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June 06, 2013 8:45 am

Prestwich’s time at college winding down

Written by Ilene Olson

Northwest College President Paul Prestwich sits at his desk in his Orendorff Building office on Tuesday. Prestwich, who leaves NWC at the end of the month, reflected recently on his five years at the college. Northwest College President Paul Prestwich sits at his desk in his Orendorff Building office on Tuesday. Prestwich, who leaves NWC at the end of the month, reflected recently on his five years at the college. Tribune photo by Ilene Olson

As he begins his last month in office, Northwest College President Paul Prestwich looks back fondly on his five years at the helm of the college.

He says he is pleased with the progress he’s seen. Prestwich announced his resignation last year, effective June 30.

“However long I was here, I wanted to leave (Northwest College) a vibrant, achieving, forward-moving institution, and that’s how I feel about Northwest College. You always want to leave something better than when you came in,” he said during an interview last month.

He stressed that accomplishments during his time at NWC were the results of teamwork by the entire college community.

Among those milestones were increases in student enrollment and degrees awarded and progress toward meeting the goals on the institution’s master facilities plan.

“We’ve seen a great increase in student achievement,” he said. “We were just looking at the numbers for this year’s graduating class. Three years ago, we granted 321 degrees; this year, we think it’s going to be over 430.”

That’s a 30 percent increase in just three years, and the college has broken its record for the number of graduates each of those three years, Prestwich said.

“That is fantastic,” he said. “That’s what it’s all about.”

Prestwich, 46, credited that increase in part to a significant growth in enrollment, as well as an increased focus at the college on student achievement and completion rates.

He said he’s also pleased with the progress the college has made in implementing its master facilities plan.

“We have important new facilities of every kind — athletic, specialized laboratory spaces, a new academic building coming on line, Simpson Hall ... It means we have really outstanding facilities for our students,” Prestwich said. “We want to do all we can to create living and learning spaces that are outstanding. I enjoy seeing students enjoying the space and doing great things in it.”

In addition, “We have expanded the programs that affect students. We’ve implemented at least 10 new academic or certificate programs,” he said. “Faculty are working hard, and administrators are providing enhanced opportunities for students.”

The NWC soccer program also has been successful after only two years. It has attracted 50 students annually, and it has been a net-positive program financially as well, he said.

During his tenure here, Prestwich said he has enjoyed interacting with students and hearing about their experiences: “What has been good, how we can improve.”

“I held 37 ‘Pizza with the Prez’ events, and they provided helpful feedback,” he said. “That’s good, as we try to develop our ability to serve students.”

Of course, there have been challenges as well, some of them significant.

“In some ways, the challenges are the ups and downs,” Prestwich said. “I remember one day, in one hour I learned about a really large donation to the college, and the next hour was a really tricky, troubling situation with a personnel matter. I learned about both within about five minutes of each other.”

Sometimes, “I learn about a student who had been able to achieve more than they ever thought they could, then about a really troubling situation. I think that’s the hardest thing.”

In addition, “I think one of the most challenging things about higher education is, we tend to focus more on the processes than on outcomes. We need to focus more on outcomes.

“I once heard someone say — not here — that it doesn’t matter what the results are as long as we use the right process. I don’t agree with that. I think we need to keep in mind what the outcome is.”

Throughout those challenges, Prestwich said, he tried to keep a positive attitude.

“I care a lot about this institution,” he said. “You have to ride the ride you’re on.”

That ride got rougher in 2010 after Prestwich sent out recruitment letters to high school seniors in the state who were members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Prestwich, who also is a member of the church, said that was a suggestion from administrative staff who told him previous presidents had sent similar letters as a recruiting tool.

Though largely unnoticed in the past, this time the letters sparked a protest on campus and in the community from people concerned that they blurred the line of separation between church and state.

“I made the mistake of, ‘We’ve done that in the past,’” Prestwich said. “In retrospect, it would have been helpful to probably put more feelers out on that, to see what people thought about that. ... I don’t know what changed, but I certainly was not hoping for something that would cause controversy. We were trying to do what we could to build enrollment.”

Internal strife on campus from that and other sources was chief among the challenges Prestwich faced at Northwest.

While it was troubling at times, it also was a sign that people care about the college and its students, he said.

“There are creative people here who are really passionate about the institution,” he said. “In many ways, Northwest College does feel like a college where people care about each other a lot, and sometimes fight. I think people look out for each other. I think people are willing to help each other and support each other.

“If you’re passionate, yeah, sometimes you’re going to have disagreements. But I’d much rather have that than trying to light a fire under people all the time.”

Since 2010, the college community has done significant work on shared governance, Prestwich said, and that has helped calm the campus environment. That work will continue under the guidance of Stefani Hicswa, who will become Northwest College’s next president on July 15.

Overall, Prestwich said, “I’ve just loved being here. It’s been a wonderful experience, professionally as well as personally ... and it’s been a wonderful place to have our children in school. We have met some of the most wonderful people. It’s going to be bittersweet to leave.”

Tim Schoessler, instructor and coordinator of music at Northwest, said Prestwich has been supportive of the arts at the college.

“His involvement in concerts and those sorts of things has been amazing,” Schoessler said. “He played with the Studio Singers on stage one time on the piano, and it’s great to see that.

“He’s been a very positive force on the college the entire time he’s been here. ... He has a genuine care for everything going on at the college and that’s been a huge positive during his time here.

“He’ll be missed; I’m sad to see him go.”

Prestwich and his wife, Melanie, are returning with their family to their home state of Colorado, where Prestwich plans to go into business for himself as a consultant, trainer and motivational speaker.

“I recently finished two books that will serve as kind of a platform,” he said.

Prestwich said he has communicated with Hicswa.

“I’m optimistic that she’s going to do a very fine job. She’s a very fine person, very sharp,” he said. “She has a reputation as a good leader. I think the college is going to be in good hands.”

Northwest Board Trustee John Housel said he wishes Prestwich well in his new endeavors.

“I know he’ll do well,” Housel said. “I know, based on his performance at Northwest College, the future looks bright for him.”

1 Comment

  • Comment Link June 08, 2013 6:15 am posted by clipstein

    yep he would make a consulant..... he sold the town a bill of goods for economic development to the tune of 750 grand........ and what happened? the same as usual nothing and the taxpayers have taken it again

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