At 16 years old, Mario Schulzke left Germany and landed on a ranch in the Bitterroot.
In short order, he fell in love with Big Sky Country.
He enrolled at the University of Montana, graduated, went to work, burnt out, and quit a job.
Then, on a six-month, 48-state road trip with three other "lost souls," Schulzke got a call about a job at UM.
"I was in Burlington, Vermont, when I got a call from the university about this job. As I was driving across America, I kept interviewing. At some point, I flew back here," he said.
He landed the job, returned to Montana, and the man who's lived in Spain, France, England, Oregon, Los Angeles and Seattle is staying put.
"This is my favorite place by far. If I can avoid it, I'll never leave," Schulzke said.
Now, he's a Westsider in the Garden City working to support downtown and end homelessness.
He's also the recently promoted associate vice president of integrated communications and chief marketing officer at UM. Years ago at UM, he spent Saturdays and Sundays cleaning the 11 floors of Aber Hall, and he's thrilled to be back on campus.
"It's really gratifying to work at this university because I think it's probably the place I can thank the most as far as being able to stay in America," Schulzke said.
Schulzke hasn't considered marketing a lifelong dream, but he's passionate about people, about solving problems, and about UM. The three passions all roll into his job to support the institution.
"So at this point, marketing is exactly what I want to be doing," Schulzke said.
On campus, Schulze is bringing a certain nimbleness from the private sector into the more trudging academia. He's advocating for quick wins to build momentum for greater successes, and he's pushing for iterative solutions.
"There's many people, when given the opportunity to innovate, and when given the opportunity to move fast, they'll jump on it," Schulze said of the campus. "I think my role is to just enable that."
After an estimated 10 years of stagnation, UM needed a new website, he said. Schulzke knew it wouldn't be perfect on the day it launched, but he wanted forward motion more than perfection.
"It's going to be version 1.0. It is not the final product. It's not going to be the website we have forever, but it's going to be the website we have on May 15," he said of the approach.
More recently, Schulzke jumped headfirst into a live Facebook session where potential students could chat with interns. The sound wasn't perfect, and the idea didn't come off without a hitch, but as Schulzke sees things, it was one building block in a larger plan.
"Let's bring it to life, and if it works, and we can gain some traction, let's figure out how to roll this out in a bigger way," Schulzke said.
During the live chat, 300 to 400 people tuned in, and within a couple days, more than 6,500 people had watched the session. Since then, he said, thousands more have listened to conversation.
Schulzke's new strategies and dynamic personality are pluses as far as President Royce Engstrom is concerned. Engstrom said Schulzke is an idea person, and one who brings ideas to life.
"Mario is just a bundle of energy, for one thing, and he brings a very up-to-the-minute, or state-of-the-art view of marketing," Engstrom said. "He brings the history of being a fairly recent student himself, but with a good 10 years of terrific experience in the private sector as well."
Off campus, Schulzke is passionate about his community. Since he was troubled to face rampant homelessness in Los Angeles after living in more socially conscious countries, he's working on Missoula's 10-year plan to end homelessness.
He's on the board of the Missoula Downtown Association, an advisor to The Cycling House, and an advocate of for his Westside neighborhood and its socioeconomic diversity.
"The Westside is, in my opinion, probably the most diverse neighborhood in town. It's kind of eclectic. It's growing. It's evolving. It's not perfect. But I like that," Schulzke said.