David Muha’s name is infectious. It’s been stitched to T-shirts and chanted through Twitter. The sound of Muha alone soothes students with their eyes on the weather, hopeful for yet another snow day salvo from the man behind the emails, the name that cancels class.
On Tuesday, Oct. 1, 2013, Muha stepped into the role as the College’s new vice president for Communication, Marketing and Brand Management. It’s a position that requires more communicative clout than having a catchy name, and yet Muha has accomplished so much with even just that.
“It’s surprising that my name has caught on in the way it has,” Muha said. “My feeling was, we’re a small college talking about personal relationships and attention, and yet when we send messages, they come out from an office. Offices don’t send messages, people do. So pretty much since the first messages I was sending, I signed them.”
Then he grinned.
“I signed quite a few snow messages this year.”
Muha isn’t just channeling his own name through those messages — he’s putting a face to the identity of the College en masse. And for a transition period so evolutionary in the campus’s physical, academic and stylistic appeal, Muha has become the transparent, administrative vanguard to champion a new era, the man not only behind the emails, but at the forefront of change.
Though coming in fresh, Muha is no stranger to the state. He’s a Jersey boy raised in Piscataway. From 1983 to 1986, he attended Georgetown University, earning a bachelor’s degree in history and graduating magma cum laude. Living in the hub of national politics, Muha went on to work as a communications representative for Republican Congressman Jim Courter, spending six years on Capitol Hill and returning to New Jersey to follow Courter’s campaign for governor in 1989. Courter may not have won, but ever-transitioning, Muha decided to make a new leap: representing institutions from the N.J. Chamber of Commerce to Rutgers Business School. To some, the move was unexpected.
“I would say my career has been a very liberal arts career,” Muha said. “I remember people asking me if I was going to be a history teacher in college, and I said that if you can think critically and write well, you can take your career in any number of directions.”
And so it went. Muha mastered his communications posts, leaving indelible marks wherever he went. For Drew University, where he served prior to the College, this meant a personal advocacy for “Full Impact Learning,” a program designed to highlight the school’s distinctive features and “make (the) case to parents and prospective students.” Occasionally, he even played drums for a faculty band, an instrumental passion on the sidelines of his career. But when Muha felt his impact was complete at Drew, a place at the College loomed on the horizon.
“I thought TCNJ looked like a great opportunity, and yet, as an outsider before I started here, you didn’t hear enough about the College,” Muha said. “There was an opportunity for communications to play a role to help with people unassociated with the College, to really get a sense of why this is a great institution, why third parties think so highly of us … I felt like it was a good match for what I had done professionally.”
On Tuesday, Oct. 1, Muha and his staff hit the ground running. Behind the scenes, Muha was involved in the testing and recent implementation of the new College seal, a bold redesign meshing elements of the past and visions of the future. He has a litany of goals on his personal whiteboard: website redesigns and enhanced fundraising efforts. But his most important mission was unwritten. According to Muha, his job is “to establish the visual identity of the College.”
Fortunate for Muha, his backstage work was complemented by the timely volatility of Mother Nature.
“The biggest surprise of my tenure here has been the reaction to the snow messages,” Muha said.
They’ve worked effortlessly in his favor. By pinning his name to the weather closings that have given students such quasi-religious enthusiasm, Muha has successfully built a bridge between the administration and the students. Naturally, he remains modest.
“Really, the Provost and the VP of Administration are the ones doing all the hard work here,” Muha said regarding the process of declaring school closings. “They’re the ones getting up at four in the morning and consulting the weather forecasts, what’s happening with state government … checking in with folks on campus and clearing the sidewalks. All that work is happening well before I get any call from Curt Heuring saying, ‘Here’s what we decided.’”
Yet, Muha’s humility will do little to quell the student-sparked cult of personality in his name. His impact echoes across campus on parody social media, of which he’s been made keenly aware.
“I have a good sense of humor — I grew up in a family with a good sense of humor,” Muha said. “So I’m aware of the Twitter account. I can laugh alongside everyone else.”
As for the Freshman Class Council’s recent fundraising efforts, which have created T-shirts declaring “I snowflake Muha,” they have a new base of support: Muha’s entire family, all of whom want to purchase Muha merchandise.
“But more importantly, I’m happy to lend my name to a fundraising effort by the freshman class,” Muha said. “The junior class has asked me to help judge the ‘TCNJ’s Got Talent’ competition too, and wherever I can help, I’m happy to do it.”
Muha has immersed himself in the evolving narrative of the College and its students. There’s a mingling, back-and-forth dialogue between himself and his new campus that’s approachably down-to-earth, easily distorting his six-month transition as years of association. Muha’s popularity has indeed become a tall tale unto itself. Not coincidentally, his favorite component of a job in communications is its interpersonal magnitude to tell great stories.
“I love the role of storytelling in my job,” Muha said. “I think that what the students do in particular is always amazing to me. The talent that’s present here on this campus is staggering, so being there to help celebrate that is really rewarding to me … and for me to do my job, the closer the connection with students and faculty, the better.”
Now Muha, unconsciously or not, is a fundamental actor in the story of the College. Pushing for a more vibrant identity, lending his personality to student projects and laughing when the snow comes down. For all the bitterness in weather, Muha’s made this the warmest winter in quite some time.