Retiree Spotlight: Mike Opp

Vice president of academic affairs retiring after two decades at DCTC

Mike Opp, EdD, 56, vice president of academic affairs at Dakota County Technical College, is retiring after more than 20 years of service at the college. Mike took on the role of dean of transportation and industry in 2002. He served in that capacity for more than 11 years before accepting the position of vice president in 2013.

Mike recently led the college-wide Higher Learning Commission (HLC) reaccreditation efforts. His industry and institutional knowledge were instrumental during the completion of Phase I and Phase II of the Transportation & Emerging Technologies Renovation Project (2012–2018). His official retirement date is August 3, 2021.

“My experience as an administrator at DCTC has been challenging and extremely rewarding and everything you could ask for in a career,” Mike said. “DCTC was a perfect fit for me and was one of the best decisions I’ve ever made. There are colleagues here that would simply not let me fail. Even when I would mess up, they forgave me and worked with me to learn and grow. I don’t believe for a single minute that I fell into this career by accident. Watching our students graduate into high-wage and high-skill careers, hiring good people who turned into great educators, and working with industries to develop new programs have been the most rewarding.”

Higher education philosophy

Mike Opp

“All students can be successful if given the right environment and resources.”
Mike Opp, EdD
Vice President of Academic and Student Affairs
Dakota County Technical College

More about Mike…

Originally from Rapid City, South Dakota, Mike graduated from Rapid City Central High School, Class of 1982. He attended Western Dakota Technical to get an automotive certificate and, four years later, earned a Bachelor of Science (B.S.) in Vocational Technical Teacher Education from Dakota State University.

He served as an automotive technology teacher at Hub Area Technical Center in Aberdeen, South Dakota, and for Sioux Falls Public Schools for a total of 12 years. During his time as an instructor, he earned Automotive Service Excellence (ASE) certification.

Mike continued his academic journey, earning a Master of Science (M.S.) in Education Administration from Northern State University (1993), an Education Specialist (Ed.S.) in Education Administration (2002) and a Doctor of Education (Ed.D.) in Education Administration with an Emphasis in Adult and Higher Education (2007), the latter two degrees from the University of South Dakota.

Mike’s best friend is Susan, his wife of almost 26 years. Mike and Susan have two adult daughters, Marissa and Rebecca. Mike’s family also includes three dogs, Renegade, a 12-year old Australian shepherd mix, Mr. Theodore Peanuts, aka Theo, a 5-year-old lab mixed with boxer,  and Poipu Kia, aka Kia, a 2-year-old Hawaiian hound Mike and Susan rescued while vacationing in Kauai, Hawaii. The family also has two cats, Manhattan and LuElla, both 12 years old.

In his free time, Mike enjoys walking his dogs, camping, remodeling homes and older vintage motor homes/motor coaches, working on old cars, biking and rollerblading, and spending time with family, friends and pets. Mike and his family reside in Lakeville, Minnesota.

Mike Opp DCTC gallery

Mike Opp family gallery

Colleague and coworker perspectives

“I have so appreciated Mike’s calm presence, his great sense of humor, and his thoughtful approach to leadership. I will miss working with him as a colleague and a friend.”

Michael Berndt
Dakota County Technical College
Inver Hills Community College

“I have enjoyed working with Mike over that last several years and will miss his unwavering positivity and collaborative spirit. Mike’s desire to help others learn and grow along with his support of employees will be deeply missed. His lightheartedness and humor were helpful in easing stress and tension. I will miss Mike’s wisdom, collegiality, and down-to-earth nature. Go Vikes!”

Anne Johnson, MBA
Vice President of Student Affairs
Dakota County Technical College

“Mike is a passionate, can-do leader with a heart of gold. We will miss his proactive willingness to always lend a cheerful hand. Happy retirement trails until we meet again.”

David O. Milton
Vice President of Finance and Operations
Dakota County Technical College
Inver Hills Community College

“Mike Opp is the consummate professional, a problem-solver, innovator, and student advocate. Mike has the unique ability to bring people together to make things happen. His list of successes is very long from the launch of the first Nanoscience Technology program in the country at a technical college to the extraordinary growth of Skills USA, and his unrelenting work to help secure millions of dollars to fund capital building projects at DCTC. His reflective, calm, and open mindset will be missed. We thank you, Mike.”

Ron Thomas, PhD
Dakota County Technical College (1999–2013)

“Mike has been an integral part of DCTC for so long that he will be sorely missed. Personally, I have enjoyed learning from Mike as a boss, a leader, and a friend, and I will miss interacting with his dynamic personality every day.”

Valerie Beighley
Dakota County Technical College

“Mike is open to new ideas that allowed me to feel empowered to serve our high school partners.”

Mary Jo Gardner
K12 Partnerships Director
Dakota County Technical College
Inver Hills Community College

“I really enjoyed working with Mike. I have the utmost respect for his approach to the job, but more important than my opinion is the respect I saw shown toward Mike from faculty and the deans. He can also really roller-blade.”

Tim Wynes, JD
Black Hawk College
Dakota County Technical College (2013–2018)
Inver Hills Community College (2010–2018)

“I had the honor of being one of the first people to meet Mike as I was a member of the search committee for the dean position. Up to that point, it was a rather dismal search, and we were seriously thinking of declaring a failed search when Mike arrived for his interview!

“He was prepared, had excellent answers and had been an automotive technician and a high school auto instructor to boot. All of the committee’s boxes had been checked, including a master’s degree thingamajig.

“Mike was exactly what the college needed when it needed it most! In a time when higher education hadn’t yet appreciated the value of technical training for students, Mike was a staunch supporter of our programs. When he heard about ideas for new technical programs, he volunteered to make them happen for DCTC.

“And happen they did! Civil Engineering Tech, Beer Steward and Vet Vech all happened because of Mike Opp. When he heard about Red Wing Technical College closing its HVAC program, Mike brought the entire program to DCTC, including the faculty member! There was significant resistance at MnSCU (now Minnesota State) at the time, but Mike made it happen.

“I don’t know that there is a more fitting tribute to him than to say for over 20 years, “Mike Opp made it happen!” He will surely be missed by Minn State, DCTC faculty, staff and students.”

Tim McCluskey
GM ASEP Faculty
Dakota County Technical College

New college programs launched during Mike Opp’s leadership

  • Construction Management: A.S. and A.A.S. degrees and certificate
  • Veterinary Technician: A.A.S. degree
  • Brewing & Beer Steward Technology: Certificate
  • Energy Technical Specialist: A.A.S. degree; Nuclear Energy National Certificate
  • Audio Visual Installation Technology: Diploma
  • Chrysler Academy: Corporate Training
  • Civil Engineering Technology: A.A.S. degree
  • Biomedical Equipment Technology: A.A.S. degree and certificate
  • Railroad Conductor Technology: Certificate
  • Concrete and Masonry: A.A.S. degree and diploma
  • Nanoscience Technology: A.A.S. degree
  • Electrical Construction and Maintenance Technology: A.A.S. degree and diploma
  • HVAC & Refrigeration Technology: A.A.S. degree and diploma

Colleague and coworker perspectives (cont.)

“I will miss Mike’s infectious positive attitude, leadership, industry knowledge, and his jokes, too! Just remember, you can’t retire from being awesome! Here’s a quip in his honor: Q: What do you call a person who is happy on a Monday? A: Retired! Cheers to Mike as he pursues life’s next adventures!”

Lisé Freking
Director of Strategic Marketing & Communications
Dakota County Technical College
Inver Hills Community College

“Working alongside Mike for so many years was a true honor. He is practical and pragmatic, but he also leads with great heart. Mike always spoke of DCTC, its faculty and staff, and it’s students with a clear understanding of DCTC and its mission of education for employment, and he has a great ability to use stories and humor to bring that work to life for others. His passion for his work was evident in each decision he made and action he took.

“I’d also argue that Mike has had a lot to do with the culture of family and connectedness that exists at DCTC. Mike is as authentic and genuine as they come, and there’s no question that his leadership has been a driving force behind DCTC’s successes over the last two decades. Mike exemplifies why fit is so important when selecting leaders for places like DCTC, and Mike’s leadership has set a standard for DCTC that absolutely should be maintained.”

Erin Edlund
Vice President of University Engagement
Morningside College

“I knew when working with Mike that he always wanted to do what was best for the people around him, and he empowered everyone to do the same. He has this quiet ability to push you to grow, and you do not realize what he is doing.

“Mike always tells me that I left him first, but he is leaving us all now. I wish only for the best things for him on his next adventure, and I am not saying goodbye, but I will see him soon!”

Julia Glenn
Human Resources Business Partner
Dakota County Technical College

“I first met Mike back in January of 2003 when I interviewed with him for an automotive instructor position here at DCTC. Mike hired me soon after the interview, and I have been teaching here in the Automotive department for 18 years now.

“Mike has been the best boss I have worked for in my career because he genuinely cares about the people he works with and wants everyone around him to be successful. Mike has an infectious sense of humor that he uses effectively to put people at ease. I consider Mike a mentor and a friend, and I wish him all the best with his future endeavors.”

Jeff Copeland
Automotive Technology Faculty
Dakota County Technical College

“Mike used to ask, ‘Are you bird dogging me?’ Typically, this was when I was hunting him down at work with questions.” ?

Melissa Troska
Office and Administrative Assistant
Dakota County Technical College

“When I first heard Mike Opp was retiring, I was saddened to hear that DCTC would be losing not just a quality leader, but an all-around kind-spirited human being. I had the pleasure of working with Mike for eight years while I was at DCTC and during this time I learned a lot from Mike.

“I learned how Mike spells the word student when he’s typing too fast on his computer (STUD-NET); I learned that Mike is an excellent ping-pong player; and most of all, I learned that Mike loves and adores his two daughters, Rebecca and Marissa, his wife, Susan, and their dogs and cats. I’d personally like to thank you, Mike, for being a mentor, friend and one of the hardest working people I know. Cheers to you as move you onto the next chapter in your life!”

Carrie Schneider
Senior Research Associate
Minnesota State

“In my opinion, Mike is the essence of DCTC. As a true believer in technical education and a lifelong advocate for education, Mike worked tirelessly to make DCTC what it is today. I have the highest respect for Mike and how much of his life he dedicated to DCTC. I wish him and his family the best of luck in the next chapter of their lives.”

Patrick Jacobson-Schulte
Executive Director of Finance and Operations
Northeast Metro 916 Intermediate School District

“Congratulations to Mike on his upcoming retirement and best wishes for his future endeavors.”

Christina Royal, PhD
Holyoke Community College

“Mike Opp has provided a calm guiding hand through calm and rough waters at DCTC over the years and that has been greatly appreciated by many. Mike is respected by all and as been a cornerstone to the college over his years of service.”

Todd Jagerson
Chief Information Officer
Dakota County Technical College
Inver Hills Community College

Mike Opp Q & A

How did your background as an automotive technology instructor advance your transition to college administrator?

I think any supervisor gains a lot of street cred when they are seen as a practitioner and has someone who has walked the walk. Serving as a career and technical educator prior to becoming a supervisor in a technical college helped me know the pressures, demands, and challenges it takes to work with larger classes in a technical content classroom and lab.

I tried to remember how hard the work is and what it takes to keep machines operating safely, repairing the broken equipment, correcting lab assignments, and working with students when I would ask for paperwork or make other requests in my role as an administrator.

How has higher education changed for the better since you started your career?

So much is changing. When things become overwhelming with the rate of change, I try to remember that we are almost guaranteed a spot in heaven for doing what we do each day—so keep that in mind!

What was the most rewarding aspect of your role as vice president of academic and student affairs?

Graduation day and seeing our students make it to the end with a college credential, hiring good people who turned into great educators, and new program development. I looked at the seniority roster recently, and I believe there are only 12 faculty who were at DCTC before me. Also, I believe we have started 18 new programs of study since 2002.

What is (are) your favorite memory (memories) from your time working at DCTC?

Hiring faculty and staff who are really, really good at what they do. Watching the people at DCTC as they proceeded through life.

Three words that describe you as a college educator:

What advice would you give students thinking about pursuing academic success at a technical college?

Do every assignment and do the best you can do with each task and you will be successful. Don’t just do the minimum required.

What will you miss most about working at DCTC?

The people and the technical college way of teaching and learning.

What are you looking forward to most in your retirement?

The flexibility of having me control my schedule. Susan and I have remodeled an older motor coach we picked up a few years ago—we bought it sight unseen from the East Coast and drove it home 1,400 miles. We have 40 remaining national parks to visit. We have a checklist in Virginia. I’m not sure how we will get from Virginia to American Samoa or Dry Tortugas, though.

One word that best describes your experience at DCTC:


Mike Opp 8 Answers

  1. Favorite sport or physical activity: Sport to watch is football; physical activity is biking, hiking and walking the dogs…occasionally rollerblading
  2. Foreign country you would most like to visit: Peru and countries in Europe
  3. The most exciting thing you’ve ever done: Rappelled down a waterfall
  4. Three things you would do if you won a $1 billion lottery: 1) Give generously to the charities we support 2) Travel across the country in a really nice RV 3) Buy a small cottage to escape to during the winter months in the Turks and Caicos
  5. Best TV show you’ve seen lately: Schitt’s Creek—I enjoyed the series a lot.
  6. Time period you would go if you could time travel: 1950s for the cars and the motorcycles
  7. Person you would most like to meet: Tony Dungy
  8. Skill you would most like to learn and master: Guitar
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