Chuck Ambrose: The Face of UCM


Chuck Ambrose

Written by Muleskinner Staff

Assistant News Editor
(WARRENSBURG, Mo. digitalBURG) — Chuck Ambrose’s story started in a small town where he was the son of a preacher and a nurse anesthetist.

Chuck Ambrose
Chuck Ambrose

“I used to say that my mom put people to sleep during the week, and my dad did it on Sundays,” Ambrose said.
Even though he liked to poke fun at his parents’ professions, Ambrose said his mom and dad were the largest influencers on who he became.
He said they both taught and inspired him, and that being a preacher’s kid and only child in a small town meant everyone watched him closely.
“You know preacher’s kids can either be the best or the worst on the block,” Ambrose said. “I probably had moments of both.”
While he didn’t always know he wanted to become a college president, Ambrose always had big aspirations for himself. He said he desperately wanted to be either a fighter pilot or an astronaut. When he was in grade school, America was going to the moon.
“My dad actually took me out of school to watch the Apollo 11 blast off,” Ambrose said. “And then he took me out of school to watch when they landed on the moon. About the same time I was finding out that I couldn’t read the writing on the board too well in a class, and my eyes just got worse and worse. I was very nearsighted. Matter of fact, I’ve been wearing contacts since soft contacts were invented, so that’s been a long time.”
So that dream became unrealistic. He moved on to a new dream of being a doctor.
“So, you know I think I was influenced … my mom was a nurse anesthetist and was always bringing home hospital stories,” Ambrose said.
He went to college thinking he was going to be a doctor but, like many college students, he changed his mind along the way.
Ambrose said his college experience was so memorable that he never wanted to leave.
“I went to Furman University as a soccer player as an undergrad,” Ambrose said.
He said his professional journey in higher education really started there when he served as a resident adviser.
“It’s not only fun, but you get some compensation,” Ambrose said. “That’s where I first learned that I could get paid for doing this: that you could work at a college and actually get paid. I always look back at it as my first experience in higher ed.”
Ambrose also met his wife Kris at Furman.
“I met my wife the first week of school,” he said. “We had brother and sister halls, and we had hall programming, and I went up and spoke to her. I was from New Hampshire, and she was from New Jersey, and we were at school in South Carolina.
“She looked at me, and I got scared. I didn’t ask her out on a date until the last semester of our senior year.”
After graduating from Furman, Ambrose went on to pursue a degree in higher education administration. He earned his master’s degree at the University of Louisville and continued to pursue a Doctorate in Education from the University of Georgia.
He then accepted a position as president of Pfieffer University in North Carolina. At 36, he became Pfieffer’s youngest president ever.
“It is a smaller United Methodist campus,” Ambrose said. “I get to know a lot of students (at UCM). But, Pfeiffer, I literally knew every student.”
After serving as president of Pfeiffer for 12 years, which he said is well over the average time for a university president, Ambrose and his wife looked into moving to a different school.
“We wanted to come to a place where it was really hard to tell where the community stops and the campus starts,” Ambrose said. “And Warrensburg definitely has that.”
Ambrose said he had a close friend tell him that the second presidency would be the best, and that statement has been true for him.
“That feeling that I had about the first two weeks of being on the campus here, I’ve never lost,” Ambrose said. “If there’s a honeymoon, I feel like I’m in the same honeymoon today as I was five years ago. It’s a good place, good fit.”
Ambrose said many moments have been memorable at UCM, including President Barack Obama’s visit and opening “a new front door” to the campus with The Crossing – South at Holden, but his journey has really been all about family.
“My kids have grown up on a college campus,” Ambrose said. “Now, I’m seeing them grow up and be in and around college. Certainly, here in the last couple weeks, having a son get married and having a great new daughter-in-law. It’s just a little overwhelming. Those are the kinds of things you look back on and say, ‘Those are the mile posts that you kind of track with age.’”
While he is family oriented, Ambrose said there are days when work doesn’t stop.
“I always hope that you have a job that you feel is really congruent with who you are and what you’re about,” Ambrose said. “We keep a very busy schedule. There are a lot of days where it’s nonstop. That’s kind of what life is, and if you enjoy your work, you enjoy your life, and that’s a good thing.”
He said that because his work is so intensive, he and his wife like to spend a lot of time biking and being outdoors.
“I love to have fun,” Ambrose said. “It’s all about bal-ance, and so if you work hard, you know, my wife and I, we like to play pretty hard.”
Ambrose said he has enjoyed his time at UCM and has grown every day he’s been here as a president and as a person. He said he started this fall semester as excited as he’s ever been since becoming president here.
“In thinking about journeys and pathways, this is going to be a time in the life of the university, that if you could push the pause button, we would have a huge celebra-tion,” Ambrose said. “Once you take the pause button off, you’d say, ‘Well, we’ve got so much more potential to improve.’”
Ambrose said he is looking forward to homecoming, as he always does.
“I mean the level of community support, the amount of alumni – everything from the homecoming parade, to the pep rally, to just what it means for the entire university,” he said. “I look forward to always finding new ways to engage alumni to come back, because they’ve got a lot to be proud of in their university. No question that home-coming is the high weekend of the fall semester.”