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Presidential finalists visit Bemidji State, Northwest Technical College campuses

The search for the next Bemidji State and Northwest Technical College president continued this week with each of the four presidential finalists undergoing community question-and-answer sessions during their campus visits.

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BEMIDJI — The search for the next Bemidji State and Northwest Technical College president continued this week with each of the four presidential finalists undergoing community question-and-answer sessions during their campus visits.

With virtual sessions held via Zoom Monday through Thursday during their respective NTC visits, faculty, students and other campus community members had a chance to get to know the candidates and ask them about their qualifications, past experience and motivation for seeking the open presidential position.

Darrell Kruger

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Darrell Kruger

Kicking off the community sessions on Monday was Darrell Kruger.

Kruger has served Appalachian State University in Boone, N.C., as provost and executive vice chancellor for academic affairs from 2015 to 2020, special assistant to the chancellor in 2020 and as a full professor.

He holds a bachelor’s degree from the University of Stellenbosch, South Africa; an honor’s degree from the University of Natal, Pietermaritzburg, South Africa; and a master’s and a doctorate from Louisiana State University.

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“In terms of the first day (as president), this is a people-intensive enterprise,” Kruger said regarding his first day if chosen as the next president. “Being the president of an institution means that you need to be visible, be a good listener and interact with people.”

Kruger said he would commit to establishing personal connections with students by holding bi-weekly luncheons, particularly with those in student government roles and underrepresented populations.

Considering BSU’s greatest strength as its connection to Native Americans, Kruger referenced that 7% of a recent graduating class was made up of Indigenous people.

Speaking as a first-generation, bilingual immigrant, Kruger observes the pipeline that can be strengthened between two-year and four-year colleges to set up international students for success and address workforce shortages domestically.

In running a college or university in a post-COVID world, Kruger said, “It’s not about cognitive development alone. It’s also about socioemotional development and that’s why brick-and-mortar campuses are important.”

Kruger credited both institutions’ flexibility and mix of online versus in-person classes, and he sees the value of digitally-enhanced learning moving forward into future school years.

Karla Leeper

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Karla Leeper

Karla Leeper was next on the docket of candidate interviews on Tuesday.

Leeper has served Augusta University in Augusta, Ga., since 2018 as executive vice president for operations, and from 2015 to 2018 as executive vice president for strategic communication and chief marketing officer.

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She holds a bachelor’s degree from the University of Iowa, master’s degrees from the University of Kansas and Augusta University, and a doctorate from the University of Kansas.

“Augusta University, as a ‘shared services’ model, combines two institutions that have very consistent core missions but different identities,” Leeper said regarding her current role at Augusta. “I think the experience of leading in that environment would translate here at BSU and NTC.”

Leeper considers BSU and NTC’s greatest challenge as similar to many other institutions in terms of declining enrollment rates and financial problems.

“Post-COVID, there’s financial uncertainty, how students will come back to their education, the changes in how employees work and how students study,” Leeper said. “Institutions are going to have to think about their own workforce and make sure we understand how people want to work and make sure we have sufficient staff.”

Describing herself as someone who doesn’t spend a lot of time in her office, Leeper looks forward to community engagement to create meaningful relationships lasting beyond her first week on the job if hired.

“I think you learn a whole lot more when having serendipitous meetings with people that you might not have learned otherwise,” Leeper said.

A first-generation college student, Leeper has no doubt that education after high school can impact people’s lives, which informs her passion to lead institutions with access and equity goals.

Allen Bedford

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Allen Bedford

Allen Bedford was next for the Wednesday community session.

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Bedford has served Bemidji State University as provost and vice president of academic affairs since 2020 and as associate vice president for academic affairs from 2019 to 2020.

He holds a bachelor’s degree from Bryn Athyn College in Bryn Athyn, Pa., and a master’s and a doctorate from Temple University in Philadelphia.

As an internal candidate for BSU and external candidate for NTC, Bedford described the learning curve that will come from transitioning to the president position if selected.

“Obviously, the presidency is different from the provostship, and then taking on the leadership of another institution is another step,” Bedford detailed. “So there are two substantial transitions there, both challenging.”

Eager to take on the challenge, Bedford detailed plans to grow both institutions and improve transfer pathways between NTC and BSU.

“My hope for our strategic enrollment management plan that we’re framing at BSU right now is that we create very identifiable ‘sweet spots’ so that a transfer student can find the institution designed for them,” Bedford said.

Praising the Alumni Foundation for helping prospective students to enroll through alumni stories, Bedford detailed the risk these students face and his willingness to support students through this and other foundations on campus.

“When a student decides to enroll, they’re taking a risk. They’re going to take time and money and invest it in one of our institutions in the hope that it will be a good investment for them,” Bedford said. “How do we ensure that it will be a good investment?”

John Hoffman

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John Hoffman

The fourth candidate, John Hoffman, met with the public on Thursday.

Hoffman has served the University of Minnesota Crookston as acting senior vice chancellor since 2021, and as vice chancellor for academic and student affairs from 2018 to 2021.

He holds a bachelor’s degree from Concordia University in Nebraska and a master’s and a doctorate from the University of Minnesota.

“I’ve done a lot of work to position the people who report to me to do their best work,” Hoffman said. “I’ve also done a lot of work in creating strong teams.”

Emphasizing collaboration between all campus divisions, Hoffman detailed his experience in changing the reporting structures of Crookston faculty, student affairs staff and enrollment management teams to all meet together to realize the college’s vision.

He also detailed Crookston’s equine business management program as a way of building curriculum from jobs that are being created.

“We build our programs from the past, forward. When you look at world economic analyses, we’re seeing job skills like critical thinking, cognitive flexibility and interpersonal skills important to future jobs,” Hoffman added.

Referencing his BSU/NTC campus tours with students, Hoffman credited these interactions as the institutions’ greatest strength.

“I don’t remember as much about the space so I’ll have to do that tour again because I just marveled at the way these students interacted with each other,” Hoffman said. “I could just see this really special Bemidji experience with these students.”

Next steps

Each candidate was recommended by a search advisory committee composed of students, faculty, staff and community leaders, and was chaired by Ginny Arthur, president of Metropolitan State University.

Following community feedback, the Board of Trustees of the Minnesota State Colleges and Universities is expected to consider Chancellor Devinder Malhotra’s recommendation at its March 16 meeting. The anticipated start date of the new president is July 1.

The search comes after President Faith Hensrud’s retirement announcement in August following five years in the position. With the end of her tenure coming up on June 30, Minnesota State launched the search process for her replacement.

Bemidji State University and Northwest Technical College use a “shared service” model in which a single president serves both institutions and certain administrative functions are shared. Both institutions are accredited separately by the Higher Learning Commission.

Daltyn Lofstrom is a reporter at the Bemidji Pioneer focusing on education and community stories.
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