Chris Holford's passion for learning • Northwest Indiana Business Magazine

Chris Holford’s passion for learning

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Chris Holford
Chris Holford

Chris Holford has kept the same focus after more than two decades with the Purdue University institution.

“My passion is working with the students,” he said.

Holford began his career with Purdue as a biology professor, and he has worked his way up to chancellor of Purdue University Northwest.

Holford said he started on his current path after graduate school when he joined Purdue as a “newly minted assistant professor teaching in the classroom.”

At that time, he didn’t even think of becoming a chancellor. Holford said his first five years were dedicated to being the best faculty member he could be.

“I was really focused on being in the classroom and my research lab and the activities I had going on,” Holford said. “That’s why I got into this profession.”

It was around his fifth year at Purdue that he was asked if he would consider serving as a department chair.

“I really wasn’t interested in it at the time,” Holford said. “I enjoyed being in the classroom. I enjoyed my 8 a.m. lectures in an auditorium. It really wasn’t something I ever had aspirations for.”

He turned down the opportunity twice before the university convinced him to try out being a department chair when there was a vacancy.

Congratulations to the graduates recognized by Purdue University Northwest during an outdoor commencement ceremony on May 4!
Purdue University Northwest Chancellor Kenneth C. Holford greets graduates as they are awarded their diplomas during the spring commencement ceremony May 4. (Provided by PNW)

“That started for me what turned into a wonderful opportunity, and it set me on sort of a different trajectory over the next 20 years,” Holford said.

Holford was the dean of the College of Sciences and chair of the department of biology and chemistry at the former Purdue North Central, which is now PNW’s Westville campus. Holford is the founding dean of PNW’s College of Engineering and Sciences, and he served as the provost and vice chancellor of academic affairs before becoming chancellor.

“In his roles as provost and dean, Chris has emphasized the importance of academic and research quality, while prioritizing the quality of the student experience, the importance of developing a highly trained workforce, and the enrichment of the regional community and economic growth,” said Purdue President Mung Chiang. “He is ideally qualified to lead during a time of significant advancement for Purdue Northwest and transformative opportunities for the northwest Region of our state.”

Holford said Purdue provided him with many “amazing opportunities” in his career, and he’s thankful for each of them.

“What I’m grateful about is the opportunity to serve our student body,” he said.

One way he does that is by staying active and open on campus, walking around it regularly.

“I want the chancellor to be accessible to the student body; I think that’s important,” Holford said. “I really enjoy when our students walk up to me, shake my hand, introduce themselves to me and tell me what they do on campus.”

He said setting priorities for PNW requires forecasting what’s to come in Northwest Indiana. Holford said he believes there are many opportunities on the horizon in the Region, and PNW will be significantly involved in them.

“One of our primary functions is workforce development to make sure, in particular in technical areas and health-related areas, that we’re anticipating where these markets are going to go and making certain we’re having active conversations with communities around us, and we’re preparing students to go into these careers that are going to emerge,” he said.

Holford said industry remains a critical component in Northwest Indiana, and PNW has a strong partnership with the steel mills, the BP oil refinery and utilities.

He said health care is the largest employer sector in the area, and a signature program at PNW is the nursing program. In addition to that, the university is exploring opportunities in other health care fields.

PNW launched an integrative human health program, which Holford said is growing. Holford said the university has placed an emphasis on social and mental health fields, which he described as “pinnacle programs” at PNW.

The regional university recently added a master’s degree program in social work and a master’s and doctoral degree program in psychology.

“We’re looking for opportunities to partner more closely with the hospital systems that are up here in the training of professionals in these critically needed areas in the mental health spaces,” Holford said.

He said he’s proud of what’s being accomplished at PNW, and he intends for the university to continue making progress and having a significant impact in the communities that the school serves.

As he grows in his new role as chancellor, Holford said he has challenged other senior school leaders to focus on the same thing he’s prioritized since he was a professor.

“I never want to lose sight of who we’re here to serve,” Holford said. “That’s what brought me to this institution — the hardworking students that we have that are looking for their own career opportunities and setting their own trajectory.”

Read more stories from the current issue of Northwest Indiana Business Magazine.


  • Chas Reilly

    Chas Reilly has covered a variety of issues in Northwest Indiana for more than 15 years. Much of his career has been focused on municipal government, especially issues in Merrillville and Hobart. He also has experience writing about business, crime, schools and sports. Reilly started his career in 2006 with The Times of Northwest Indiana. He became a freelance journalist in 2015.


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