By Ann Jantz, wyo4news.com
Rock Springs, Wyoming — When new Western Wyoming Community College President Kim Kuster Dale first considered moving on from her executive vice president position at Western Nebraska Community College in Scottsbluff, she knew she was only interested in Wyoming.
Why Wyoming? She said it was an easy choice. First, she wanted to be close to her family in Colorado. Second, she thought it would be a good fit for her and her husband, Randy, because of the outdoor recreation opportunities available to them. Third, she knew Wyoming over the years has had a great record of supporting education.
And the community colleges in the state have a good reputation, particularly Western. In fact, Western Nebraska Community College uses WWCC as a peer institute for data collection and comparison, she said.
So when the president position became available, her path was set.
“WWCC has an excellent reputation,” she said. “The college has a wow factor. This is a tremendous opportunity, and I have every intention of retiring from here.”
ITS A COMMUNITY
Dale is just three weeks into her new position, and already she has observed the strong sense of community in both the college staff and the residents in the surrounding area.
Right now she is busy meeting people and developing the relationships that are so highly valued at WWCC.
“I can feel the community here, and I wish to expand on that even more,” she noted.
Already she has observed that WWCC values a highly collaborative working culture — a “core culture” — where teams are valued, deliberation is encouraged, and open collaborative services are available and used to the benefit of both staff and students. It “emphasizes how we serve our communities,” Dale said.
Once she settles in, Dale plans to have listening sessions locally and in the outlying service areas. She said she wants people to know they have access to the president.
TIME TO PLAN
Dale is complimentary about what good shape WWCC is in. She said former president Karla Leach and her leadership team leave her with a balanced budget, even in the face of revenue cuts from the state, and Western has no alarms in regards to accreditation. All in all, they left Dale in a good place to begin her tenure.
“It’s a wonderful gift to have time to plan the next strategic process,” she said. Her plans are to update the master strategic plan in the spring of 2020 and have it done by Jan. 1, 2021. Time will be taken during this process to meet with stakeholders, who have a say in what happens with their college, Dale said.
This is not saying Western has no ongoing challenges. Dale recognizes facilities maintenance will always be a concern, especially as the facilities age. The current concern is to replace the HVAC system, and planning will take place so the replacement is strategic and will not disrupt services. Dale’s ultimate goal is to finish the list of deferred maintenance and then create a maintenance schedule, so upkeep to systems continues on a regular and focused basis.
Dale is also aware enrollment will need some focus. She said they will have to be creative and innovative and start looking at some new markets. A focus on workforce development will continue, with a close eye on students and the challenges they face, such as child care and transportation.
Dale noted Western now offers well over 30 online courses, which she characterized as “amazing” for a college of Western’s size.
“How do we help workers think beyond today and plan for tomorrow? We need to get that message out there,” she added.
SAFETY IS A MUST
Any institution of higher learning always have ongoing challenges attached to funding. One such challenge is creating a safe environment for faculty, staff and students.
Safety comes with a hefty price tag, Dale noted, but the consequences for not making safety a priority are too horrible to imagine.
Dale said this issue hits close to home with her. Why? Because she attended Columbine High School as a student, did her student teaching there, and was only seven miles away teaching at another school on April 20, 1999, when two students entered Columbine High School and shot 12 students and one teacher and injured 21 other people and three trying to escape.
Western does have some programs in place to help ensure safety. The Behavioral Intervention Team works to make people aware of any threats, and Protective Services on campus keeps an eye out for those on campus. The challenge now is how to fund the kind of locking systems on the doors which are designed to let people out but keep dangerous people from coming in. Dale said this is particularly challenging because of Western’s open campus design.
Dale said she looks forward to having many conversations with Wyoming legislators about the safety issue.
“As president, I have to ensure student safety,” she said. “We need to find some funding … it’s not a one-and-done. Extensive, ongoing training is needed. It’s about determining priorities.”
In her preparations for the quickly-approaching school year, Dale is busy deciding the next steps she will take as she begins what she hopes will be a long relationship with Western and the community. One thing she does know is that the community and all the stakeholders need to be involved in that planning. She will be the conductor.
“We have to be intentional in the planning, but we have to all be playing from the same sheet music. I specifically wanted a rural college setting … because you can really feel the impact here.”
But going forward, Dale is adamant about one thing.
“This is not about me. Moving forward, it’s about people in this institution and the community.”