GRCC president candidates vary in business backgrounds

January 26, 2009
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Grand Rapids Community College, one of West Michigan’s key engines in education, training and work force development, is planning three interviews this week with three men vying to lead the college.

Adams 12 Five Star Schools Superintendent Michael Paskewicz, Westmoreland County Community College President Steven Ender, and Jackson Community College President Daniel Phelan will be in town Wednesday and Thursday.

Each candidate will commence the interview process with a presentation and question-and-answer sessions in the auditorium at GRCC’s Applied Technology Center, followed by interviews in nearby banquet rooms with the GRCC board of trustees. The interviews are open to the public.

This is the community college’s second go-round with the selection process to replace former President Juan Olivarez, who left the post last year to become president and CEO of the Kalamazoo Community Foundation. After interviewing three candidates last summer, the GRCC board of trustees decided to extend the search.

Michael Paskewicz will be first up, beginning at 8:45 a.m. Wednesday with his presentation, followed by an interview at 9:45 a.m. with GRCC trustees. It will be a homecoming for Paskewicz, who spent 21 of his 30-plus years in education working for Grand Rapids Public Schools, and has children, grandchildren and other relatives living in the area. He taught fifth grade, middle school math and outdoor education, was a science consultant, a principal at Fountain Elementary School and special assistant to the superintendent. He taught at Aquinas College and Grand Valley State University. He’s a graduate of Grand Valley State University and holds a doctorate from Western Michigan University.

Paskewicz left Grand Rapids to pursue jobs as superintendent. He oversaw Ogden City Schools in Utah, Lake Zurich Community Unit School No. 95, and currently leads Adams 12 Five Star Schools, a 40,000-student district in suburban Denver.

“He has such a good relationship with his local business employers,” said Sandra Steiner, executive director of the Adams County Education Consortium. “He functions at the speed of business.

“He gets it. He is exceptional. He is absolutely the face in the community that’s associated with that district,” she added.

Steiner said the idea for the four-year-old consortium came from Paskewicz and another local superintendent, and Paskewicz was the organization’s first president. She said the consortium is intended to address concerns of the local business community, which, she said was “appalled” by the low-level of basic skills that recent graduates were presenting with at job interviews. The goals of the consortium, which Steiner called “a sister agency” to an economic development organization, is to increase graduation rates, to connect teachers, counselors and administrators with the business community and to market the value of education to area families.

“It was set up in response to business and industry,” Steiner added.

Daniel Phelan makes the two-hour trip from Jackson to meet with the GRCC community at 1:15 p.m. Wednesday, followed by a 2:15 p.m. interview.

Phelan, president of Jackson Community College since 2001, spent much of his career in Iowa, Kansas and Nebraska. His current job is his third posting as a community college president.

His business-related chops include a BBA from Mount St. Clare College in Clinton, Iowa, an MBA from St. Ambrose University in Davenport, Iowa, and a litany of jobs related to work force development. At North Iowa Area Community College in Mason City, he served as director of training and economic development, director of community education and business training, chairman of the business and industry section, and coordinator for business and management.

He also spent time as executive director of the Business and Industry Institute (now the Center for Business and Technology) at Johnson County Community College in Overland Park, Kan. The organization provides customized training for businesses.

“He is a very much a visionary and got out in the business community. He made very strong ties with the chambers, etcetera, promoting education and partnerships within the business community,” said Cindy Ralston, the officer coordinator who worked with him there and a former Cascade resident.

Since arriving in Michigan, Phelan has served on the boards of the Jackson Symphony, the Greater Jackson Chamber of Commerce, the Jackson Community Foundation and the Jackson Area United Way.

“He sees the connection between economic development and education,” said Mindy Bradish, chamber president.

She said Phelan was very involved in the application for a SmartZone in Jackson County’s Blackman Township. She said Phelan and others successfully lobbied the Legislature to expand the number of technology and research SmartZones in Michigan so that Jackson County could have one.

Steven Ender is scheduled to begin his presentation at 8:45 a.m. Thursday, with the interview at 9:45 a.m. A 30-year veteran of higher education, Ender has been president of Westmoreland County Community College, southwest of Pittsburgh, since 2005. He holds a bachelor’s degree in business management from Virginia Commonwealth University and a master’s and doctoral degree in education from the University of Georgia. His post-doctoral studies took him to the Snowmass Institute in Colorado and to Harvard University.

Thomas L. Sochacki, president of the Westmoreland Chamber of Commerce, said Enders is a board member and “has been very involved in the business community, especially in the work force area for us.” He said Enders was instrumental in utilizing space vacated by a manufacturer to establish a new training program for machinists, who are in great demand locally. Sochacki said manufacturers in the area make turbines for electricity generation, large-screen TVs, and parts for commercial and naval nuclear reactors.

“He’s been a champion for that, not only through the chamber, but the local work force investment board,” Sochacki said. “He had quite a few innovative ideas that helped us tremendously. He revived our nursing program at the community college, which was in dire need.”

Sochacki added that the Westmoreland area’s major business sectors include manufacturing, small banks and health care.

Ender also serves on the Westmoreland County Area Labor Management Committee, the Westmoreland/Fayette County Workforce Investment Board, the Economic Growth Connection and United Way of Westmoreland County.

A native of Richmond, Va., who became an Eagle Scout as a boy, Ender’s resume includes membership on the Economic and Workforce Development Commission of the American Association of Community Colleges, the Life Long Learning Commission of The American Council on Education, the Pennsylvania Commission for Community Colleges, and board membership on the National Junior College Athletic Association and the Pennsylvania Campus Compact.

Prior to his stint at Westmoreland County Community College, Ender was executive deputy to the president of Indiana University of Pennsylvania, serving as chief of staff and overseeing the budget and planning.

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