A first generation college student with a blue collar upbringing and a strong background in leadership has been appointed to lead Northwest State Community College in Archbold as its seventh president.
Michael Thomson, PhD, was named the successor of retiring President Thomas Stuckey by the NSCC Board of Trustees on Feb. 2. Thomson’s contract runs from April 1, 2018, to June 30, 2019, at an annual salary of $185,000.
The 64-year-old Philadelphia native said he’s excited for the opportunity. “It is a dream job for me,” he said. “This is really an opportunity to just invest in a team here and just really watch it fly. I really believe community college is the place that helps people have a better life.”
The son of a beer brewer and a bookkeeper, Thomson leaves behind his position as president of Cuyahoga Community College’s Eastern Campus, where he oversaw completion of the Jack, Joseph and Morton Mandel Humanities Center. His 13-year tenure at the college included a stint as dean of academic affairs at the Western Campus, a fellowship with the American Council on Education, and co-creation of the college’s Westshore Campus, where he served two years as the inaugural campus president.
Thomson was awarded three Tri-C President’s Awards, Cleveland’s YMCA Triangle Award, and the national Phi Theta Kappa’s Shirley B. Gordon Award.
Prior to his Tri-C tenure, he served as a tenured associate professor at Northern Kentucky University.
Thomson said he was drawn to the position at NSCC by the administration’s strong leadership and by the family-centered community. He said his agenda going into his presidency is simply to absorb as much information as possible.
“To spend a lot of time listening, both internally and externally,” he said. “My job, especially in those first six months, is just to listen, listen, listen. It’s more about the process of listening and getting to know people.”
He said major priorities he develops along the way will be foremost with students in mind.
“Northwest State is an excellent institution, and it’s had good, strong leadership, so priorities for me are always going to be about what’s in the best interest of our students,” Thomson said. “My priority is to serve the students that we have and to look at the families of people in the area to see if we’re meeting their needs.”
He noted the college’s $900,000 budget deficit one year ago, which was due to declining student enrollment and resulted in a dozen staff layoffs and programming cuts. He said the college is fiscally sound, but that stability has been disrupted by a lessening of the high school population and the college must learn to adapt.
“I know there are fiscal challenges,” Thomson said. “I will spend a lot of time learning about them, and I’m going to work with an entire team of people on that issue. It’s been a difficult time, and I want to make sure that we build our fiscal stability so we don’t have to go through that again.
“There are underemployed people in the six-county area, and they want to move up. The workforce is not covered by financial aid many, many times. We have people who can’t afford to pay for (college).”
The college must look for new and innovative ways to correct that oversight or find new partners who can help the underemployed, he said.
Calling himself a “doer,” Thomson said he typically takes a “deep dive” and immerses himself into a handful of key issues that drive the college. He also relies on knowledgeable people around him to help push those issues forward.
“As I’ve become more of a leader, it’s much more about encouraging people and helping people and investing in people. That’s the real action, because the team gets far more done than I get done,” he said. “I incorporate that into the culture very, very strongly, the personal relationship side of what we do. Caring for each other as a team is the first step in caring for students.”
Thomson said he’ll bring enthusiasm and long-standing leadership to his position, as well as a personal touch. He said he’ll employ a walk-around style around campus to get to know students, and will meet regularly with student leadership groups.
“I will respect the fact that they represent all the students. I will respect that process,” he said. “It’s important that I have a real good foundation in who the students of Northwest are.”
NSCC Board of Trustees Chair Paul Siebenmorgen said Thomson’s extensive background impressed the members.
“We think he brings a broad college experience to Northwest State,” he said.
A widower with a daughter and four grandchildren, Thomson said he enjoys spending his leisure outdoors. Last fall, he completed two half-marathon events.
He said despite his position he’s just a regular guy who remembers the working class background he came from. “I’ve never left those roots. I don’t leave my roots,” he said.
Reach David J. Coehrs at 419-335-2010.