Ron Thomas Retires as DCTC President

Ron Thomas Retires as DCTC President

Thirteen years of service founded on creating opportunities

Ronald E. Thomas, Ph.D., the president of Dakota County Technical College, announced that he will be retiring July 1, 2013, after more than 13 years of service as the college’s chief administrator. During his tenure as president, Thomas guided DCTC to its current status as a modern, relevant, student-centric technical college with a mission focused on delivering educational opportunities that lead to gainful, lifelong employment for DCTC graduates.

President Thomas expelling the orange carpetAn Illinois native, Thomas grew up in the blue-collar, coal-mining community of West Frankfort in the state’s southern region. He graduated from Roxana High School in nearby Roxana before earning his Bachelor of Science in social science and physical education at Truman State University in Kirksville, Mo. He went on to earn a Master of Science in guidance from Southern Illinois University Edwardsville and later his Ph.D. in education from SIU Carbondale. He served as dean and interim president at Rochester Community and Technical College before accepting the presidency at Coffeyville Community Collegein Coffeyville, Kan. He became president of Dakota County Technical College in September of 1999.

“When I first came to DCTC, I was excited and honored to be back in Minnesota,” Thomas said. “I knew that DCTC was a college full of promise due to its strategic location, strong partnerships with business and industry, top-quality academic programs, and faculty and staff that had established an innovative, can-do culture on campus. My job was to build on that tradition within the complexity of the MnSCU system while raising awareness at the state and national level regarding the proven benefits of technical education.”

President Thomas congratulating graduate at commencementThomas took on his role as DCTC president with student success as his number one priority. His career in higher education was based on his drive to create opportunities for students through expanded extracurricular activities, career-focused academic programs and front-burner relationships with prospective employers in career fields across the board. To carry out that critical responsibility, he made major advances in providing resources, direction and support throughout the full range of college departments, including enduring improvements in Student Life, Operations, the Business Office, Student Services, Customized Training and academic programming as well as landmark enhancements on the college’s Rosemount campus and the addition of two satellite sites, Partners in Higher Education in Apple Valley and the IT Training Centerin Eagan.

This photo, taken by a Photography student, hangs in President Thomas’ office to remind him of his duty to provide students with the best possible options“DCTC is a caring community of dedicated professionals that works collectively to provide what’s best for our students,” Thomas said. “As president, I never stopped looking for ways to engage our students and champion the efforts of DCTC staff and faculty. Perhaps the best approach to succeed on both fronts is to develop stronger internal collaborations and external partnerships. You can’t accomplish such goals by standing still. You need to be creative and ready to break new ground.”

Applying a more entrepreneurial model to higher education is more and more the gold standard at colleges and universities across the country. Thomas exemplified that management style both at DCTC and by serving as chair of the National Association for Community College Entrepreneurship (NACCE) during his time as president. He also oversaw the establishment of a new Entrepreneurship/Small Business program at the college in tandem with the Institute for Business, Innovation & Entrepreneurship headquartered at the college’s Apple Valley site.

Nanoscience Technology Director Deb Newberry (right) with students in labEntrepreneurial thinking also prompted the creation of the college’s Nanoscience Technology program. Thanks to that program, which is unique at the two-year college level, DCTC became the host site for the Midwest Regional Center for Nanotechnology Education, better known as Nano-Link, a project funded by a $3 million grant from the National Science Foundation.

Kelly Murtaugh, vice president of academic and student affairs at the college, reported that Thomas has a knack for finding and advancing opportunities that at first glance might not seem like a natural fit for a technical college, but eventually pan out as innovative and advantageous.

Gold or No Gold at College Showcase (DCTC Foundation Chair Greg Miller as Willy Wonka)“Dr. Thomas provokes thought and inspires people to pursue their ideas,” Murtaugh said. “As a facilitator, he helped propel us forward while maintaining the same mission we’ve had for essentially our entire existence.”

Murtaugh added that Thomas truly cares about the institution and its people. “He goes out of his way to make sure our students have a voice,” she said. “He’s always had an open door policy for students at this campus. If it wasn’t the right thing to do for students, it certainly wasn’t the right thing to do.”

Thomas looks back on his tenure at DCTC with pride, knowing that students benefited from more opportunities while faculty and their programs received more updated equipment. Staff benefited as well, advancing their careers with more opportunities for professional development.

President Thomas with wife, Ann, at 2013 True Blue Gala“I think all the pieces were always there,” Thomas said. “We just needed to take those pieces and refine them and then share them with our community and our business partners. I know I leave a better college and I am proud of what we accomplished.”

As for the future, Thomas knows he will miss working with students most of all. “Promoting student success will always be a part of my life,” he said. “I will just be carrying on that trust in a different way.”

High points of an effective, innovative tenure

  • Began tenure at DCTC in September 1999
  • IT Training Center opened in Eagan in 1999
  • Created Student Life and Wellness Center facilities
  • Established DCTC TRiO Student Support Services and Upward Bound through Department of Education grants
  • Launched athletics at DCTC, which now encompasses six NJCAA varsity teams
    • Men’s soccer
    • Women’s soccer
    • Women’s fastpitch softball
    • Men’s baseball
    • Men’s basketball
    • Women’s volleyball
  • Three new sports state-of-the-art facilities on campus
  • YMCA Family Center proposed for DCTC Rosemount campus
  • Logo change introduces college community to Future Guy in 2000
  • Founded Partners In Higher Education in Apple Valley in 2003
  • Secured Flint Hills Community Partnership grant to launch the Institute for Business, Innovation & Entrepreneurship in 2004
  • DCTC received $7.38 million through capital bonding to renovate the DCTC Library, library atrium, Learning Center, Instructional Technology Center, Information Systems classrooms, Visual Communications office, lab and classroom space as well as some general classrooms
  • Launched first multidisciplinary two-year Nanoscience Technology program in partnership with the University of Minnesota in 2004
  • Received $3 million NSF grant in 2008 for Nano-Link (Midwest Regional Center for Nanotechnology Education)
  • Fostered development of SkillsUSA and Business Professionals of America programs that compete successfully at state and national levels
  • Brought DCTC entrepreneurship initiatives to the national scene through NACCE
    • Served three years as NACCE board chair
    • Attended nine NACCE national conferences
    • Bob Voss named NACCE Faculty Member of the Year in 2008
    • Noelia Urzua Vasquez named 7th Annual NACCE Entrepreneur of the Year in 2009
    • Christine Mollenkopf-Pigsley named first-ever NACCE Fellow in 2013
  • Oversaw development of programs such as TXT: Teens eXperiencing Technical Education that enhance outreach with K–12 and the community.
  • DCTC received $7.23 million through capital bonding to carry out Phase I of the Transportation and Emerging Technologies Renovation Projectin 2012
    • DCTC will request $6.9 million to complete Phase II of the project in 2014
  • Led DCTC Customized Training to becoming a business model for the Minnesota State Colleges and Universities system
  • Helped secure DCTC as lead for MnSCU Transportation Consortium
  • Most effective, versatile Operations department in MnSCU system
    • In-house projects, including ISD 917 office area, new Student Services area and numerous classroom remodels, have freed up funds for other college projects
  • Received state and national recognition for leadership as a college president
  • Provided leadership to more than a dozen MnSCU, local, state and national groups and organizations
    • DCTC serving as lead in MnSCU Transportation Consortium
    • Chaired Metro Alliance Group
    • Co-chaired MnSCU IT Committee of the Leadership Council
    • Co-chaired MnSCU Advancement Committee of the Leadership Council
    • Convened Chancellor Rosenstone’s Workgroup #2: How should MnSCU meet the future workforce needs of Minnesota?
    • DCTC Customized Training division emerged as model for MnSCU system
  • Oversaw DCTC Foundation portfolio increase from $500,000 to $3.2 million in a decade
  • Oversaw creation of $800,000 Endowment for Employment in 2010
  • Received two HLC-NCA 10-year re-accreditations during tenure
  • Partnerships with GM and Chrysler led to corporate on-campus technician training centers
  • Partnership with ISD 917 on track to establish Transportation Academy
  • Provided leadership for the creation of 130 new academic award offerings at DCTC
    • New programs launched
      • Entrepreneurship/Small Business
      • Multicultural Management
      • Railroad Conductor Technology
    • Nanoscience Technology
    • Civil Engineering Technology
    • Energy Technical Specialist−Nuclear Emphasis
    • Exercise and Sport Science
    • Electrical Construction and Maintenance Technology
    • Biomedical Equipment Technology
    • Healthcare Documentation Specialist
    • Hospitality Lodging Management
    • Spa & Resort Management
    • Individualized Studies
    • Sport Management
    • Concrete and Masonry
  • Led the college to 42 percent enrollment growth over a decade
  • Leaves a college in 2013 that is financially healthy, growing and well-positioned for a bright future
  • For more information about DCTC and the tenure of President Thomas, contact:
    • Renee Johnson
      Director of Marketing and Communications

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