Archaeologists are a lot like detectives putting together puzzle pieces from the past, says G. Michael Pratt, an archaeologist and associate provost and dean of the Miami University regional campuses in Hamilton, Middletown and West Chester.

Pratt, who returned to his alma mater as its first regional dean five years ago, is facing a different kind of puzzle.

He’s leading the implementation of the new regional campus plan, adopted by the Miami University trustees in May. It is designed to spur enrollment, expand the number of bachelor’s degree programs and establish a new identity for the Miami regional campuses by the 50th anniversary of the opening of the Middletown campus, Ohio’s first regional campus, next year.

“We see the future of the regional campuses as being a major player in the revitalization of this part of Tristate or certainly the Cincinnati-Dayton corridor,” says Pratt. 

Although the goal is clear, some questions remain. Plans are under way to increase the number of degrees awarded by the regional campuses from the current seven to 17 or 18 including several master’s degrees. Still to be worked out is the creation of the college structure to replace the College of Professional Studies and Applied Sciences, formed two years ago for the regional campuses, and coming up with a new identity for the regional campuses that retains the Miami name and accreditation.

“What’s important to our students now, and in the future, is that they’re graduating with a degree from Miami University and that will continue,” says Pratt. 

The changes are designed to position the Miami regional campuses for growth in the increasingly crowded college landscape in southwest Ohio.

Pratt, a Middletown native, says he’s ready for the task.

“I’ve never been somebody to turn away from an opportunity to solve a problem I thought I could solve,” he says.

“Mike Pratt has taken on the challenges of being the first dean of the ‘combined’ regional campuses,” says Michael Dingeldein, a Miami graduate and member of the regional campuses’ citizen’s advisory council. “He is also overseeing the most catalytic changes that have ever taken place on the regional campuses with the shift to more autonomy from the Oxford campus and the adoption of numerous four-year degree programs.”

Pratt, who got involved in college administration by chance while teaching anthropology at Heidelberg University in Tiffin, Ohio, says the goal is to continue to roll out new degree programs and the new college structure by year-end so they can be submitted to Miami and the board of trustees early next year and be implemented by the fall of 2016.

He says the regional campuses can expand enrollment by expanding the number of degrees and adopting other growth strategies including more online courses.

“Our regional campuses are pretty aggressive and successful with online offerings. Our Middletown campus just received notice as one of the better online schools in Ohio,” he says.

The regional campuses now have about 130 online courses and some of the new bachelor’s degrees will be totally online, allowing Miami to reach students beyond commuting distance.

Miami is also expanding its two-year-old English Language Center in Middletown, a place where foreign students without English proficiency can develop their English skills and transition to the Oxford campus.

The program now has over 150 students from China under an agreement with a Chinese corporation that recruits the students and owns property in Middletown to house them. Plans are in the works to expand it to the Hamilton campus and recruit other international students as well.

“We think we can handle 300 to 400 students on each campus,” Pratt says.

He attended the Middletown campus as a freshman in 1968 after his father died while he was in high school and worked a couple different jobs before transferring to Oxford to complete a bachelor’s degree in anthropology. He earned a master’s and Ph.D. in anthropology from Case Western Reserve University.

Pratt says his own experience on the Middletown campus as a freshman has given him perspective on regional campus students.

“Many of our students would be classed one way or another as nontraditional,” he says. “A lot of them are married or working and we have a growing population of veterans.”

The diversity is greater than on a typical four-year college, he says. “We are more economically diverse. And there are more minorities and there’s more age diversity.”

Miami has created a program called Pathway to Oxford to help regional campus students enhance their connection to the Oxford campus.

Pratt, who says he floundered a bit in college until he fell in love with archeology, says, “I’d like to see that program grow to service more of our students. “

A history buff, Pratt says he became fascinated by archeology after reading a book about a search for dinosaur bones in the Gobi Dessert in the 1930s.

“I didn’t want to be a school teacher,” he says. “But I do like picking up something knowing that the last person to touch it dropped it hundreds or thousands of years ago.”

In his career as an archeologist he became an authority on the 1794 Battle of Fallen Timbers in northwestern Ohio, locating the actual battle site and the site of the River Raisin battlefield in southeastern Michigan during the War of 1812.

He’s also worked as a volunteer for the federal Disaster Mortuary Operational Response Teams (DMORTs), providing professional expertise in identifying remains after disasters such as Hurricane Katrina.

He says his work as an anthropologist and archeologist have helped him as a college administrator.

“Anthropologists, by training and practice, appreciate and recognize multiple points of view,” he says. “I think this helps me deal with the diverse nature of the academic setting—where the different philosophies of individual academic disciplines, personal interests and disinterests of students, faculty and staff and ethnic, religious and racial backgrounds create a mix of opinions on every issue.”

Archeologists, he says, view the world as constantly changing.

“I see myself as willing to listen and consider the opinions of others and willing to lead change.”