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New provost promises cuts, growth for Wadena campus

Cris Valdez, who took over provost duties at MSCTC--Wadena Dec. 1, sits in the Student Life Center at the Detroit Lakes campus. Photo by Steve Schulz

New MSCTC­--Wadena Provost Cris Valdez doesn't want to tell you the local campus is going to be a vibrant, growing place. He wants to show you.

Valdez took over being provost at the Wadena technical college Dec. 1 in addition to having the same role at MSCTC's Detroit Lakes campus. And he's heard the rumors that the Wadena college will close. They're simply not true, he said.

When MSCTC President Ann Valentine visited campuses, she reassured staff that MSCTC will have four campuses: Detroit Lakes, Fergus Falls, Moorhead and Wadena, he said.

"She's reiterated that several times," Valdez said.

But simply keeping the doors open isn't Valdez's goal. To illustrate his plans, Valdez was interviewed Feb. 20 at the Detroit Lakes campus, sitting casually in the new Student Life Center.

"This was a diesel garage a year ago," he said of the plush student meeting place.

Today, it's a library, bookstore, student help desk, and more.

"It really became a place where people can congregate," he said.

Some come to relax or watch TV. Others do homework, or network with students in other programs.

Valdez sees a lot of similarities between the Detroit Lakes school when he took over there two years ago, and Wadena today.

First, he's up front that there will be program cuts at Wadena. While he said he wouldn't yet name the programs that will be eliminated because of negotiations with the union, he said they are programs that have not had great demand from students. He said the people involved in the programs that will be eliminated have been notified, but he's not quite ready to release that to the public yet.

It won't just be cuts to programs, Valdez said. Like DL, the Wadena campus will focus on expanding successful programs, and adding new ones. Detroit Lakes, for instance, has fewer programs than when he came two years ago, but more students.

"The reality is that not all programs are strong," Valdez said.

But he said he found a willing, motivated staff in Wadena, and feels they will lead the college into a new prosperity.

Second, the building and grounds need a tune-up. Valdez said he has already secured $1.1 million for renovation projects at the Wadena campus in the next two to three years, and expects that number to grow to around $2 to $2.5 million.

"The building interior and exterior appear to be dated," he said.

He said he doesn't expect people are going to just believe his word that there will be positive changes. But he said the actions of fixing up the campus will speak louder than words.

"People watch your hips, not your lips," Valdez said. "They want to see what you're going to do."

Third, Valdez wants the Wadena campus to share in the explosion in online education. He said online enrollment was up 20 percent last year, but there were only 50 students at the Wadena campus. Some courses, he said, are hands-on and don't translate well to online, but other book-driven courses that teach more theory could be taken online, and there's demand.

"We have to look at getting a bigger share of that online program," Valdez said. "This is, especially now, a buyer's market. Students have a lot of [education] choices."

Valdez said technical colleges need to have one eye toward what has worked in the past, and one eye toward the future.

"We've got to get back to our core," he said, "but we always have to look toward how we can expand."

Valdez travels between campuses, spending most Tuesdays and Wednesdays in Wadena, Mondays and Thursdays in Detroit Lakes, and Fridays wherever he's needed most.