2013 ‘Newsmakers of the Year’

Editor’s note: In a first-of-its-kind feature, the Independent is publishing its ‘Newsmakers of the Year’ for the past year. The Independent will bestow this honor on one woman and one man at the end of each year – people who didn’t just make headlines, but made a difference as well in 2013. Today’s story features new SMSU President Dr. Connie Gores. The male recipient will be featured Wednesday.

MARSHALL – Ten months removed from being named the new president at Southwest Minnesota State University, Dr. Connie Gores still talks about feeling at home.

“It’s been everything I expected and more,” Gores said of her transition to Marshall and SMSU. “As I’ve said before, in so many ways it feels like I’ve come home. It feels like it’s a great fit, and it’s the right time.”

Gores was appointed SMSU’s ninth president in February, succeeding Dr. Ron Wood, who served as interim president for two years following Dr. David Danahar’s retirement after a decade of leading the university.

Gores, SMSU’s first permanent female president, officially began her duties on July 1.

Gores summarizes her move to Marshall with the three ‘Ps’ – people, place and purpose. She said the Marshall area consists of people who are dreamers and doers, and she is aware of the importance of where SMSU is located regionally. She values SMSU’s rural setting and the university’s role in higher education.

Gores, originally from Cando, N.D., an agriculture-driven city with a population a shade over 1,100 (2010 Census), has worked in more populated areas, but believes the more intimate setting SMSU offers is conducive to productivity, which benefits not only the students, but surrounding cities as well.

“I appreciate the more rural environment because of what it means for us as people and what it means for us in our work. Quite frankly, I think it’s easier to get things done in an environment where people are used to working together, and you have to work together in smaller towns to make things happen. You have to learn to get to know the people, rather than just their position. I like that kind of interaction.”

Before coming to SMSU, Gores served as vice president of student life and development at Winona State and was interim president there during the summer of 2012.

She also had leadership roles at Longwood University, Randolph-Macon Woman’s College and Cornish College of the Arts.

Looking ahead to 2014, Gores knows there are potential challenges the university will be facing and thinks those challenges can be met in ways that will continue to allow SMSU to meet the needs of the region.

“I think every president has to be looking forward and anticipate what might be coming while dealing with the day-to-day. At this point, I don’t foresee cutting programs – however, that could change – I foresee us investing in new areas of growth. If we do that, we will then grow our enrollment and enhance our offerings.”

Gores said SMSU will focus on the three points she identified this fall: academic excellence and distinctiveness, student learning and success, and meaningful partnerships and engagements. She said SMSU needs to address those issues while being sensitive to budget and resource issues.

“There’s no question that we have some challenges ahead with regard to budgets and enrollment; we will be intentional about how we move forward and address the issues and take on some of those challenges,” she said.

With less than a full year in Marshall under her belt, Gores calls SMSU an example of how universities work directly with students to “help them reach heights they wouldn’t expect to be able to reach.”