Apr 29, 2014 - By Katie Roenigk, Staff WriterThe Central Wyoming College Board of Trustees has selected Cristobal Valdez as its next president.
The board announced its decision during a special meeting Tuesday.
Valdez currently serves as president of Edison Community College in Piqua, Ohio. He will replace CWC president Jo Anne McFarland, who will retire in June after a quarter-century on the job.
During public forums this month, he said he is looking forward to moving back west: He grew up in Anaconda, Mont., and he said he wants his four children to be raised "around here."
"I understand the values of rural institutions and rural areas," he said. "That's my passion. I want to be associated with that."
When Valdez took his post at Edison, he said he replaced a president who had spent 23 years in the position.
"(The change) can bring anxiety, excitement -- a whole host of emotions," Valdez said. "So I empathize with where you're at. ... That's why I'm interested in this institution."
He has experience with other issues CWC is facing as well. For example, Valdez has placed "tremendous emphasis" on college completion in Ohio, where legislators recently decided to fund community college based solely on performance as opposed to enrollment.
The state of Wyoming is considering the move as well.
When the new funding method goes into effect in July in Ohio, Valdez said Edison will see a 17 percent increase in state funding.
"That speaks to how well we're working on completion," he said. "Completion has really been (the) hallmark of my presidency at Edison."
Valdez also has a "strong commitment" to working with people of color, many of whom make up the population at CWC, which is situation near the Wind River Indian Reservation. He said he coordinates with his human resources staff at Edison to actively recruit minorities and make sure students and staff of color feel welcome at the school.
"It's extremely important you have events that will espouse and pursue diversity, whether it is socioeconomic or ethnic," he said. "Diversity can never be a program. It has to be what your culture accepts, promotes and lives."
During his first six months as CWC's president, Valdez said he would work to learn more about the school's culture, in part by scheduling one-on-one meetings with every member of the staff, regardless of title.
"I think it's somewhat of a falsehood, that in order to be a leader you have to have a title," Valdez said. "There are so many leaders throughout this institution, and we need to be able to find them and leverage that."
At Edison he said he formed a "president's council" that includes students and employees from throughout the college who meet with him monthly to keep him informed about school issues. The council helps him make decisions and communicate with the rest of the people on campus, Valdez said.
"We also have a monthly all-college meeting," he continued. "We try to be as transparent as possible."
During the public forum, CWC Foundation member Barbara Gose was interested in Valdez' success securing a $2 million gift for his school's foundation.
Part of the effort has to do with community involvement, Valdez said. For example, he makes sure to leave some time open in his schedule every week so he can visit potential investors if the opportunity presents itself.
"It's all about relationships," he said. "We can't expect folks to be donors to us, to be committed to us, if we're not committed to them."
When he makes a fundraising visit, Valdez said he always tries to tell a compelling story about the college mission.
"We need to tell those stories more often," he said. "We need to be more boastful (and) willing to be intentional about saying the good things we do."
He is a proponent of local governance over community colleges, but he has worked under both systems and seen the benefits of a statewide network.
"I'm a strong believer that local governance is the correct path to continue down," he said. "But I do think as community college presidents and trustees, we need to communicate with other schools to have a unified voice (regarding) policy, legislation and funding. ... There needs to be statewide coordination."
He also supports dual enrollment, through which students are able to earn college credits in high school. Valdez pointed out that some high schoolers need the extra challenge they can get on a college campus, while others -- like his 18-year-old son with Asperger syndrome -- struggle in a traditional high school environment.
Valdez said his son has been able to excel at a two-year school.
"He now has 40 credits," Valdez said. "So I know how that personally affects families."
He became emotional and stopped speaking for a moment while discussing the issue.
"My life is about higher education in the two year sector, because it does change lives," he explained after regaining his composure. "I take that personally. If I get emotional, it's because I care. If you can't feel about something strongly, you shouldn't be doing it."
Valdez previously served as provost for the Minnesota State Community and Technical College Detroit Lakes and Wadena campus. He also was interim vice president of student affairs at MSCTC. He earned a Bachelor of Arts in generalist social work practice from the University of Montana, a Masters of Social Work from Eastern Washington University and a Doctor of Education from Oregon State University's Community College Leadership Program.
Other finalists for the spot included Paul Kraft, vice president of student services for Treasure Valley Community College in Oregon; and Jason Wood, CWC's executive vice president for student and academic services. The three men participated in public forums and private interviews with trustees April 15-16 in Riverton.
A screening committee of 19 people including board members, college staff, alumni and community members selected the candidates after a nationwide search conducted with the help of a facilitator from the Association of Community College Trustees.
McFarland made her retirement announcement in December; she has been employed by CWC for more than 40 years.
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