Apr 16, 2014 - By Katie Roenigk, Staff WriterThree men vying to become the next president at Central Wyoming College are in Riverton this week for interviews with school staff, members of the public and the CWC Board of Trustees.
On Tuesday, the finalists took turns answering questions during a public forum at the CWC gymnasium.
Each interview lasted an hour and included opening remarks, a question-answer session and a concluding statement.
Many of the questions were repeated for all three candidates, but several were tailored to fit each man's background.
The finalists were scheduled to meet with board members Wednesday.
Paul Kraft, currently the vice president of student services for Treasure Valley Community College in Oregon, took the floor first. As of Tuesday afternoon, Kraft had been in Riverton for fewer than 24 hours, but he said he already had a good feeling about the community.
"Even before I came here, I thought this would be a good fit for me," he said. "But after spending just a few hours here ... I believe that even more."
He described himself as a small-town "farm kid" who feels most comfortable in places such as the CWC Equine Center in Riverton, which he saw for the first time this week.
"I broke horses, I've been around cattle -- this is familiar to me," Kraft said. "I drive through the area, and this feels like home."
His entire family is enthusiastic about the outdoors, Kraft continued, including his wife and their two children -- a daughter who is a nurse in Denver and a son who is a plumber and pipe fitter in Alaska.
"We like hiking, mountain biking, skiing, cross country skiing, snow shoeing," Kraft said. "I run marathons, and my wife runs half-marathons. We like pushing ourselves."
As president of CWC, Kraft said he would be an advocate for the college, and primarily for students. But he added that faculty and staff must have ample support as well in order to serve the student body.
"We have to make sure the faculty is well prepared and have the resources they need to be effective in class," he said. "Is this a place where employees want to work, a place we're proud of?"
The answer seems to be "yes" so far, he said. During his time in Riverton this week, Kraft said he has met many people who were "obviously passionate" about their role at CWC.
"This is a great place. I've heard it over and over again," he said.
He also would advocate for the community, the state, the region and the industry, Kraft said, but he would be sure to take time to familiarize himself with local issues first.
"My job is to understand what the CWC story is," Kraft said. "The only way I can do that is to listen and to give people opportunities to talk to me."
He said he takes the same approach when faced with conflicts.
"My priority is to understand," he said. "When there's conflict, I want to understand both sides."
Once he has gathered ample information, Kraft said he will be able to be a more effective leader on campus.
One question that was repeated for all three candidates had to do with local control over college operations. CWC currently is governed by a locally elected board of trustees, but some people advocate for state-run systems for community colleges throughout the country.
Kraft, like his two competitors, said he favors local control.
"I think people who know the college best (are) in that community," he said.
CWC English professor Ben Evans asked all three finalists about their "favorite and most-often applied definition of education." In response, Kraft said he sees education as something that happens every day.
"Because learning is something that happens every day," he said. "It's about discovery, new ways of interacting with the world, putting more tools in my tool box so I can go forth and do things that are creative and useful."
All of the candidates were asked about Complete College America, a national nonprofit organization working to increase the number of citizens with career certificates or college degrees.
Wyoming Gov. Matt Mead appointed a member of CWC's senior administrative staff to the Complete College Wyoming team as part of CCA.
Kraft acknowledged that CCA would have an impact on higher learning throughout the United States, and he said he plans to be involved in the CCA process, which includes several positive points.
But he thinks the organization is creating some conflict for community colleges, which prioritize access as well as success for students.
"Community college students don't all come in with the intent of (graduating) in two years," Kraft said, referring to community members who may be interested in taking only a handful of classes without earning a degree.
Ruby Calvert, general manager for the Wyoming Public Broadcasting Service, offered the same question for all three candidates as well, regarding CWC's partnership with her organization. Kraft said he would embrace any opportunity to interact with the public, including through Wyoming PBS.
"Public TV is all about telling the Wyoming story," he said. "I think that's part of that advocacy and understanding. ... I see it working very closely and very well."
Considering CWC's proximity to the Wind River Indian Reservation, each candidate was asked to outline his experience with minority students. Kraft said he spent time working in Juneau, Alaska, where his student body included many American Indians from small, remote villages. He said he learned about their communities by visiting with elders, teachers and parents.
"Going to college was not part of their culture," Kraft said, "but education is deeply ingrained in native culture -- not western education, but learning and studying about the world."
He said he encouraged native college enrollment in Alaska by setting up mentor programs and creating safe spaces where students could feel at home on campus.
Kraft also supports dual enrollment, through which high school students are able to earn college credits simultaneously. Kraft pointed out that concurrent learning helps students and families save money for college tuition.
"I think if the students are able to do the work, let them do it," he said. "There's nothing but positives with that."
If he is selected, Kraft said he will include as many people as possible in his decision making processes at CWC. If interested parties aren't involved in major decisions, Kraft said the outcome usually is not favorable.
"I'm a firm believer in transparency and making sure people who are going to be impacted have input in the conversation," he said.
Because CWC is a community college, he said it is appropriate for the school to be involved in local events including the Fremont County Fair Parade. When he lived in Ontario, Canada, Kraft was president of the local Boys and Girls Club; he has served on his local school board, and he is a member of the Rotary organization.
"I'm all about community," he said. "If I'm selected, you'll see me."
The job at CWC would be his first presidency, but Kraft said he would feel confident taking over, in part because current president Jo Anne McFarland is leaving the college in good condition after 25 years on the job.
"It's a bit intimidating in some ways to be following that person," he said of McFarland. "(But) she left this (school) in a great place and has hired ... a talented group of committed professionals.
"I've heard your passion, I feel your passion, and I see it," he concluded. "I want my passion to join yours as we take CWC to the next level."
After Kraft's interview, CWC Board of Trustees chair Charlie Krebs personally collected review sheets from attendees. He said the board would review each document while deciding which candidate will become the next president at CWC.
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