Mississippi native ready to trade in the gulf to lead Marshall


Ashley Sodosky

Denis A. Wiesenburg talks with Interim President Gary White during his on campus forum.

The common question buzzing through the Arthur Weisburg Family Applied Engineering Complex last night was why an oceanographer would want to come to West Virginia.

The oceanographer under question is Denis A. Wiesenburg, professor of marine science and former provost/vice president for academic affairs at the University of Southern Mississippi. Wiesenburg is one of three candidates under consideration for the 37th presidency at Marshall University.

Wiesenburg’s answer to the popular question was connected to a professor of his first college course in oceanography.

“He led my life in a different direction,” Wiesenburg said. “That’s really why we’re in universities and why we do what we do, because at a university you can change someone’s life.”

Wiesenburg is a native of Pascagoula, Mississippi, a gulf coast town half the size of Huntington. Raised by his mother, an elementary English teacher, and his father, a lawyer, member of the WWII army and two-term member of Mississippi state legislature, Wiesenburg said he learned the value of education, patriotism and public service.

Wiesenburg is a graduate of Duke University with a degree in chemistry. Wiesenburg got his master’s at Old Dominion University and his doctorate in oceanography from Texas A&M.

After spending seven years as a research oceanographer for the United States Navy, Wiesenburg began his career in higher education. Wiesenburg spent four years as provost and vice president for academic affairs at the University of Southern Mississippi and said the university’s similarity to Marshall gives him an idea of presidency in Huntington.

“I see a professionally run university that has the promise for a bright future and I would be honored to be the president that helps move it forward,” Wiesenburg said.

In his statement, the candidate said his main effort for Marshall and higher education should focus on student success and endowment initiatives. Wiesenburg said his biggest achievement at Southern Mississippi was the initiation of a student success program and he would love to transfer that to Marshall.

The Mississippi native is a husband and father of two college graduates and a soon-to-be grandfather. Wiesenburg said in his free time he enjoys photography and traveling, particularly in Europe.

Wiesenburg grew up valuing and enjoying sports, even joking at Tuesday night’s reception that he was ready to transfer his allegiance to a university with a better football team. Wiesenburg said he also enjoys the arts and all the university has to offer.

“I love to go to see all the things the university has to offer,” Wiesenburg said. “One of the great things about being in a university environment is you have a great menu of things to go to.”

The reception Tuesday night brought together faculty, staff, donors and public figures together to get to know Wiesenburg. Huntington Mayor Steve Williams said the university is the heartbeat of the city and the presidential candidate agreed.

“The linkage between the university and the community is just phenomenal; they call it the town/gown relationship,” Wiesenburg said. “We want everyone to understand that we’re all working together.”

The candidate said as part of a discussion campus safety is among the initiatives he would take seriously as president, in light of recent national incidents.

Wiesenburg stated his appreciation for the work done by Stephen J. Kopp and current Interim President, Gary White to the university. Wiesenburg used a quote from Kopp, given during his presidential announcement.

“If I were the president of Marshall what I would do is try to build on the progress that you’ve made over the last decade, to continue the momentum forward toward the promise of a brighter future.”

Wiesenburg ended the statement with a personal promise to the Marshall community.

“I would try to build on that momentum with all the energy that I have,” Wiesenburg said.


Ashley Sodosky can be contacted at [email protected].