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Quistgaard reflects: Bemidji State University and Northwest Technical College president looks forward to retirement, offers advice to successor

Jon Quistgaard, center, president of Bemidji State University and Northwest Technical College, sits outside Deputy Hall on the BSU campus. Quistgaard will retire this summer after working 30 years at BSU. Surrounding him, from left, are BSU students Molly Aitken-Jucin, Nicole Wesen and Amy Dehmer. Pioneer Photo/Monte Draper

Jon Quistgaard, president of Bemidji State University and Northwest Technical College, will leave with good feelings.

"I feel people have treated me probably better than they should have," Quistgaard said. "I will miss students the most. I'll miss my colleagues. I'll miss many of my friends here."

Richard Hanson, who was announced as the new president Wednesday, will take office July 12. Once Hanson completes his transition as president, Quistgaard said he will officially retire.

Quistgaard, known as "Q" by students and staff on campus, shares the following advice with his successor: Enjoy every day because a president's time goes very quickly. And take energy from your students.

"I have every confidence that this president will become successful and continue to grow the college and university," Quistgaard said. "I think he will be a good fit. He's a person of vision and high energy. He's got a great sense of humor. I think he has a lot of experience that will be really valuable in these times."

As a person who has worked a fulltime job since he was a teenager, Quistgaard said he doesn't expect to become a couch potato when he retires.

He said he looks forward to being a grandfather for the first time. He hopes to write a book, do consulting work within higher education and volunteer in the community.

When asked if students will see him on campus, Quistgaard smiled as he said, "They'll see me, but I think it's important that I create some space for the new president. I want to make sure the new president has a chance to spread his wings."

Quistgaard started his career at the University of Arizona, where he earned his doctorate in political science, before returning to Bemidji. At BSU, he was dean of graduate studies, associate vice president for academic affairs and vice president for academic and student affairs. He became BSU's ninth president in August 2001 and was named president of NTC two years later.

Since Quistgaard has been at the helm of BSU and NTC, he said he's seen changes in technology, enrollment, funding and demographics.

With diversity, enrollment has increased at both institutions and diversified to include students from more than 30 states and 40 countries.

Both institutions have seen higher enrollment numbers in recent years.

"I'm really pleased with that," he said. "Northern Minnesota is facing a declining enrollment at most of its high schools, so for the university and the college to be able to grow is a real compliment."

Quistgaard said he's seen more adults return to school and more military veterans seeking high educational opportunities, which he's honored by.

"Both institutions have become a bit more diversified," he said. "Diversity has been a high priority for me. I wish we could've achieved more of it but we're working on it."

According to Quistgaard, BSU and NTC have also attracted a broader range of faculty and staff from across the country.

"It's been a goal of mine since I was vice president for academic affairs to try to diversify where our faculty and staff are coming from so they bring a broader range of experiences and backgrounds to our university," he said.

Above all, Quistgaard said he feels his biggest accomplishment can be seen at commencement every year.

"That's where I see our greatest achievements," he said. "For me it's all about student success and the success of our graduates."

When asked what makes BSU and NTC unique, Quistgaard said it is the people.

"There's something special here," he said. "We go that extra mile for students. We push, prod and motivate them. We do that the whole time they're with us. That's what the Bemidji difference is."

He added he is proud of BSU and NTC's small class sizes and low student-teacher ratios.

"We probably have the smallest average class sizes at the upper division level of any of the state university," he said. "To do that, we charge a little bit more, but we think that having that strong mentor relationship between students and faculty is really important."

In looking to the future, Quistgaard said he sees three main challenges.

BSU and NTC, like all state colleges and universities, he said, will likely see less state financial support in the future. He said the next president will have to balance the lack of state-assisted funding with keeping educational costs down for students.

Another future challenge, Quistgaard said, will be overcoming a decreasing percentage of graduates from high schools in Northern Minnesota and keeping enrollment numbers strong.

He added both institutions will also need to attain adequate funding to make sure its programs are of high quality.

Despite future challenges, Quistgaard said he has high hopes for the continuing partnership between BSU and NTC.

"During my time, my primary charge and responsibility was to make sure we stabilized NTC so it would be a viable institution," Quistgaard said. "That's been achieved. So now, it's time for the next president's new vision. We can now offer a full palette of educational opportunities here that most institutions are probably only getting around to contemplating."

In reflecting on his career, one of the advantages of being at a smaller university, Quistgaard said, was that he was able to get to know students and staff on a personal level.

"I'll miss that day-to-day contact with students and hearing them talk about their dreams, aspirations and what they want to achieve," he said.

Throughout his 30-year career at BSU and his presidency at NTC, Quistgaard said he'll leave knowing he worked with the best students and the best faculty and staff.

"I've been associated with a number of institutions in my career, and I've never seen the devotion that I've seen here," he said. "I can truly say the staff is all about student success. They don't think of themselves first."

He said he continues to believe in the vision of BSU and NTC and hopes it continues to shape potential in students.

"Sometimes people in northern Minnesota underestimate their potential," he said. "Our alumni achieve at the highest level in every profession in every place around this world. The true greatness of both these institutions is still in front of us."