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New year new beginning at DSU: DSU President Mitzel talks goals, status for future

College campuses can typically mark a fresh beginning of sorts with each new semester. Dickinson State University, however, has a better claim than most.

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DSU President Tom Mitzel speaks with a provost candidate Friday in his office. Mitzel officially started in his role Dec. 21 and said boosting enrollment is a key goal for the future of DSU. (Press Photo by Andrew Haffner)

College campuses can typically mark a fresh beginning of sorts with each new semester. Dickinson State University, however, has a better claim than most.

New DSU President Thomas Mitzel had his first official day at the school on Dec. 21 but will have his first work day with students on campus Monday when classes resume for the spring semester.

Mitzel said he arrived in Dickinson the evening of Dec. 7 and has been establishing himself at DSU since “pretty much that first day.”

“It feels right,” Mitzel said of his new role and the reception he has received so far from university staff. “I know we have a tremendous amount of work ahead of us, but it feels right. It feels like I’m with my extended family.”

Included in that workload are several goals intended to revitalize and improve on DSU’s standing in both the community and state.

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“I think the major issue, as I see it for the institution itself, is to increase our enrollment and stabilize it,” Mitzel said. “I think we should be somewhere around 2,000 (students) and then we can see what kind of infrastructure we have to support those students.”

Included in the realm of stabilization is improving retention and graduation rates, Mitzel said, which can be facilitated by a strategic and gradual growth of the student population.

He added the positive side of lower enrollment is a high student-to-faculty ratio, which allows for greater levels of direct contact and academic attention.

Expanding the student population at a controlled annual rate of about 5 percent could allow staff and faculty additions to comfortably keep pace and would reach the enrollment benchmark in four or five years, Mitzel said.

Staffing at all levels will be important as time goes on, he said, and administrative additions are currently being made.

DSU faculty and staff also spoke to the importance of increasing campus connections to the wider community and expanding the student population.

DSU Staff Senate President Laura Fetting said, from a staff perspective, increasing the community feel on campus could help boost enrollment and added it was a good goal for the new year.

“Teamwork and community go hand in hand,” Fetting said. “Having all constituencies -- staff, faculty and students -- working together to have a positive environment on campus ... bringing back that positive feel at DSU and getting the word out and promoting.”

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Chip Poland, DSU professor and chair of the department of agriculture and technical studies, said he believed the school is on a “good course” and is in a position to “begin to flourish and move forward as a university.”

A big part of that progression will be a focus on expanding student numbers, he added.

“We’ve made headway on enrollment, but that should be key to everybody on campus,” Poland said. “That’s something we all need to be working on. It’s not like we can all step back and let somebody fix that problem for us, we’re all going to need to fix it.”

The search for a new provost and vice president of academic affairs is drawing near to a close, Mitzel said, and the vacant vice president of finance and administration position has been filled on an interim basis.

He added that advancements made with the new DSU Heritage Foundation, which Mitzel described as destined to be “extremely important” for the university as a whole, have already created “invaluable” fundraising connections and will be of further help in establishing greater community trust in the university.

“I think people are waiting to see us do it correctly,” Mitzel said of the new foundation as he expressed his confidence in its current board and leadership. “They are, in large extent, the entity that makes sure our alumni and community members feel connected to the campus.”

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