Apr 17, 2014 - By Katie Roenigk, Staff WriterOne of the three candidates for president at Central Wyoming College already was familiar with the audience that assembled Tuesday for a public forum to learn more about the applicants.
Jason Wood, CWC's executive vice president for student and academic services, has worked at the college for four years, so most people at the forum already knew about his leadership style and basic philosophy regarding higher education. Instead, the attendees seemed more curious about his potential transition from his current position to president.
"We all know you as Jason, our vice president, and we're familiar with the roles and duties you have," Wyoming Gear Up project director Tami Shultz said. "How do you see those roles and duties changing if you were to move into the role as president?"
Wood said a main difference would be the amount of time he spends listening to senior administrators and making decisions, rather than advocating for a certain group of people on campus.
He also would have to learn to balance his "internal" and "external" presence as president. Wood said he would focus more on the inner workings of the college to start his presidency, making sure CWC is functioning well before he heads out to work on legislative policy issues or fundraising.
Finally, he pointed out that, as president, he would have seven bosses -- the CWC Board of Trustees -- instead of one, current president Jo Anne McFarland.
"Working for seven trustees, the challenge is to bring seven different perspectives into a unified voice and carry out that unified voice," he said. "That will be new for me. I've never worked for a board. But I'm confident now is a good time for a transition."
Another person offered a follow-up to Shultz's question, asking Wood how he would fill the vacancy that would be created if he were promoted to president. Specifically, the person wondered what Wood would look for in a new executive vice president.
Wood said the person would have to be honest, hard-working and student-centered, but he added that he would not want to hire a "mirror image" of himself.
"I would hope to bring in another, different perspective that could sit around the table and provide input," Wood said.
Jody Goodrich, a human resources technician at CWC, asked what Wood's top priorities would be for his first six months as president. In response, Wood said he would first begin the process of replacing himself and several other staff members who are retiring this year.
"I try to interview every single position that will be hired into my area, (and) I'd want to continue some sort of commitment to that," he said. "Some of the most essential decisions we make are who we hire, who we bring in here, because they'll change the culture we have."
He also would work to define his new relationship with current staff members who are accustomed to seeing him as their vice president.
"(I'll value) the people that are still here, recognizing that my role has changed," Wood said. "It'll be a big part on me to actively listen and engage."
Otherwise, he said he would rely on the school's strategic plan and mission to guide his future work.
Many questions were repeated for all three candidates during the public forum.
One of the shared questions had to do with local control over college operations. CWC currently is governed by a locally elected board, but some people advocate for state-run systems for community colleges throughout the
Wood said he feels strongly that community colleges should be controlled locally.
"That's who we serve," he said. "That's the definition of the community part."
He also is supportive of dual enrollment, through which students earn college credits while still in high school.
"It's a great way to get a jump start on a college career," Wood said. "Just bringing students on campus (eases) their transition to college."R32;CWC English professor Ben Evans asked all three finalists about their "favorite and most-often applied definition of education." Wood said the definition involves teaching and learning, both of which can happen almost constantly on a college campus.
"Everything we do truly can be a teaching and learning moment," Wood said. "There are transactions we need to make, students need to pay bills and get checked into housing and register. ... We can turn those moments into teaching and learning moments."
For example, he said, CWC students who apply for loans now are required to take a financial literacy course.
"It's an opportunity (for) a student to learn that will help them make decisions in the future," Wood said. "It's not as efficient a model up front, but I resist some notions of efficiency."
All the candidates also were asked about Complete College America, a national nonprofit organization working to increase the number of citizens with career certificates or college degrees. Wood was appointed to the Complete College Wyoming team as part of CCA, but he said he is optimistically skeptical about the effort.
"I'm hopeful what they want to try and do is really in the best interests of students," Wood said. "(But) I think there are a lot of dangers in some things they're advocating."
Many people take CWC classes on a part-time basis, Wood noted, but CCA was not designed with those students in mind. In fact, Wood said CCA thinks part-time students "aren't successful."
"'If you can't go to college full time, you shouldn't go to college,' is their very blatant stance," Wood said. "We argue that back and forth, and ultimately we know that's not going to work."
Considering CWC's proximity to the Wind River Indian Reservation, all three candidates were asked about their experience working with minority students.
During his time as a recruiter at Blue Mountain Community College in Oregon, Wood said he organized financial aid nights specifically designed to meet the needs of his Spanish-speaking students, and he offered training for Spanish-speaking parents who were unfamiliar with the college system. He also nominated Spanish-speaking student ambassadors, and he began looking for more diversity within his staff.
"If people can see that anyone, regardless of their background, can go through the promotional ranks, then that says a lot for an institution's health," Wood said.
On the WRIR, Wood said he has been working for several months to try to develop a "self-determined, reservation-based degree" that might be more appropriate for tribal students.
"We developed a number of relationships that have proven very worthwhile," Wood said. "And I enjoy going to reservation basketball games -- I hope that counts for something."
Each candidate interview lasted about an hour and included opening remarks, a question-answer session and a concluding statement. After each interview, CWC board chair Charlie Krebs personally collected review sheets from attendees; he said the board would review each document while deciding which candidate will become the next president at CWC.
The board is conducting private interviews with the presidential candidates this week.
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