In the past year, Mark Falkowski has gone from life in a big city to life in a college town, and he wouldn’t have it any other way.
“Being in higher education, I feel like it’s energizing and exciting to come to work every day and it’s exciting to be part of students going to school in their formative years,” said Falkowski, who is now general counsel for Columbia College. “It is great to come to work every day on a college campus.”
Columbia College has a local campus much smaller than that of cross-town neighbor Mizzou, but the school established itself as a leader in online education and developed an extensive “extended campus.” The college has more than 20,000 students who study at 30 sites and online.
“Because I’m the first general counsel, I wasn’t sure how I would be received,” Falkowski said. “It was an additional challenge to create an office from the ground up but that’s been positive. I’ve been able to set expectations and work with people. Everyone’s been really receptive and open.”
Falkowski earned bachelor’s degrees in political science and marketing at the University of Minnesota, but opted to attend law school at Saint Louis University. From 2010 to 2013, Falkowski served as senior associate counsel and administrator of student affairs at Vatterott Educational Centers Inc., which operates vocational schools throughout the Midwest. From there, he joined Husch Blackwell in St. Louis where he worked until taking the Columbia College position in October 2016.
The work is complex. Falkowski touches all aspects of the college — including traditional legal issues, financial aid, athletics and more — which means that he gets to work with every department. Columbia College’s long reach also means that he has to keep on top of legal matters everywhere that the college has a presence, which includes 13 states.
“Every day is a new set of questions,” Falkowski said. “You can have one plan on what you want to do but other things come up and you have to deal with those. You never know what the day is going to hold.”
The position in Columbia allows Falkowski to stay true to the reason he chose law as a profession.
“I think initially I wanted to become a lawyer because I wanted to help people and make a meaningful impact, and this is a way that I thought would help me do that,” he said.
Working in higher education, also means working with others who are not lawyers, and those in general counsel positions must serve as a resource for their institutions.
“You’re no longer working with attorneys who are focusing on the same thing you are every day,” Falkowski said. “They’re trying to achieve departmental goals. The goal is to be there to assist them.”
When he’s not working, Falkowski and his family enjoy recreation opportunities around Columbia.