‘Marshall is my new home’

MARSHALL – A large number of people gathered Wednesday at Southwest Minnesota State University to welcome newly-appointed President Connie Gores, and while her presence on campus seemed to ignite excitement and a sense of optimism in everyone in attendance, the introductory celebration was also a big deal for Gores.

“Honestly, it’s a dream come true,” she said. “So once it was actually official and voted on, it was like ‘Yep, I’m coming home.’ I really do feel like this is where I’m meant to be. Marshall is my new home, and I’m really, really happy to be here.”

The Minnesota State Colleges and Universities (MnSCU) Board of Trustees approved Gores as the SMSU president Tuesday morning, based on recommendations from Chancellor Steven Rosenstone, three MnSCU board members, a Search Advisory Committee and an abundant amount of feedback from SMSU students, staff and faculty members as well as Marshall area community members.

“She’s gone through this very tedious process and as she’s gone through this process, the testimonies have come back, her former references have come back and the comments from her campus visit have come back,” said Clarence Hightower, chairman of the MnSCU Board of Trustees. “They’ve all said the very same thing: that we have made a very wise and very terrific choice.”

Education has always been her passion, her calling in life, Gores said.

“We are in the most noble of professions that exist,” she said. “We transform lives. We build brighter futures. We truly change the world with what we do.”

On Wednesday, Gores expressed her appreciation for all the support that she and the university have been shown.

“This is beyond any expectations I had,” Gores said. “You can tell that the community and the region is behind the university, and I feel really blessed to be here at this time. Interim President (Ron) Wood and all the community members, faculty, staff, they’ve all done such good work. I feel like I’m really the one who’s fortunate to come in at this point.”

Wood has served as interim President since the retirement of President David Danahar in June of 2011. He said he’s looking forward to working with Gores in the next four months, to help make a smooth transition. Gores, who is currently serving as the vice president of student life and development at Winona State University, is scheduled to begin her duties as president at SMSU on July 1.

“It’s a great day,” Wood said Wednesday. “I think this is what we’ve all been aiming for since the day I was asked to be here, to have someone who is going to be here on a permanent basis. The search process was very thorough, and I feel real comfortable with Dr. Gores. I think she’ll be a great president.”

With its 24 two-year colleges and seven state universities, MnSCU is the largest single provider of higher education in Minnesota and the fifth-largest of its kind in the United States. SMSU, established in 1963, is the youngest of the four-year institutions within the MnSCU system, serving more than 6,500 students last year, offering 50 majors and four master’s degree programs and providing the educational and cultural focal point for the 19 counties in southwest Minnesota.

“She’ll do wonderfully,” Pat Gores said of his sister, Connie. “She’s well-respected and she’s excelled at whatever she’s done. She’ll fit into this community very well.”

In September, search consultant Greenwood/Asher & Associates began a national recruitment campaign for the President position. Led by chairman Richard Davenport, president at Minnesota State University, Mankato, a Search Advisory Committee was also formed at SMSU.

“My visit last fall was really instrumental in helping me understand from you what it is that this university needed in its new president,” Rosenstone said. “And I’m extremely grateful for the counsel I got from students, faculty, staff and community members.”

As time went on, the committee helped sort through a pool of 47 applicants, looking for the best candidates.

“A lot of it was sifting through documents and resumes, stuff like that,” said SMSU freshman Joshua Anderson, who provided student representation on the search committee. “There were also preliminary interviews and on-campus interviews. It was definitely a lot of work that went into it.”

Despite the time and effort involved, Anderson said the opportunity was certainly a worthwhile one.

“This is not an experience that many people get to sit in on, sharing in a national search for a big university like this,” he said. “It was very rewarding.”

The committee determined that the next president would be someone who could be a dynamic leader with a clear vision, someone who was comfortable in a shared governance environment, excelled at management and resource development, is a team player and is an outstanding communicator.

“Dr. Gores was definitely a strong candidate,” Anderson said. “From a student’s perspective, we found that she’s very student-driven and her record says that.”

Without being asked, students from Winona eagerly shared words of praise about Gores with students from SMSU.

“We got a lot of good things from Winona,” Anderson said. “The big thing that we need, as students, is transparency and the ability to work with the president. You really can accomplish a lot once you have that. I think we’re going to have that with Dr. Gores. We’re looking forward to it. It’s real exciting.”

Having grown up in Springfield, Anderson, a business management major, said he was also concerned about the region.

“Southwest is really instrumental in a lot of things for schools like Springfield, Sleepy Eye, Tracy,” Anderson said. “A lot of things that we do revolve around what this university does as well. It had a bigger part than me being a student here.”

Wood said he believes that Gores will support ongoing projects, like more recent ones in agriculture and nursing, but that she’ll also provide SMSU with positive leadership in other areas.

“I think Connie brings and will be good at helping us in our retention and completion rates,” he said. “She has a lot of expertise to offer to our university.”

Hightower was also quick to commend Gores for her leadership ability.

“I think she’s going to do a terrific job,” Hightower said. “I think she’s well-prepared to do this and I think the college is in for a great future. It takes good leadership at the top. The board went through a very extensive process, and she came out on top. We’re very, very excited about it.”

Hightower, who attended SMSU from 1973-77, has served on the MnSCU board for 10 years. Before the introduction of President Gores, Hightower took the opportunity to tour the campus.

“I played basketball in the old gym, which you guys call the P.E. Gym now,” he said. “I just took a little stroll down there, just to remind myself. It brought back memories. This is a great place to be.”

Marshall Mayor Bob Byrnes helped to close out the ceremony by presenting Gores with a proclamation plaque.

“You position is so important and so vital to our community,” he said. “We’re so thrilled that you’re in this position. We congratulate you and welcome you to the city of Marshall.”