“Dr. Hicswa has proven presidential experience and a familiarity with many of the same issues Northwest College is grappling with,” said Mark Westerhold of Cody, chairman of the NWC Board of Trustees, in an NWC news release.
Westerhold said Hicswa’s approachable manner was well received by NWC students, employees and trustees alike.
“We believe she’ll bring new energy and new ideas to steer Northwest in a positive, forward direction,” he said.
“I am thrilled to be offered the presidency at Northwest College,” Hicswa said in the release. “It will be an honor to serve the college and community. The community support for Northwest College is beyond anything I have seen in the 22 years I have worked in community colleges.”
“I am very excited,” Hicswa added during a telephone interview Friday. “I have been aware of Northwest College for as long as I can remember. When I decided to become a college president ... I looked at other colleges in the United States, and when I looked at where I wanted to live, Northwest College was the one.”
Hicswa said the timing was right this year for her to apply for the job. But this certainly wasn’t the first time she was aware of the college’s search for a new president.
“I’ve been watching it since Fran (Feinerman) was here” beginning in 1998, she said. “I watched Fran come and go, and I watched Elise (Schneider) come and go, and I watched Miles (LaRowe) come and go.”
Members of the college community also were excited that Hicswa was chosen for the job.
“She seems to be a very outgoing, good communicator,” said Dee Havig, NWC residence and campus life director. “I think she’s going to transition real well into the logistics of the community college and our philosophy.”
Havig said Hicswa has the experience needed, both for the college as a whole and from a student housing perspective.
“She obviously has the community college experience, (and) I know Miles has some housing ... so she’s got experience there,” he said.
Havig said Hicswa visited the NWC campus last summer and made some contacts with people back then.
“She had really done her research,” he said of her two-day visit last month. “I think it showed that this was a place that she was very interested in pursuing.”
“I think Stefani’s a good choice,” said Mary Ellen Ibarra-Robinson, associate professor of Spanish. “It seemed like she answered questions well, whether it was on her feet on the spot or whether she had already made some reference in a previous meeting, and she could pull from that.”
Duane Fish, professor of speech communication and chairman of the NWC Communication Division, said Hicswa was a good match for the criteria the NWC board and campus community established for picking a new president.
“I think that her interest in the people and the programs here was very, very positive. I think that bodes well for the institution. ... “If you look at a lot of the material from Miles City that have her in there, she’s always surrounded by people, including students, which I think is very, very positive, because that’s who we’re here to serve.”
Vicky Price, president of the NWC Student Senate, said, “I really liked her when the Student Senate had lunch with her. She had a really friendly, engaging personality. She had some good ideas about how the administration can work with the students. She was the most excited of the candidates about the opportunity to be president of Northwest College.”
Sheldon Flom, NWC finance director, said Hicswa has the budgetary experience needed to oversee the financial health of the college as well.
“We visited a little bit about (budget reductions) while she was here,” he said. “She’s gone through that. ... She’s done the hard work. By the time she steps in, we’ll have done all the budget cutting, so she’ll know what we’ve done. She understands the effects of budget cutting, so I don’t think it’s going to be a big challenge.
“She obviously had done her homework, her research, on the institution. She asked some good questions, not the fluffy type, but the ones that you could tell she knew where we were headed,” Flom said.
“I like the fact that she’s from Montana, so she’s familiar with the way of life out here and the way we work, and I don’t think she’ll have any problem fitting in.”
Everyone on campus who talked to the Tribune spoke of Hicswa’s friendly, outgoing nature and her almost uncanny ability to remember names.
Those are some of the things that showed the board likely was successful in finding someone who possesses the talent and skills in interpersonal relationships needed to continue the process of healing rifts on campus.
“She was high energy and seemed very approachable and very outgoing,” said Lee Blackmore, NWC campus security coordinator. “She connected with people, and when she got up on stage (for her presentation), she stared referring to everybody by first name.”
Havig served on the NWC presidential search committee. He said Hicswa’s video interview was impressive as well.
“There was a large committee, and she pretty much knew every member’s name and tried real hard in the course of a half-an-hour interview to connect with each person.”
The Tribune asked Hicswa whether that was a natural talent, or if she works very hard to remember names.
“I work very hard at that,” she said. “It’s something that’s important to me. People are very important to me, so I pay attention to their names and what they do.”
“She was very personable,” Fish said. “What I found fairly remarkable was that, when she greeted people, she would remember your name, she would know what was going on. I mentioned the forensics program, and she knew about our successes.”
“When she was out there meeting people, she met everybody,” Flom said. “I like her energy, and I like the way she included everybody.”
Hicswa said the college’s “tradition of excellence in an increasingly competitive environment requires a long-term president with a student-centered leadership philosophy.
“I want to really, really convey to the community and the stakeholders of Northwest College that I am committed to the college and the community for the long term.”
Her two-year contract includes an annual salary of $162,000 plus housing for one year.
Hicswa earned a doctorate in educational administration from the University of Texas at Austin. The focus of her dissertation research was the role of community college presidents in rural community development. She holds a master’s degree in adult, community and higher education from Montana State University in Bozeman and a bachelor’s in organizational communication from the University of Montana in Missoula.
She and her husband, Scott, have two sons, Kalin, 8, and Keegan, 7.
Hicswa and two other finalists for the position, Debra Thatcher and Jon Connolly, visited Powell in late January and early February, meeting with community members and NWC faculty, staff and students.