Working out with the university president

President Wallace Loh, sitting by the women's soccer bench at their first round game of the NCAA Championship.

President Wallace Loh, sitting by the women’s soccer bench at their first round game of the NCAA Championship.

Sophomore Annie Hendrick was walking over to a stationary bicycle next to her friend at Eppley Recreation Center one evening when a man bearing a striking resemblance to Wallace Loh sped past her and jumped on.

On second glance, Hendrick realized the man was, in fact, Loh. The university president had taken her bike, but she was too starstruck to care.

“I wasn’t even upset that someone took it because it was Wallace Loh — it’s kind of like seeing a celebrity when you see him at the gym,” said Hendrick, a studio art major.

It’s not uncommon, many students said, to see Loh exercising or using weight machines on a Friday night.

“I loved seeing him there,” said Benjy Cannon, a sophomore government and politics major, who has seen Loh riding the stationary bikes. “It made me feel that he was approachable and also a real person.”

But the president doesn’t think much of it when he goes to complete his workout routines. To him, the ERC is just the ideal fitness center.

“You tell me: What’s a nicer gym than Eppley?” Loh said. “I’ve looked at a couple of other private gyms, and I think Eppley is the nicest and best facility.”

And while it may not be his primary focus, Loh said, one of the perks of working out at the ERC is that it’s a great place to meet and chat with students — even though some students, such as Hendrick and freshman Mitchell Arnett, said they’ve been too intimidated to approach him.

“I didn’t want to interrupt him in the middle of his workout to say hello,” said Arnett, a computer science major. “But it was weird enough that I told everyone afterward I worked out with the president. It was cool.”

But strike up a conversation with Loh, and you just might receive an invitation to his office in the administration building.

“Here I am, riding the stationary bicycle, sweat pouring down my face,” Loh said. “I got a very nice email from the student who was riding next to me. I wasn’t even paying attention to him because I was watching the news on television.”

The engineering major, Loh recalled, said he had been trying to keep up. The student told him he now realizes if the president works out this hard that late at night, he must work pretty hard in the daytime.

“I’ve never gotten a note like that,” said Loh, who invited the student to his office. “I inspired a student, whom I never even noticed, by how hard I was riding the stationary bicycle.”

Whether it’s at the gym or at another event, such as a sorority function or residence hall floor meeting, Loh said he enjoys talking with students. He casually chats with at least 1,000 students a year, he said, finding out what students like and dislike about the university. He’s quick to pass along any concerns to the responsible offices or departments, but said he doesn’t receive too many complaints.

“I’ve been at enough universities to know what is very special about Maryland,” Loh said. “Of about 1,000 students, I may get two or three who are sort of lukewarm about their experience here. I have never heard anyone say they hate it here. In fact, the vast majority — 99 percent — say they love it here, how much they’ll miss the university when they leave.”

A visible administrator makes a big difference for the campus community, said Cannon, who has met Loh several times.

“I feel that he makes an active effort to ‘get down on our level,’ so to speak,” Cannon said. “That way, I know he gets a sense of students’ day-to-day lives, so that he can better address our needs.”

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