By Brian Ojanpa
Free Press Staff Writer
NORTH MANKATO — As far as Lisa Larson is concerned, alumni may leave a college, but the college shouldn’t leave them because maintaining that connection benefits everyone.
“We pride ourselves in having a very engaged alumni,” said the vice president of student and academic affairs at Hennepin Technical College.
She told a South Central College presidential search committee Thursday that Hennepin’s compilation of an alumni database is bearing fruit by getting former students to “re-invest” in the school through regular campus visits for feedback and knowledge-sharing sessions with students.
That’s the type of outreach initiative Larson said she’d employ if chosen as the school’s next president. Larson is one of three people vying for the position.
The Minnesota State University graduate said she prides herself on her partnership skills, a vital trait for community and technical colleges striving to get the most out of their relations with manufacturing, health care, agriculture and other business sectors of a community.
She said at Hennepin she’s heavily involved with industry and constantly adjusting student training programs to stay abreast of manufacturers’ needs, which external forces can quickly alter.
“Sometimes we have to inhale and exhale in reaction to what’s happening with the economy.”
Larson said challenges facing Hennepin and other technical colleges include student retention and adequately preparing students to advance their educations at larger schools.
“What we’ve found is that some students are intimidated by the thought of moving on to a larger institution.”
Larson said she’s also cognizant of the contemporary challenges involved in multicultural education. To that end, she said Hennepin next fall will implement a “gateway academy” for immigrant students who are struggling in their high school settings.
She said establishing those connections will include using high school counselors as conduits for conversations with students’ parents to apprise them of what the technical college can offer their children.
“These parents want to see their kids succeed.”
Larson has served in her post at Hennepin Technical College in Brooklyn Park and Eden Prairie since 2007.
Previously, she was the dean of business and industry at Lake Superior College and dean of construction, manufacturing and transportation at Hennepin.
She has a doctorate in educational leadership from St. Mary’s University of Minnesota.
Another semifinalist, David Hellmich, will visit the SCC campus and meet with search committee members today. Hellmich is vice president of academics at Bluegrass Community and Technical College in Kentucky.
Semifinalist Annette Parker made her SCC visit on Wednesday. Parker is the Kentucky Community and Technical College System’s director for the National Center of Excellence in Advanced Automotive Manufacturing.
A new president is expected to begin duties in July.
Keith Stover, SCC president since 1999, will retire June 30.
SCC has campuses in North Mankato and Faribault.