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Mitzel resigns from position as DSU president, accepts position as president of Kentucky Wesleyan College

Mitzel.jpg
Thomas Mitzel. (Dickinson State University photo)

Thomas Mitzel is resigning from his position as President of Dickinson State University.

He will be departing the university no later than December 31 for a position as president of Kentucky Wesleyan College.

"We were getting to the end of many of our projects, and at some time you start to think that maybe somebody with a fresh set of eyes will see something that you may be missing. I feel very good about the time I've spent here, but I also thought that I've been here four years. That's a fairly long time for most presidents," he said.

Kentucky Wesleyan is about to begin new projects itself, and Mitzel said he thinks he has the skill set to help them.

"They're sitting right at the beginning of several major projects, and those projects appeal to me a great deal. The city is slightly larger than Dickinson; it's about 57,000 — 114,000 if you count the metro area. It's an area where you can still establish very good community ties," he said. "That always is something to which I am looking forward, and I enjoyed that aspect of my time at Dickinson. ... The campus is very tight-knit, very similar to Dickinson in that regard. Very positive."

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Mitzel has held the office of president since 2015, arriving during a time of transition.

"Before my arrival, the enrollment had dropped almost every year for the past six years," he said.

Mitzel said he's proud of the university's accomplishments during his tenure.

"We were able to stop the enrollment from dropping, and we were able to actually see it rise. ... Over the past three years, the first and second year retention rate has gone from 54% (to) as high as 71% ... that's pretty phenomenal for a public institution," he said. "That takes a whole team. I wouldn't say those are just my accomplishments. You put a team in place, you let them do what their skill set allows, and that is when you see good results."

The Higher Learning Commission, which accredits post-secondary education institutions, visited DSU this year.

"They gave us a very strong review. I'm extremely proud of that area. That was an area when we arrived where Dickinson was having ... some concerns, and we were able to really smooth out much of the academic concerns for the Higher Learning Commission. To get a very favorable five-year review took a lot of work on many people's part," he said.

Mitzel has worked to make the campus more student-friendly.

"We have more students staying in the residence halls since any time I've been at DSU, so we're rebuilding that campus community for our students. The student center has been revamped to be a student center once again, rather than just another administrative building, so I'm proud of what we have been able to accomplish there," he said.

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The Heritage Foundation had just started when he arrived, and Ty Orton from the foundation started on the same day as Mitzel.

"It's a brand new foundation. To have that foundation go from zero assets to over $11 million in assets in a little under four years is just phenomenal," Mitzel said. "Ty is just a wonderful individual with whom to work, and the institution is very lucky to have him. That has been an extremely fun project. They are poised to do some really good things within the foundation, too."

During his time as president, Mitzel oversaw the university's transition to dual-mission.

"Western North Dakota falls in an area (that) people call an 'academic desert,' and that means that it's difficult for people to find an academic institution," he said. "Dickinson's 100 miles from the nearest 2-year institution, and it's 200 miles from the nearest 4-year institution, which means that we really have to be able to offer all different types of education for our potential students. ... The dual-mission allows for us to do that."

In the first year since DSU became a dual-mission university, it has started 8 new programs and is looking to add a welding program this fall by collaborating with Train ND.

Mitzel believes the future of DSU looks bright.

"I wish Dickinson State University the best. I think we're on a very good pathway here, and I think whoever we bring in will be able to take them that much further," he said. "I will continue to follow the university's progress, and I would expect nothing less than seeing improvement every year. It's just on a great trajectory."

Kayla Henson is a former Dickinson Press reporter.
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