Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Happy Holidays!

Simmons, M. (Producer), & Chechik, J.S. (Director). (1989). National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation [Motion picture still]. USA:  Warner Bros.

One of the traditions we enjoy as a family is hunting for The Perfect Christmas Tree. Much like this scene from National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation, my husband found it - The Perfect Christmas Tree. We didn’t even have to trudge in the snow for hours to find it.

We dragged it back to the truck cheerfully singing “Let it snow, let it snow, let it snow.” My husband dutifully tied the tree to the top of the camper shell and we headed home excited to pull out the ornaments and decorate The Perfect Christmas Tree.

About 10 miles from home my husband swore and quickly pulled over.
"What?” I asked.
Apparently, the strap securing the bottom of the tree had come off. Since the top strap held tightly in place, The Perfect (by this time Perfect had been replaced by a more colorful word in my husband's vocabulary) Christmas Tree, had broken in half!
Making lemonade from lemons, we quickly stripped the branches for boughs and headed to Ace Hardware. There we found The Perfect Christmas Tree. Thankfully, once again, we didn’t have to trudge in the snow for hours to find it. Luckily, this one made it home in one piece!

No matter what traditions you celebrate this holiday season, I wish you the happiest of holidays.
May you spend less time doing what you think you should and more time doing what you want!


Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Congratulations, NWC Volleyball!

NWC’s Volleyball Team, nationally ranked during its impressive season, finished sixth in the nation at the NJCAA Championships last week. The ladies were 2-2 in the 16-team national tournament, beating Tyler Junior College (TX) and Western Nebraska Community College, and falling to second-seeded Iowa Western Community College and Salt Lake Community College. Earlier this month, for the fourth straight year, the Trappers claimed the Region IX North Championship. Congratulations to NJCAA Region IX Coach of the Year Shaun Pohlman and his Trapper Volleyball Team!

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

Trustee Election Results

As the country discusses the national election results, I wanted to let you know the results of the Trustee Election:

Scott Feyhl - 1,632 - 32.70%
Mark Wurzel- 3,347 - 67.06%

Luke Anderson - 3,475 - 32.45%
Bob Newsome - 3,701 - 34.56%
Steve Webster - 3,471 - 32.41%

Nada Larsen - 409 - 99.27%

The Trustees-elect take office at noon on December 1st and will be sworn in at the Board of Trustees meeting on December 12th.

Thursday, November 3, 2016

The night I spent in the Salt Lake Airport

A few months ago I spent the night in the Salt Lake Airport. Due to weather delays and mechanical issues, my flight arrived back in Salt Lake after a failed attempt to land in Cody at about 1:00 a.m.  I needed to board a special flight 4 hours later to again fly to Cody.

As I was trying settle myself to get some sleep, I began thinking about how privileged I was to sleep on a bench in an airport. I was safe. I was warm. I had access to food. Not everyone in our communities are so lucky. Some of them are even NWC students. 

The National Law Center on Homelessness and Poverty estimates there are between 2.3 and 3.5 million Americans annually who experience homelessness. Wyoming's homeless population resembles the homeless population nationwide. Women and children each make up just over half of Wyoming's homeless and thirty-five percent are part of a family who are without a home.

The Food Research and Action Center estimates that 14.6 % of households in Wyoming experienced food insecurity from 2011-2013. Of the children who eat school lunches, 40.7% participate in the free and reduced lunch program. 
Thankful to sleep in an airport,

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Foundation Gala 1960's Flashback

1960's Karaoke Fun
On Saturday night we celebrated the 50th anniversary of the NWC Foundation.

Fifty years ago, leaders in our community had a vision of how fundraising would provide access to higher education for students via scholarships, enhance academics and promote facility improvements on campus.

The Foundation continues to help NWC perpetuate our forward momentum. I am deeply grateful to those visionary leaders who sought to generate private support for the college and to our generous donors who continue the legacy begun in 1966.

I wore my mom's 1960's era prom dress to the gala

Keepin' it groovy,


Foundation Gala 1960's Flashback

1960's Karaoke Fun
On Saturday night we celebrated the 50th anniversary of the NWC Foundation.

Fifty years ago, leaders in our community had a vision of how fundraising would provide access to higher education for students via scholarships, enhance academics and promote facility improvements on campus.

The Foundation continues to help NWC perpetuate our forward momentum. I am deeply grateful to those visionary leaders who sought to generate private support for the college and to our generous donors who continue the legacy begun in 1966.

I wore my mom's 1960's era prom dress to the gala

Keepin' it groovy,


Saturday, October 15, 2016

In Memory of SinClair Orendorff

In memory of our longest serving president, Dr. SinClair Orendorff...

Former NWC President, SinClair Orendorff and Stefani Hicswa

The following is an excerpt from my comments at President Orendorff's memorial service:

Dr. Orendorff led Northwest College through great periods of growth and development during the time he served as our president. For over two decades he upheld high academic standards and had a strong vision for the college as a residential campus with an emphasis on transfer. He was also instrumental in moving NWC through accreditation issues when the college was on probation in the late 1960s. 

Before I applied for the Northwest College presidency I met SinClair for coffee.
I learned more about the college in that couple of hours, than I had in all my other research combined. That day, I also learned of our shared passion for student success. This legacy was evidenced in his attendance at the Yellowstone Building dedication.

His contributions to this college will be remembered long into the future and his legacy of student success will live on because his heart and soul will always be connected to
Northwest College. 

The following poem about Dr. Orendorff was written by faculty member Burt Bradley:

SinClair Orendorff by Burt Bradley

He looks like an old country doctor,
bespeckled, a little bent, grandfatherly.
His voice effuses kindness,
tinged with an Oklahoman twang.
Patient, slow, eighty-one--
I can’t imagine him six or seven,
buck-teeth, Coca-Cola bottle glasses,
a preacher’s son for heaven’s sake
having to fight through six schools.

Unlikeliest to succeed, he become
a doctor...of education, his wisdom
in understanding people, he could
read them like a book; his teaching
methodology: how to listen,
to their words, and to their heart,
his sure hand on the pulse of their character.
So when he talks about himself,
it’s not his name or deed one hears,
but Bob Bever, Bob Fagerburg,
Bob Nelson, Dan Oliver, Herb Wohlberg,
John DeWitt, John Hinkley, Al Simpson,
names he utters reverently, sometimes
removing his glasses to wipe his eyes
glistening with memories.

He wasn’t the first President,
he wasn’t even the first choice,
He didn’t build the foundation,
or lay any of the bricks,
but walk through this college
from sixth to seventh streets,
between Absaroka and Division
and feel his presence,
the muscle, fiber, the common
sense, the integrity, the virtue
of earnestness and laughter.

He’s a humble man,
who won’t talk much
about the two purple hearts
or how he carried a  fellow soldier
out of harm’s way under enemy fire.

It’s always about others,
about the college. Really,
he says, the success
of this institution was we
hired good people
and let them do their job.

On paper it says he’s retired. And
even he will pretend, murmuring
I don’t want to be in the way.
But this most unlikely to succeed
doctor of education, this president
of the college-not just half its life,
but for life, saw she was in trouble
declared, “I don’t want to be out of
the road, even if it means they
have to run me over.” His Golden Rule:
have a little patience, wait
a moment and have a little more,
and listen until you understand.

A doctor of education, president
of a college, this man who has forgot
more than most know,
who forgets nothing, ...
And what he remembers is
what none of us should forget.

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

The Bridge

On Saturday September 10th, I was honored to welcome guests at the opening of The Bridge exhibit in the Sinclair Gallery on campus. It was a fabulous evening.

I had the opportunity to sit down with artist, Reda Abdelrahman Selem, from Cairo to visit about his work, "Love Between East and West." He said, "Symbolically, it represents how we should all naturally relate to each other."

If you have not yet seen the exhibit, I encourage you to take few minutes to walk through the gallery. Make sure you read what the artists have written about bridging culture to go with their pieces.

President Hicswa with artist Reda Abdelrahman Selem

Last night, my family and I hosted our international students for dinner. Following dinner, some of the students joined my sons in the back yard for a game of soccer. Although their native languages were different, I witnessed in my own back yard, the universality of the language of soccer. Symbolically, it represents how we should all naturally relate to each other.

May you look for ways in your daily life to find bridges,


Thursday, August 25, 2016

Governor Mead visits NWC

Governor Mead with new NWC students

Last week during our Kick Off Weekend activities, students had the privilege of being welcomed to campus by Governor Matt Mead. He talked to them about the importance of a college degree and how they are an investment in the future of Wyoming.

Following his presentation to the students, he also spoke to NWC faculty and staff. He understands that community colleges are key to the future of the state and he congratulated us on being the first community college in the state to complete the first round of articulation agreements with the University of Wyoming.  He also gave us his perspective on the state's budget situation.

It was an honor to host Governor Mead on our campus. He truly cares about our future and appreciates that we are making a difference in the lives of our students.


Monday, August 22, 2016

We are Northwest Strong!

The following is an excerpt from my Fall 2016 State of the College Address:

In his book, My Story (2013), National Hockey League defenseman Bobby Orr states, “Strength is about making a conscious decision to try to be at the top of your game every day. That kind of attitude doesn’t mean you are never going to make mistakes. It doesn’t even mean you will achieve a personal best every day. But if you try, the negatives are going to be outweighed by the positive things you accomplish. If you can do that, your strength won’t just propel you along, it will make everyone around you better. One of the indescribable things about being on a team… [is]when everyone is focused on inspiring everyone else, there is almost nothing you can’t do.”

Grounded Theory researcher Brene’ Brown, in her book Rising Strong (2015), states that strength is found where our courage is tested and our values are forged. Strength is daring greatly and living courageously. Courage not only transforms our being, it will transform our college.

Dr. Brown also says that strength is a critical mass of badasses who are willing to take on tough stuff, face discomfort head-on live their values, and keep showing up. If we are clear of what our institution can become, we WILL get there. Strength is about being “all in” (Brown). Just like the training regimens of Olympic athletes, it will take consciously doing something every single day to get us there.

Yet, we cannot be fully strong and move forward until we heal from the pain of the past. Olympic swimmer Dana Vollmer posted on social media that she did not know pain and strength until she became a mother. Like Ms. Vollmer with a new level of awareness we learn that by working through pain, we grow and change.

This new awareness, although scary, can be invigorating and reignite our sense of purpose. To be strong we must be brave. Being pulled forward to even greater courage is an inescapable part of rising strong (Brown). To be strong we will need the energy generated by our passion for student success.

We are reinventing how we do things and changing our systems to promote student success. We are taking on bold new ideas and changing our paradigms. We are becoming brokers of educational opportunities rather than just offering classes. We are strengthening the role of advising and learning assessment to help our students succeed. We are implementing policies and practices that promote academic rigor and accountability. We are empowering students as partners in developing their paths and achieving their educational goals.

We are strong.We have the strength to do this together. The definition of strength is: “durable, solid, resilient, tough” and “the quality that allows someone to deal with problems in a determined and effective way.”

That is us!

Strong colleges survive. Northwest College is just that. Together we will remain strong now and into the future. I know when we work closely with each other, we capitalize on our strengths. May you have “Olympic fever” throughout the year as you think about the strength we have as a college and the gold in your heart. We are Northwest Strong!


Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Beloit College's "The Mindset List"

Each August since 1998, Beloit College has released the Beloit College Mindset List, providing a look at the cultural touchstones that shape the lives of students entering college this fall.

For this year’s entering class, there has always been eBay, snowboarding has always been an Olympic sport, and the Euro has always existed.


The Mindset List for the Class of 2020
  1. There has always been a digital swap meet called eBay.
  2. Grandpa has always been able to reach for the Celebrex.
  3. They never heard Harry Caray try to sing during the seventh inning at Wrigley Field.
  4. There have always been Cadillac Escalades, but they just don't seem to be all that into cars. 
  5. West Nile has always been a virus found in the U.S.
  6. Vladimir Putin has always been calling the shots at the Kremlin.
  7. The Sandy Hook tragedy is their Columbine.
  8. Cloning has always been a mundane laboratory procedure.
  9. Elian Gonzalez, who would like to visit the U.S. again someday, has always been back in Cuba.
  10. The United States has always been at war.
  11. Euros have always been the coin of the realm...well, at least part of the realm.
  12. Serena Williams has always been winning Grand Slam singles titles.
  13. SpongeBob SquarePants has always lived at Bikini Bottom.
  14. The Ali/Frazier boxing match for their generation was between the daughters of Muhammad and Joe.
  15. They have never had to watch or listen to programs at a scheduled time. 
  16. James P. Hoffa has always been president of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters.
  17. Surprise: There has always been sex in the city.
  18. John Hinckley has always been able to get out of the hospital to go for a walk.
  19. Each year they've been alive the U.S. population has grown by more than one million Latinos. 
  20. TV ads for casinos have always been permitted to mention that there is actually gambling going on in there. 
  21. Vaccines have always been erroneously linked to autism.
  22. Laws against on-the-job harassment have always applied to parties of the same sex. 
  23. Even as the national mood gets glummer, there has always been an annual prize for the most humorous American.
  24. Catholics and Lutherans have always been in agreement on how to get to heaven.
  25. To greet them with some cheery news, when they were born, India and Pakistan became nuclear powers.
  26. If you want to reach them, you'd better send a text—emails are oft ignored.
  27. They disagree with their parents as to which was the "first" Star Wars episode.
  28. "Nanny cams" have always been available to check up on the babysitter.
  29. NFL coaches have always had the opportunity to throw a red flag and question the ref.
  30. Bada Bing – Tony and Carmela Soprano and the gang have always been part of American culture.
  31. They have no memory of Bob Dole promoting Viagra.
  32. Books have always been read to you on audible.com.
  33. Citizens have always been able to register to vote when they get their driver's license.
  34. Bluetooth has always been keeping us wireless and synchronized.
  35. X-rays have always been digital allowing them to be read immediately.
  36. Exxon and Mobil have been one company—and it doesn't own any gas stations.
  37. They have always eaten irradiated food.
  38. A Bush and a Clinton have always been campaigning for something big.
  39. Physicians have always had unions.
  40. Some have always questioned the sexual orientation of certain Teletubbies.
  41. Snowboarding has always been an Olympic sport.
  42. Students have always questioned where and by whom their sweatshirts are made.
  43. While chads were hanging in Florida, they were potty training in all 50 states. 
  44. Presidents have always been denied line item veto power.
  45. Nigeria has always been a constitutional republic with a civilian government.
  46. The once-feared Thalidomide has always been recognized as a cancer fighting drug. 
  47. DreamWorks has always been making animated creatures heroic and loveable.
  48. Deceased men have always been able to procreate.
  49. John Elway and Wayne Gretzky have always been retired.
  50. They have never seen billboard ads for cigarettes.
  51. The New York Stock Exchange has always reported its ups and downs in fractions.
  52. Airline tickets have always been purchased online.
  53. There have always been iMacs on desks.
  54. Instant, tray-less ice cubes have never been a novelty.
  55. Robots have always been surgical partners in the O.R.
  56. Peregrine falcons have never been on the endangered species list.
  57. Outstanding women basketball players have always had their own Hall of Fame in Knoxville, Tenn.
  58. Newt who?
  59. War films have always shown horrific battle scenes inspired by Saving Private Ryan.
  60. Michael J. Fox has always spoken publicly about having Parkinson's disease.
The Mindset List is created by Beloit College.


Thursday, July 28, 2016

Flashback to the 1960's

Shelby Wetzel, Stefani Hicswa, and Megan Nickles

NWC Foundation Board President Megan Nickles, Executive Director Shelby Wetzel and I wore pink retro outfits to celebrate the Foundation’s founding in 1966 at a dinner Ms. Nickles hosted in her backyard for Foundation Board members and spouses last week. Guests enjoyed some fun facts honoring 50 years of history, including:

  • The Foundation was incorporated with the State of Wyoming on June 2, 1966.  Its first meeting ran from May 19 to June 13 (they recessed and re-opened the meeting on different days)
  • Six different donors have made gifts of $1 million or more to the Foundation
  • We have received gifts from all 50 states and 14 foreign countries
  • Employee giving to the Foundation totals $1,082,908 from 331 individuals.

Look for more Foundation trivia and retro photos throughout the year as we celebrate the Foundation's 50th anniversary.

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Northwest Strong!

The following op ed piece on our budget was as recently published in local newspapers:

It is no secret that fallen energy prices have created a serious revenue shortfall in Wyoming. It is being felt in both public and private sectors throughout our state. Northwest College and the other six community colleges are certainly not immune. In fact, not only are we dealing with cuts in state appropriations, we are also faced with revenue loss from local mill levies as lower oil and natural gas prices and disastrous impacts to the coal industry mean lower county valuations.

At Northwest College, we have responded strategically and proactively to realign expenditures with decreased revenue. That has meant cuts of nearly $3 million for the 2016-17 year. About 75 percent of NWC’s roughly $22.5 million operating fund is composed of employee salaries and benefits. Our $1 million monthly payroll has an enormously positive impact in this area.

We have made both personnel and non-personnel cuts across campus, and believe me, it was painful. Because I often get questions about athletics, I will add that reductions are also being made to athletics. The Board of Trustees implemented our Reduction in Force policy, initiated a one-time special early retirement offering, approved more than $1 million of operating cuts throughout the college, and discontinued three instructional programs—Farrier Business Management, Journalism and Film/Radio/TV. Those decisions, coupled with not filling several positions from resignations or retirements earlier in the year, mean the loss of about 20 employees and reduction of administrative operations.

The three program terminations impact a total of 13 students, all of whom will be allowed to enroll in courses to complete their degree next year as we “teach out” the programs. All scholarships, including those for returning students in those programs and those for students who had planned to enter the programs, are being honored.

Obviously, cuts of this magnitude will unquestionably impact our students, employees, and the communities we serve, but we are being proactive in our communication and deliberate as we transition these changes. It is important to note that while some of our sister colleges are approaching their reductions differently and may defer action until the second year of the two-year funding cycle, Northwest has chosen to execute permanent cuts now, starting July 1, knowing that they will be permanent and ongoing.

Your community college is moving forward with responsible, intentional planning. Strong institutions survive such trials. Northwest College is just that, and we will remain strong.

A year of impressive accomplishments

As challenging as it has been from a budget standpoint, 2015-16 was a year of successes. The following is a partial list of accomplishments:

  • 4th in the nation on WalletHub’s list of 2015's Best Community Colleges
  • In the 98th percentile nationally for students completing and transferring in three years
  • 43rd national ranking for our Ag program
  • The first Wyoming community college to finalize an initial tier of 17 articulation agreements with the University of Wyoming, giving students assurance that courses they are taking will meet requirements for UW bachelor’s degrees
  • A 95.8% pass rate for Registered Nurse graduates on the National Council Licensure Examination, a nationwide examination for licensing nurses
  • Improved enrollment, and strong growth in Photography, Criminal Justice and Music
  • 1st place among two-year colleges at a prestigious forensics tournament
  • 4th-place national volleyball finish
  • Top 25 ranking among community college private foundations nation-wide
  • Welcomed 300 Big Horn Basin high sophomores at a Career Day on campus where students explored possible careers
  • Hosted Sherman Alexie, one of the most acclaimed Native American authors in the country

To review a robust list of strong accomplishments and related photographs from last year, check out Northwest College’s Annual Report at www.nwc.edu/report.

Continue to expect strong accomplishments from your community college next year.

We are Northwest Strong!


Tuesday, June 28, 2016

College National Finals Rodeo

My family and I had the opportunity to attend the College National Finals Rodeo in Casper a couple of weeks ago. The CNFR is one of the best run rodeos I have ever attended.
Four NWC students—one in steer wrestling, two in team roping, and one in bull riding—were selected to participate in the CNFR this year. Only the top three in each event are allowed to enter.   
Freshman Bubba Boots of Saint Anthony, ID, finished 16th in steer wrestling. The team roping duo of sophomores Shawn Bird, Cut Bank, MT, and Lane Lahaye, Wilsall, MT, claimed 17th in the nation. 
Bubba Boots

Lane Lahaye and Shawn Bird
Becky Nose, Shawn Bird, Lane Lahaye, Bubba Boots and Del Nose
On Friday morning I attended the coaches breakfast and the VIP reception later that evening with NWC Coach and National Intercollegiate Rodeo Association Board of Directors member Del Nose.

At the coaches breakfast we sat with Iola Else, UM Western Rodeo Coach and my 4-H advisor when I was in 5th and 6th grade. 
Stefani Hicswa and Iola Else
Have a great week!
If you are around Cody this weekend, make sure you attend the Cody Stampede Rodeo.  

Thursday, June 23, 2016

The best therapy

My family and I took a detour recently after attending a wedding in Missoula. I don't know about you, but being in the mountains is the best kind of therapy for me. I feel so lucky to live in this part of the world. 

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

In memory of Benny Dial

As a college president it is always painful to lose a student.

This past weekend photography student Benny Dial passed away following a short illness. He lived as he died, surrounded by those who loved him most. He brought love and positive energy wherever he went. He was always happy and always full of joy.

Benny and me
I will miss seeing his smiling face whether behind a camera or helping at college events.

May we touch others' lives as Benny touched ours,


Tuesday, May 31, 2016

"That's WY"

Earlier this spring I traveled to Chicago for the Higher Learning Commission (HLC)conference with several staff and faculty from Northwest College. It was great to spend time together and learn more about HLC and accreditation processes.
As faculty member Aura Newlin and I were walking from the 'L' Train to the conference hotel, we cheered when the "That's Wy" bus drove by. We thought it was a thoughtful was a way for Chicago to welcome us to their city. 
I learned last week that the summer season United flights from Chicago to Cody are filling up. That's Wy!   

That's WY -  in Chicago 

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

On the radio

Here is a recording of an interview I did on the Big Horn Radio network last week recapping the college's successes this year, as well as our challenges as we confront our budget situation.

From Speak Your Piece (May 5, 2016)

Thursday, May 5, 2016

2016 Commencement

As we prepare for commencement on Saturday, I am proud to let you know that we have 295 students who have applied for graduation this spring. We will have just over 200 students go though ceremonies this weekend.

As hard as our students have worked to earn their certificates and degrees, faculty and staff are also to be commended for all they have done to support them on their journey. I appreciate the long hours they have spent helping students through personal challenges, assisting with technology, and with multitudes of class projects. They have traveled with students to national tournaments, state awards ceremonies, and academic conferences. Graduates have benefited from the incredible array of knowledge that faculty are consistently willing to give day in and day out.

Northwest College is truly a student-centered institution. We exemplify it in all we do throughout the school year; but it is at commencement where we truly shine. Commencement is about celebrating the accomplishments of our students - past, present, and future. I am proud to lead a college that values this time-honored tradition by focusing on students.

See you on Saturday!


Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Virtual Mom

Image result for facetime logo

I think I am becoming a virtual mom.

With my travel schedule, I have found FaceTime to be a wonderful tool to stay connected to my family. From afar I have been able to help with homework, see a bloody gap where a tooth used to be and help pick out appropriate clothes for school pictures.

Last night after the Student Athlete Awards Banquet, I went to the high school for the art show. Unfortunately, I did not have time to go home in between to get my kids so I texted my son to ask where his art work was displayed.
When I arrived, I found the first one but couldn't find the others. FaceTime to the rescue! I FaceTimed my son and he was able to show me where they were. We talked about his entries and the mediums he used to create them.  He then "took "me down the hallway to show me the dragon. He told me to go further down the hall and around the corner to show me the submarine.
While I don't want to trade FaceTime for real one-on-one face time with my kids, virtual mom is a good substitute in a pinch.


Wednesday, April 20, 2016

NWC eyes the future in dealing with budget shortfall

Below is a recent op ed piece I submitted to local media:

As you have heard from various media reports, budget cuts loom for Northwest College. While the unpleasant task of reducing next year’s operating fund by $2.3 million will be challenging, our focus will be on Northwest’s future, and we will proceed truthfully and responsibly. We owe that to you, our owners, and to current and future students.

To help you put our budget shortfall in proper perspective, the college’s operating fund is roughly $22.5 million. (The annual budget is more than that, but it is the operating fund on which we must focus our attention.) About 75% of that $22.5 million operating fund is composed of employee compensation—salaries and benefits that result in our $1 million monthly payroll that has an enormously positive impact in this county.

A surprise?

I am frequently asked, “Is this a surprise?” No, it is not. All of us in Wyoming have been painfully aware of what would result from considerably depressed oil, natural gas and coal prices/production in our state. While we have seen this coming, the exact magnitude has only recently become apparent to the campus. Some who have been at the college many years say they do not remember a revenue shortfall this large. The deficit is attributed to the following developments, all of which stem from plummeting energy prices.
  • The State Legislature reduced the system of seven community colleges’ standard budget by just over $2 million for the next two-year period, a reduction we view as reasonable given the state’s revenue situation. NWC must assume its portion of that statewide amount; our share is not a simple one-seventh calculation.
  • An additional 3% cut over the next two years was imposed by the Legislature on all state agencies, including the community colleges.  
  • The biggest hit to NWC comes from a projected sharp decrease in Park County’s valuation because of mineral prices/production. The result is a revenue loss of an estimated $1.44 million from NWC’s county-wide mill levy.
While energy prices are expected to increase in the future, it likely will not be for several years.

Many roles to play, including yours

Such a formidable task requires broad involvement both on and off campus.

Campus budget managers are at work recommending expenditure reductions from their various areas. I have told them this shortfall cannot be handled by simple belt-tightening. Cuts will be permanent, and nothing is being ruled out, including personnel; elimination of services and instructional programs is a very real possibility.

My role as president is best stated in this quotation from adaptive leadership development author Katherine Tyler Scott: “The role of the leader is to read reality truthfully and to respond responsibly.” I take my responsibility very seriously. After considering campus input, the decision about what to recommend to the Board of Trustees is mine alone. Student recruitment and retention are critical to Northwest College’s future wellbeing and to our ability to make a positive impact on the area’s economy. Therefore, how directly programs and services contribute to student recruitment and retention will weigh heavily in my decision making.

The Board of Trustees plays a vital role by considering and approving the annual budget. With the best interests of the college in mind, trustees voted Monday to implement a one-time special early retirement offering for employees, including those whose age is below or above eligibility cut-off points. This special offering respects our employees’ dignity and helps them make decisions on their own terms. Further, board members approved use of some of our budget reserves to assist on a one-time basis. For example, in the event instructional programs are terminated, reserves can be used to “teach out” programs so that second-year students can complete their program of study.

Area residents have a role to play as well. I hope you will speak up with questions and advice. After all, as taxpayers, you are the ones who own this college.

No salary reductions

One suggestion I have heard among a few area residents is to reduce employee salaries. Let me explain why that will not be part of my proposed course of action. Cutting employee salaries would erode our competitiveness in the marketplace when employees accept positions elsewhere or retire. In other words, we must not only compensate individual employees for their good work, we must fund their positions for the future.

Northwest Strong

In traveling the state as a member of this year’s Leadership Wyoming class, I have viewed firsthand how hard the mining industry has been hit. A tagline that has emerged in response—“Stay Strong Wyoming”— is easily adaptable to NWC’s current budget challenges. It is important that Northwest College remain competitive and continue to thrive. I seek to keep this institution “Northwest Strong.”

Please know your college will do what is best for student success and for you, the taxpayers. We will bring to bear the best thinking possible to meet this challenge and build for the future. Strong colleges survive such trials, and Northwest College is just that and will remain so.

New flowers of spring bring hope.


Thursday, March 17, 2016

Wearing o' the green

I wish "wearing of the green" meant rolling in the green - as in cash. But alas, 'tis not so...

Earlier today VP Watson and I held a meeting with NWC budget managers. Unfortunately due to state funding following the legislative session and estimated local mil assessments, we are projecting a revenue shortfall of $2 million in the college’s general operating fund and a $350,000 shortfall in the 1 mil fund for next year.  

VP Watson will distribute detailed reports to the budget managers outlining budgets and expenditures for the past 5 years and give them specific dollar amounts for their areas to reduce. I have asked that recommendations for reductions be submitted by April 15th.  

It is important that we all work together to make the best decisions for the long-term sustainability of the college.
With these challenges, this old Irish blessing seems appropriate today:
“May love and laughter light your days,
and warm your heart and home.
May good and faithful friends be yours,
wherever you may roam.
May peace and plenty bless your world
with joy that long endures.
May all life’s passing seasons
bring the best to you and yours!”


Monday, February 29, 2016

Recent ski trip

Happy Leap Day!
In December I marked myself out to take a day off to go skiing in February. I would have never thought that I would end up going hiking instead. Hiking in February is a first for me. It was a beautiful day - but I had to leave my skis behind.  

Thursday, February 25, 2016

Back from Cheyenne

Remember the line from that Garth Brooks song - "When he told her he would be riding, she said 'I don't care if you never come back from Cheyenne'." I am here to tell you, I am happy to have made it back from Cheyenne!

Last week VP Mark Kitchen and I represented the community colleges at the legislative session with Western Wyoming Community College President Karla Leach. Week two of the legislative session was budget week - which meant several long nights, eating on the run, and lunch at Albertsons.

In addition to the legislative session VP Kitchen, Trustee Nada Larsen and I attended the Wyoming Coalition Against Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault annual awards ceremony where Cynthia Garhart was presented the Partners in Advocacy award for the work she has done to change NWC's culture regarding sexual misconduct on campus.

The following evening, I had the honor of presenting the nominees for the Phi Theta Kappa Wyoming All-State Academic Team. Elijahben Jasso and Makenzie Beck (pictured below) are NWC's nominees. They will compete at the national level to be included on the All USA Academic Team in April. Student Senate President Sam Jones (pictured below) was also honored at the Wyoming Community College Trustee Legislative Reception as Northwest College's student of the year.

Elijahben Jasso, Sam Jones, President Hicswa, Makenzie Beck

HB 80, our stable funding bill, passed in the house this week and has been referred to the Senate Education Committee.
I am inspired by the fact that in Wyoming we truly have a citizens' legislature. As a citizen, I have the opportunity to talk to our legislators about our community colleges. We are lucky to have the opportunity to participate in the process at this level. I love being a part of the process and enjoy interacting with our legislators. BUT it is always nice drive over the hill, see Heart Mountain in the distance, and know that I have made it back from another trip to Cheyenne.


Wednesday, February 17, 2016

Update from the President's Desk

The following is an excerpt from my monthly report to the NWC Board of Trustees.

NWC is in the 98th percentile for the percentage of first-time, full-time students who completed and transferred in three years, according to the National Higher Education Benchmarking Institute survey of community colleges. We are in the 92nd percentile for students completing and transferring in two years.

Wyoming’s community colleges have impressive national rankings in the percentage of their students who transfer to earn bachelor’s degrees. A study by the Community College Research Center at Columbia University shows Wyoming to be first in the nation for the percentage of new students who transfer and earn a bachelor’s degree within six years (NWC’s average over the past five years is 69%). Wyoming Community Colleges are second in the nation for the percentage of students transferring to four-year schools (77% of NWC’s degree-seeking students who did not return fall 2015 transferred).

Governor Mead’s Standard Budget included $12M for the Enrollment Growth portion of Community College's State Aid (based upon 2014-15 enrollment), as opposed to submission of annual exception budget requests. While that represents a $2.3M reduction to the seven colleges’ current biennium funding level, I believe it’s reasonable given the state’s revenue situation. I’m pleased that the JAC’s markup of the Wyoming Community College Commission’s budget retained the $12M and will be part of mirror budget bills that go to both chambers this legislative session.

As a result of discussions with incoming UW President Laurie Nichols about the potential for closer partnerships between the University and the community colleges, I have been selected to serve on the UW Provost search committee.

I continue my involvement on the Forward Cody and Powell Economic Partnership (PEP) Boards. One of PEP’s priorities this year is to find ways we can bring the community and college closer. I will be meeting with members of the Powell community to identify “town and gown” initiatives.

We have embarked on a Mission Statement revision process with input from the campus. Data from employees were compiled into a questionnaire, which was given to faculty and staff early last semester. Following employee input as part of our Mission Statement revision process, we broadened our request for input to include area residents at a successful on-campus public meeting October 1. This month we asked for student input. Data from students and community members support input received from employees. We have analyzed results and are in the process of finalizing our work on the new Mission Statement. I will bring it forward to the Board for your approval after going through the campus shared governance consultation process.

In addition to the mission work, I have implemented Future’s Task Forces to review and discuss our organizational structure, faculty and staff salaries, major facilities projects as well as college finances.

We continue the work to refine our college policies. We have identified areas of policy that are missing and are drafting policy language and moving recommended policies through college processes. As well, in working with the College Council, the Board of Trustees’ Rules and Regulations, Employment Handbook, Student Handbook, portions of the College Catalog, and various other documents have been combined into a comprehensive document. I am reviewing this document with College Council to create a Board Policy Manual.

Respectfully submitted,



Wednesday, February 10, 2016

A Student Success Story

A student emailed me over the weekend to tell me he was planning to drop out of school. I replied, "NOOOOOOO! Come in and talk to me on Monday."

In the meantime, I talked to others on campus who knew about his situation and found out that they had ALL told him that he couldn't drop out. By the time I caught up with the student, I learned that due to faculty and staff going above and beyond to help, the circumstances that led him to decide to withdraw from classes in the middle of the semester had been resolved.

I am proud of how everyone worked together to help this student. Sometimes that is all it takes to make a difference in the lives of our students when they feel their situation is hopeless.

This exemplifies not only our tag line, "Your Future, Our Focus" but also our Vision 2020 priority to focus on connections.

Please feel to share other inspiring student retention stories. I know they happen every day.


Monday, February 1, 2016

Shrek and Stefani

Stefani Hicswa and Shrek (aka:Troy Hunt)

If you did not have an opportunity to see the Cody Community Theatre production of Shrek the Musical in January you missed an amazing show! The talent demonstrated by the cast, orchestra, and sound crew was amazing. As you can see from the above photo, the costumes and make-up were outstanding as well.

In addition to faculty member Troy Hunt, music professor Rob Rumbolz, current students, and alumni were also involved in the production.

Following the show, I have thought a lot about how lucky we are to have such talent at NWC. I don't know about you, but the I think idea of remodeling and expanding the Nelson Performing Arts building to capitalize on this talent is quite compelling.