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January 31, 2013 9:03 am

Second NWC presidential candidate visits campus

Written by Ilene Olson

Debra Thatcher, the second of three finalists for the Northwest college president position, visited the NWC campus last week.

Thatcher is not new to Wyoming; she’s lived and worked in the state before.

 

 

“I grew up in western North Carolina, but my adventurous spirit eventually led me to the West, where I completed my bachelor’s degree in elementary education at the University of Wyoming,” she said in an email to the Powell Tribune. “After teaching young children in Laramie, Alaska (Seward and Adak) and the Marshall Islands, I completed my master’s and doctoral degrees at the University of South Carolina.

“The adventure continued as I became a faculty member at Salisbury University in Maryland, then the director of the School of Education at Northern Michigan University, the provost/dean of faculty at Lees-McRae College (Banner Elk, North Carolina), and the provost/vice president for academic affairs/chief operating officer at SUNY Cobleskill (New York).”

Thatcher met with members of the NWC campus community and the public during a reception last Wednesday, then made a public presentation on last Thursday.

“I’m from New York, but not from New York City,” she said. In fact, SUNY Cobleskill campus is surrounded by farmland, she added.

Thatcher talked about strategies she had put in place to improve student success.

Some of those strategies were simple; others were more complex.

For instance, students’ email correspondence with faculty members were required to be written in appropriate format. If they were not, — if words were spelled in abbreviated text code, or if punctuation wasn’t used, for example — faculty members would not respond.

Another was getting everyone on campus involved in picking up trash as they saw it or identifying other things in the environment around campus that needed to be corrected. That helped everyone’s morale and perception of the campus, she said.

“It’s amazing how people came together,” she said. “It’s really powerful stuff when everyone is paying attention to spaces” and the campus environment.

“In order to achieve something on campus, it comes back to communication, collaboration and compromise,” she said. She referred often to that formula for success, which she called “C3.”

Thatcher compared working together to achieve goals or overcome problems to piecing a quilt together. The first step is creating a design by establishing a joint mission, philosophy and values; developing and working with a strategic plan; team formation and a communication plan.

Piecing that design together are goals, action plans, rewards, all facilitated by C3.

Those elements then are “quilted” together through prioritization, meetings, celebrations, reports, connections and public accountability, she said.

Thatcher was asked how she would put Northwest College on the road toward collaboration.

She responded, “A president sets a vision for the college and advances that. You start by modeling the relationship you want ... You make connections with people.”

Those relationships should extend from the campus to the community and its leaders, she said.

Another person asked how she would help people work together to accomplish goals without making them feel overwhelmed by the additional workload.

Thatcher answered, “When you set the agenda, decide where you’re going. Part of that success is to decide what you’re going to stop doing. ... Before we start new stuff, we need to shed stuff.

“Part of it depends on a leadership role, and that ties into money — do you have enough money to do it? We found some areas where we could shift some monies.”

That provided money for incentives, she said.

Another way is just making sure people are thanked for the good work they’re doing, Thatcher said.

NWC Facilities Director Dave Plute asked Thatcher for her view on the role facilities play in recruitment and retention.

“Facilities are a really important part of our retention efforts,” Thatcher replied.

That included asking for students’ opinions about things that needed to be changed, fixed or added.

Another priority was creating inviting places where students could gather to study and visit, she said.

Plute said Northwest College will have a lot of repurposing to do after several programs and the corresponding faculty offices move into the new Yellowstone building. He asked how Thatcher would recommend planning for that.

Thatcher replied, “The worst thing you can do is have everyone come into a room and say, ‘This is what we’re going to do.’

“The big thing is to bring everyone together. ... People who are not in a leadership role could give you all kinds of ideas on how to improve campus.”

Thatcher suggested sending a daily e-news bulletin throughout campus to keep everyone informed of what is going on.

Answering another question, Thatcher said she believes cultural diversity is important for a college.

“Your lives are enriched by interacting with people from all kinds of different backgrounds,” she said.

Thatcher is married to James Thatcher, an artist. She has two adult sons, the older a software engineer living in Irvine, Calif., and the younger a designer for an animated film company, living in White Plains, N.Y.  

Her reason for applying at Northwest, she said, was “my desire is to step up to a presidency at a college where my experiences and leadership style will make a positive difference.

“Northwest College has the characteristics that attract me: a focus on teaching, small size, opportunities for a wide range of students, a dynamic faculty and staff — all located in a small community in a most fabulous setting.”

(Three finalists for the position were chosen last month by the NWC Presidential Search Committee. The other finalists are Stefani Hicswa, who visited the campus earlier this month, and Jon Connolly, who is visiting the campus this week. The college is seeking a replacement for President Paul Prestwich, who is resigning effective June 30.)

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