Thomas hopes to return home to NSU and Natchitoches
• On serving as President:
Serving as President of Northwestern State University would be one of the highest honors I have received. Everything I’ve done so far in my career has been to obtain the skills, experience and life lessons to come back home and serve my alma mater.
• On making a long-term commitment:
If you want someone who will stick around – who isn’t using the opportunity as a stepping stone or a bridge to another destination – I’m your person. I consider Natchitoches our home, and if you put your trust and confidence in me, I’ll serve as long as this community will have me.
• On my loyalty to Northwestern State University:
Even now, here, as the Interim President at Oklahoma City Community College, my band cape hangs on my wall in my office. My colleagues and direct reports know how much of a die-hard Demon I am, and if they ever forget, my backpack, my jacket, my umbrella, and my license plate holder are all reminders of my affection for Northwestern State University.
• On my commitment to diversity, equity and inclusion in higher education:
Oklahoma City Community College is one of the more diverse colleges in Oklahoma. We serve 17,000+ students each year, a number of whom are first-generation college students, and many have jobs and families to support. Since my time as interim President, we’ve made significant strides to better communicate our mission and vision to the community, we’ve opened up our campus (when Covid-safe) to guests to experience our hospitality and culture, and we’ve stepped out into the business community as significant sponsors and cultural liaisons for our student body. It’s my belief that a college education has the ability to change lives, families and trajectories for anyone who’s willing to do the work, and has a significant positive impact on the development of responsible citizens in our communities, too. There is no question that this commitment to servant leadership, to helping open up access for higher education to everyone who wants it, and to creating a culture where everyone is welcome, comes from the experiences, mentors and lessons I was fortunate enough to have at Northwestern State University.
• On my professional experience:
I’m in this for the long haul. I bring fresh experiences in the workforce. I bring energy and creativity to my role. I connect with students and elected officials alike. I have an understanding of technology, of modern culture, of work, and of the struggles that take place in higher education, not from a distant position, or from memories of experiences years or decades ago, but from my conversations and experiences I have daily with my staff, my colleagues, my board, and my family. I have two teenage daughters: They are our future student body, and growing up in their generation is very different. I’m dialed into that, as only a father experiencing it, can be.
• On my own experiences as a student:
I am, as my staff sometimes reminds me, a farm boy. I was the first one in my family to go to college, and as it has done for so many students who have come before or since, it changed my life, and the lives of my children, and likely of their children, and so on. I have always remembered the feeling of being a young student, taking my first steps onto campus: The fear, the excitement, the pressure, and the constant thought that I don’t know what I’m doing, but I’ll figure it out on my way. Of course, I know now that we all feel that way sometimes, that we don’t always have the answers. And that’s okay. That’s where great advisors, professors, mentors, and friends play such a huge part of the college experience: They help you find your way, and sometimes, just reassure you that it’s okay if “the way” has some twists and turns, or seems far off, or if you’re not even sure where you’re trying to go in the first place. Northwestern State University, and its top-notch people, helped nudge me to keep moving in the right direction. I can say confidently that I would not be where I am in my career today, asking to be your next President, without the help of the great faculty, staff, and community that surrounded me during my time as a student.
• On band:
Band is, and was, and always has been, a significant part of who I am. I was a trumpet player in the Spirit of Northwestern marching band, jazz ensemble, pep band, and concert band. (I was on the rowing team for a bit, too, FYI.) Band taught me leadership skills. Band gave me a support system. It made me a better musician, of course, but it also made me a better person. My daughters are band kids now, and whether they realize it or not, that’s because of Northwestern State University, too. I wanted my daughters to grow up in a system like what I experienced, and it’s my hope that they’ll continue on in band through college. In fact, my oldest will be a freshman at Northwestern next fall. The memories, the friendships, and the lessons are all lifelong.
• On my vision for a successful Northwestern State University:
As your President, it’s my hope to bring a number of lessons and experiences forward with me. It’s my hope to listen to all of you, to learn from you, and to build the path forward together that we believe is right for our families, neighbors, and community. But let me be more specific, if I may, and offer three things I believe Northwestern State University must be or do to continue its legacy of success:
– Be flexible. I’m sorry to say, there’s no going back to the pre-pandemic way of life. Despite the frustrations and struggles all of us in higher education have faced as we solved one problem or crisis after another over the last two years, there have been some important progressions in how we reach students, and we shouldn’t just roll those back at the first opportunity. Let’s continue to get better at educating students remotely. Let’s continue to improve technology, but also improve the way we use that technology to connect with students at any distance. And as we do that, let’s ensure that the in-person class offerings don’t just become live Zooms, either. Let’s be certain that the in-person experience – the one many of us know is unmatched in terms of engagement, mentoring and knowledge absorption – continues to be the most effective way to teach, and that we continue to innovate in this space, too. The services and course offerings we provide to our students must continue to evolve to meet them where they are.
– Secure alternate funding. This isn’t news to anyone, but we must continue to increase and strengthen the quality and quantity of our partnerships with organizations, community leaders, foundations, industries and private donors, to ensure we can help alleviate the financial strain placed on students who pursue a degree. Raising tuition is not always the answer to an institution’s problems. Let’s get creative, and let’s leverage the resources in and around our community.
– Adapt to the needs of our community’s evolving workforce. Working with our industry partners is nothing new at Northwestern State University, but let’s continue to make it a high priority. Our institution should set up our students for success, and it should set up our community employers for a reliable, educated, efficient, and prepared workforce. Colleges and universities sometimes get stuck in what they know and do, even when the world around them changes. Let’s keep a pulse on our community, and be sure we’re always in lock-step with their needs.
• In conclusion:
I’m confident Northwestern State University is moving in the right direction, but I’m hopeful you’ll agree with me that your next President should share your values, understand your community, and have a demonstrated capability and passion for connecting with students, elected officials, and donors alike. I believe if we work together, if we serve our students and community in everything we do, and commit to learning and adapting, we will accelerate Northwestern State University’s progress. My wife Rachel and I can’t wait to visit with you soon. Please know that I mean this with all of my heart: It would be the honor of my life to serve Northwestern State University. Fork ‘em, Demons.
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