there.