A Minute With… Chris Wonders

The best part of Chris Wonders’ job as director of the Institute for Public Service is collaborating with faculty, students, administrators, and staff to develop and find funding for new ideas. “It’s fun to take someone’s big, somewhat vague idea and help them see what that would look like in reality,” he said.

Wonders oversees sponsored programs at Ship, including faculty grants, undergraduate and graduate research, and university public service activities. When a member of the university community needs funding for a new project, he walks them through the process.

At larger institutions, there are typically two grant offices—both pre- and post-award—that work with applicants. Wonders deals with both phases. It can be challenging for applicants to go from the excitement of receiving an award to the frustration of dealing with the administrative hurdles on the other end, but there is a plus side.

“It’s made me aware of both aspects. I can say, ‘This is what it’s going to look like on the other end,’” Wonders said. “We’re able to look at their project and get it on a realistic timeline.”

Wonders worked for the City of Harrisburg in the Planning and Development Office and spent a short time working with grants and sponsored programs at Harrisburg University before coming to Ship. “The best part about working in higher education is the diversity of intellectual interests and curiosity,” he said.

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What is Ship’s best-kept secret?

There really is a strong interest among faculty and administration to innovate, to try new things, and to understand that higher ed is changing. They try to meet those changes and not get stuck in the past.

If you could live in any other state, which would you choose?

I guess I’d say New York or Vermont, because I love the snow and mountains.

What’s the best lesson you’ve learned from your daughter?

How to turn off your worry brain. She might say, “Oh, I can’t sleep,” and as a parent, I think, she’s just worried about what pair of pants she’s wearing tomorrow. But upgrade that to adult problems. You have to have the ability to step outside yourself. Sometimes our problems are just as trivial. She also taught me the power of a good night sleep. You see your own kid not get enough sleep and realize how it affects them.

You’re on a cruise ship that crashes and you wash up on a deserted island. You managed to grab three personal items. What are they?

My best sand castle building equipment, a good biography, and a notebook and pencil. (But I probably would never be on a cruise ship in the first place!)

What’s your favorite work attire accessory?

I do like sweater vests in the winter.

If you were reincarnated, what would you return as?

A fox. They’re just cool.

A director wants to recast you as the lead in a movie. Who are you, and in what movie?

Ewan McGregor’s role as the young Obi-Wan Kenobi in Star Wars. Conversely, if someone did a movie about this office and needed an actor to play me, it would be Ewan McGregor. He’d be a great Chris Wonders.

If I asked your staff what phrase you said the most, how would they respond?

It’s probably either “at the end of the day,” or “the bottom line is.” (Editor’s note: His staff said, “Off to another meeting!”)

What’s the last book you read, and would you recommend it?

The last book I read was The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt. I totally recommend it; it was so good! She only publishes a book about every ten years, and they are always amazing.