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Northwest Technical College: Provost looks to make changes

John Centko, provost and vice president of academic affairs at Northwest Technical College, looks forward to his new job and a soon to be released a new logo – and new look at the school. Monte Draper | Bemidji Pioneer

BEMIDJI – The Northwest Technical College’s new provost and Vice President John Centko has a long history in the technical college setting, making the transition to his new role seamless.

“This is the kind of an environment that my family has been in,” Centko said. “It is a very comfortable environment to work in and it is a very rewarding environment as I have worked with many students over the years and have had the chance to shake their hand when they graduate.”

Centko, who took over the vice president role in May, previously worked as the dean of academic affairs at Minnesota State Community and Technical College in Moorhead. He had worked at the school since 2000, where he oversaw the development of technical trades and programs.

From 2000 to 2003, Centko worked as the dean of manufacturing, information technology and transportation at NTC, when it had five campuses, including Bemidji’s.  One of his responsibilities while he was there was to visit the five campuses, which has helped him become very comfortable in the area.

Centko’s involvement in the technical college atmosphere began shortly after he graduated high school. He bought a plane ticket to Memphis, Tenn., where he worked on the airlines, working in a rain coat in 100-degree weather.

“It wasn’t the most prestigious job and it made me realize there had to be something better,” Centko said.

He progressed in the airline industry, working as a customer service supervisor for seven years before being laid off.

After that he had a goal of getting a two-year degree in Architectural Cad, a job that involves reworking blueprints for the architects. 

While working towards his degree, Centko realized that he enjoyed being in school and decided to work towards his four year degree at Northern Michigan University in Marquette, Mich.

He then went to graduate school at Illinois State University, where he received his master’s degree in industrial technology with a focus on the development of training programs and technical education, which he said made him well prepared for the job he has now.

He also received a master’s degree in education with a focus on risk management and higher education from North Dakota State University.

“Through this process I have just really found that education has helped so many people in their lives by helping them move forward, progressing them to a career that is more rewarding for them,” he said.

In his time at MSCTC, Centko saw the college’s enrollment jump from 1,500 to 3,700 students, something he said he would like to see at NTC, where the enrollment is currently about 1,500 students.

Centko’s top priority when he arrived in Bemidji was to figure out an enrollment management plan, which the campus is moving forward on. He said it is not necessarily about increasing the number students, but figuring out what is a good size for NTC to be for the community.

“It is really about finding the niche programs that fit within this community to maintain a skilled workforce and to bring new businesses into the Bemidji region,” he said.

Centko said he would like to see the mindset of a technical education change, focusing on using new technologies and teaching techniques that best adhere to industry advancements.

“One of my goals this year is to start a process or a campaign that says ‘we are not your father’s votech,’” Centko said. “We are a technical college, which has a very different mission and process of delivering education than votechs did 20 and 30 years ago.”

Centko said the education is different than it was 30 years ago because many of the faculty has master’s or doctorate degrees as well as relevant work experience within the technical programs, which bring forth specific technical skills for a hands-on educational training.

Richard Hanson, president of Bemidji State University and NTC, said Centko’s experience in the state college and university system has prepared him for the job. He said his high energy approach will help NTC move forward in the right directions and help raise its reputation both in Northern Minnesota and on the national level.