University of Maryland

Full Circle

Planned Gift From Retired General and Wife to Support Future Communication and Air Force Leaders

By Amanda Townsend

Planned Gift From Retired General and Wife to Support Future Communication and Air Force Leaders

With 37 years in the Air Force, service in the administrations of nearly every Republican president since Richard Nixon and a later tenure culminating in leading the National Transportation Safety Board—not to mention work as a transportation consultant and CBS TV commentator—retired Maj. Gen. Mark Rosenker ’69 has been right in the middle of many of the key moments in recent U.S. history.

The foundations of that broad-ranging career as a military and civilian leader and a topflight professional communicator were all laid at the University of Maryland.

“Maryland gave me a great deal of what I have today,” says Rosenker. “The communication skills I learned at Maryland carried me through emergencies and crisis situations, enabling me to speak to the American people with accuracy and confidence.”

He and his wife, Heather Beldon Rosenker, who has her own lengthy resume in strategic communications, are giving back to the university in support of future communication and Air Force leaders, through a bequest estimated at $4 million to $6 million. It will support undergraduate or graduate students in communication, with preference given to students enrolled in UMD’s Air Force ROTC program—which Rosenker participated in as a student at Maryland.

The gift will have a major impact on the Department of Communication, home of the fifth-largest major on campus, says Shawn Parry-Giles, professor and chair. “This gift will sustain the department into the next century in terms of research, education and service.”

Rosenker worked his way through Maryland as a studio cameraman in the old radio-TV-film department, helping record instructional videos for English, math, biology and speech courses. As a junior during the height of Vietnam drafts, he joined Maryland’s Air Force ROTC program. “My dad was a career Air Force officer,” says Mark. “I lived in the Air Force world until I was 16, so I always knew I wanted to be an Air Force officer.”

Rosenker was commissioned as a 2nd lieutenant, with his first assignment at Andrews Air Force Base as a public affairs officer working in radio and television.

Switching from active duty to the Air Force Reserve (from which he retired in 2006), he went to work in the press office of President Nixon’s 1972 re-election campaign. “Disgusted and disappointed” by the Watergate scandal, Rosenker joined a PR firm that gave him some distance from politics while building his resume.

But then the Gerald Ford campaign persuaded Rosenker to become deputy press secretary. “I didn’t want the Committee for Re-Election of the President to be my only presidential experience,” he says. “The Ford campaign was a chance to change that.”

In all, he worked on 10 presidential campaigns and seven transition teams as well as spent 23 years as vice president, public affairs for the Electronic Industries Alliance, then in a senior executive post with the United Network for Organ Sharing.

In 2001, President George W. Bush then appointed him deputy assistant to the president and director of the White House Military Office. He oversaw a staff of about 2,300 and was ultimately responsible for everything military-related for the president, from Air Force One to the so-called “nuclear football” launch codes to managing undisclosed locations and coordinating ceremonies with visiting heads of states. In this job, Rosenker was traveling with Bush at the time of the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. Bush next appointed him to chair the National Transportation Safety Board, which conducts investigations of civil transportation accidents.

Meanwhile, Heather, a graduate of the University of Denver and an honorary Terp, worked for major PR firms and served as director of public policy and government relations communications for General Motors, then launched her own strategic communications firm, HBR and Associates, which specializes in automotive issues, including cybersecurity. She also held senior communications roles in the White House Council on Environmental Quality, the Transportation Security Administration and the Internal Revenue Service.

This past fall, Maryland’s Department of Communication renamed its Center for Political Communication & Civil Leadership in honor of the Rosenkers. “The Rosenkers have dedicated their lives to public service. In this renamed center, and through their planned gift, we will honor their guiding principle that communication can and should be used for the public good,” says Parry-Giles.

Mark and Heather are involved with the department through many events and speaking opportunities; he’s regularly invited to speak about his experiences in politics. “It’s a much more complex era for communicators in the 21st century, and it may very well become even more complex in the next 50 years,” says Rosenker. “I could never have imagined today’s 24-hour news cycle and social media, and I’m certain that communications will continue to evolve in the decades to come.”

“The communication skills I learned at Maryland carried me through emergencies and crisis situations, enabling me to speak to the American people with accuracy and confidence.”

Retired Maj. Gen. Mark Rosenker ’69

Retired Maj. Gen. Mark Rosenker '69 (holding helmet) and Heather Rosenker (in red) stand with (from left) Col. David Bacot, Commander of the UMD Air Force ROTC Unit; Bonnie Thornton Dill, Dean of the College of Arts and Humanities; Jackie Lewis, Vice President for University Relations; Wallace D. Loh, University President; and Shawn Parry-giles, Professor and Chair of the Department of Communication.