Gores joins SMSU corral

MARSHALL – Connie Gores was approved by the Minnesota State Colleges and Universities (MnSCU) Board of Trustees Tuesday morning as the next president at Southwest Minnesota State University in Marshall.

Upon the recommendation of Chancellor Steven Rosenstone and the Human Resources Committee, the Board of Trustees unanimously voted to approve Gores, making her the first female president in SMSU history and ninth overall.

“Connie Gores is clearly the right person for SMSU,” Rosenstone said.

Gores will succeed Dr. Ron Wood, who is serving his second year as interim president, and Dr. David Danahar, who was president at SMSU for 10 years, the longest tenure of any of the eight permanent presidents in the institution’s history.

Gores will officially begin duties on July 1.

“I want you to know that from the first moment I stepped foot on the campus of Southwest Minnesota State University, I could tell it was a very special place, and I am thrilled to be the next president at SMSU,” Gores said. “I look forward to working with faculty, staff, students and the community, to build on all the good work of interim President Wood and his team, as we enhance academic distinctiveness, as we engage students in learning and as we build partnerships and collaborations in the southwest region and throughout the state of Minnesota. I am ready to get to work.”

During the presidential search process, it quickly became clear that Gores had the goods, including valuable experience and glowing references. Currently serving as the vice president of student life and development at Winona State University, a position she’s had since 2007, Gores was instrumental in integrating academic and student affairs to enhance student learning and success at WSU, Rosenstone said. Gores also helped provide a smooth transition for the university in her position as interim president during the summer of 2012.

“Over the past six years under her leadership, the university has improved the academic quality of its students, the quality of education they receive and has boosted retention and graduation rates to record levels,” Rosenstone said. “She’s led the university’s enrollment management strategies. As vice president, she’s had responsibility for over 100 faculty and staff and an annual budget of $24 million.”

Prior to her appointment at WSU, Rosenstone said Gores played leadership roles at Longwood University, Randolph-Macon Woman’s College and Cornish College of the Arts. In addition to having a bachelor’s degree from North Dakota State University, he said, Gores also has a master’s degree from Colorado State University and a doctorate from the University of Washington.

“Connie has proven to be a leader in community relations,” Rosenstone said, quoting various references. “She has successfully worked with community and technical colleges. She has the ability to obtain buy-in from stakeholders. She’s effective in making tough decisions. She has experience with limited budgets, and her ability to roll up her sleeves will benefit SMSU.”

Additional references praised Gores for having a collaborative management style, being energetic, setting high expectations, being a great communicator, performing at the highest levels and being known as a person of great integrity.

With Wood serving as SMSU interim president after Danahar’s retirement in June of 2011, Rosenstone said he visited the institution to meet with students, faculty, staff and community leaders to better understand the needs of the university and southwest Minnesota. From there, he said, it became clear that there was a great deal of work to be done.

“As a result of these discussions, it was evident, to me at least, that the best path was to ask interim President Ron Wood to continue the work that had begun with his colleagues, work that would strengthen the position of the university when embarking on a search for the next president,” Rosenstone said. “Ron Wood agreed to remain for a second year as interim president, and simply put, he has done a superb job.”

Rosenstone took the opportunity Tuesday morning to thank Wood, along with the SMSU faculty and staff, for their “tremendous work” they’ve done together the past year and a half.

“Working collaboratively with students and staff, he started the university down a very bright path,” Rosenstone said. “He has rekindled partnerships between the university and the community, boosted enrollment and is leading the creation of new programs in nursing and agriculture and much, much more.”

This past October, Rosenstone returned to SMSU, this time to inquire about the specific characteristics the stakeholders wanted in their new president. He found that the expectations for the new president included being transparent, visible, approachable, people-friendly, able to build an effective team and motivate people and open to ideas.

“They wanted somebody who had a deep understanding both of the academic and student affairs side of the house, someone who would champion the liberal arts as well as professional education, who would lead strategies that would lead to enrollment growth, who would help them identify the university’s comparative advantage, someone who’d work collegiately and collaboratively with students, faculty, staff and community partners,” Rosenstone said. “There was great optimism about the future. There was a willingness on everyone’s part to be engaged in charting the university’s course.”

A national search for a new president was initiated in the summer of 2012, followed by the retainment of Greenwood/Asher & Associates and the development of a Search Advisory Committee to assist in the recruitment process.

“Forty-seven applications were received, providing a very diverse and well-qualified pool of candidates,” Rosenstone said. “From this pool, the Search Advisory Committee selected 13 individuals for preliminary interviews.”

From there, Rosenstone named two finalists – Gores and Ronald Rosati, who is currently serving as provost of Southeast Missouri State University. Campus interviews took place on Jan. 30 and Feb. 1. Among the qualities that SMSU stake-holders admired, Rosenstone said, were Gores’ student focus, rural background, sense of humor, passion for education, forward-thinking vision, positive outlook, integrity, data-driven decisions and strong community partnership abilities.

“After careful consideration of all the information and accounts I received from everyone who participated in the process, I’m pleased to recommend an individual who was born on a farm and raised on the prairie, a person who is courageous and has an impeccable track record of action, who turns ideas into plans, plans into action and actions into success,” Rosenstone said. “She’s a leader who will bring boundless energy, commitment, vision and a spirit of partnership in working with students, faculty, staff and communities across southwest Minnesota, to strengthen SMSU.”

In addition to campus interviews, Rosenstone said that he interviewed the candidates as did the MnSCU cabinet and three members of the Board – Trustees Philip Krinkie, Dawn Erlandson and David Paskach.

“Being from the region, my number one issue was finding someone who could really connect with the region, and I think Dr. Gores is a perfect candidate for that,” Paskach said. “She demonstrated that, at the interview and also with her obvious background experience, she really wants to connect and she has the ability to connect.”

Krinkie said he felt confident that Gores understood the challenges SMSU is facing and that her great sense of community would have a positive impact at the institution.

“We found Dr. Gores just amazingly well-qualified for this position,” he said. “She’s demonstrated her tremendous leadership skills at Winona in many areas and in many ways.”

Erlandson said she was struck by Gores’ ability to be invested in not only Winona State but also the entire Winona community.

“(The) chancellor mentioned that people talked about a passion for education and (Gores) definitely imparted that in her interview,” Erlandson said. “Her interview was outstanding. I think everyone is going to find her a delightful person to work with, other presidents and all the people at Southwest. I’m glad we got a great candidate.”

Gores will be introduced to the SMSU and Marshall area community at 11:30 a.m. today in the Conference Center Ballroom on campus, with a reception following.