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Northwest College President Reflects On Her Time As She Gets Ready For A New Position

Northwest College
Northwest College President Stefani Hicswa, who has recently accepted the role of MSU Billings Chancellor, plays basketball with students during the first Paint the Town Red event in 2017.

Northwest College President Stefani Hicswa will be leaving her position to become the new chancellor of Montana State University, Billings. Hicswa was president of the community college in Powell for seven years. Wyoming Public Radio's Kamila Kudelska spoke with her about her biggest accomplishments as president.

Stefani Hicswa: I'm really, really thrilled and proud to report that in the years that I've been here and the work that faculty and staff have done, we successfully implemented numerous student success initiatives. And in 2018 and 2019, we had the highest graduation rates in the history of the college. And we had the highest fall to fall retention rate in the 16-year history of the college. That retention rate is one of the best in the state. And so I'm just really proud of the way that the faculty and staff have embraced students' success. And, you know, they just have this superpower of reaching out to students and engaging students and making it easier for them to pursue their goals.

Kamila Kudelska: So it sounds like that's one of your biggest accomplishments, when you look back.

SH: It really is what I'm most proud of, because it has directly impacted students' success. I mean, we can see them graduating in higher numbers and being able to transfer and pursue their degree or go right into the workforce.

KK: Could you talk about some challenges you faced.

SH: Certainly the budget cuts have been really, really impactful. We're not able to offer all of the curriculum that we did seven years ago, when I first came, and there are human beings that are no longer working at the college that contributed a great deal. And it's been devastating, quite frankly, for the college to lose those people who were serving students and really doing a good job. And so that's certainly been a huge challenge. And it will continue to be a challenge for the college as we look at the state budget situation. But I'm hopeful going forward. We engaged in a process with a company called Campus Works to look at ways that we can be more innovative and deliver education programming and not have to rely so much on state appropriations. So I think in the coming years, we're going to see some transitions at the college that will help that budget situation be able to move to move forward. So I'm hopeful for that as we look to the future of the college.

KK: You are accepting the chancellor position at Montana State University, Billings (MSU-B), which isn't that far away from Northwest College, it seems like there could be possibilities for partnerships. As you go into your new position, are you thinking about things like that?

SH: Yes. The short answer is yes. So with my background in community college leadership, I think there's some incredible opportunities to partner for transfer. But last fall, we started working with MSU-B on some partnerships beyond just transfer. We looked at the curriculum at both the university and Northwest College, and there's some things that we can do to share some faculty resources and share curricula that could help both institutions. So that's really exciting. We also, just last year, put a partnership together for transfer from our nursing programs. So we have an associate's degree in nursing. Montana State University in Billings has an RN program. So RN to BSN program has already been put together, we just need to launch it. It was paused because of COVID. So that's something we can launch right away. And I think that there are similar opportunities to work with Sheridan College because of its proximity to Billings as well. So while I will be leaving to take a new position, I am not going to be a stranger to Northwest College. I think there's lots of opportunities.

KK: Well, Northwest College president Stefani Hicswa, thanks for taking the time to speak with me.

SH: It's my pleasure. Thank you so much for having me on today.

Kamila has worked for public radio stations in California, New York, France and Poland. Originally from New York City, she loves exploring new places. Kamila received her master in journalism from Columbia University. In her spare time, she enjoys exploring the surrounding areas with her two pups and husband.
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