MARSHALL - Ronald Rosati, one of two finalists for president at Southwest Minnesota State University, was on campus for much of the day Wednesday, getting to know the institution and allowing others to get to know him.
If given the opportunity, Rosati said he believes his philosophy, experience and expertise would be a good fit at SMSU.
"My experience has been with regional, public comprehensive universities, very much like Southwest, so it fits well with my experience and my expertise," Rosati said. "My philosophy towards administration is based on integrity, transparency and strongly-insured governance. I applaud the faculty and the administration at Southwest for having such a strong relationship that's based on honesty and transparency and integrity."
Photo by Jenny Kirk
As one of two finalists for President at Southwest Minnesota State University, Ronald Rosati took the time to speak with various groups of people on campus Wednesday.
Rosati, originally from Rochester, N.Y., said he also appreciates the Upper Midwest.
"I like the climate," he said. "I like the culture. I like rural areas. I'm not an urban person. I haven't lived in a city in a long time, and I would prefer to not if I could.
"As a matter of fact, I flew into Sioux Falls (Tuesday), and I had a big grin on my face driving from Sioux Falls to here, something you all probably take for granted, but that flat, black farmland looks real good to me."
From what he's seen so far, Rosati said he is also optimistic about what is happening on campus.
"I think there are great things happening right now," he said. "It's an institution ready to take off. It has the infrastructure. It has a wonderful morale and environment. Boy, if you don't have that, it's pretty hard to get it. We have it at Southwest. We have great people with a real good attitude towards moving forward. The budgets are good, and there's great administration."
EXPERIENCE AND EXPERTISE
Rosati currently serves as provost of Southeast Missouri State University, an institution with about 11,500 students, he said. Prior to that, he served at the Alfred State College, which is part of the State University of New York, with approximately 3,500 students.
From 1996-2006, Rosati served in various capacities, including as dean of the College of Agriculture, Natural Resources and Human Sciences, at Texas A&M University-Kingsville, a campus with approximately 6,000 students. Prior to his administrative experience, Rosati compiled 19 years worth of faculty experience, teaching agricultural engineering technology at Illinois State University, Iowa State University and Ohio State University, he said.
"Some of my major administrative accomplishments have been in accreditation," Rosati said. "I've led teams at two universities that have helped the university to get re-accredited, most recently at Southeast Missouri State. We just got re-accredited in December with the higher learning commission. Southwest Minnesota State is going through that now and is scheduled for a re-accreditation visit in about a year."
Budgeting is another issue Rosati said he has a track record with.
"At my current institution, I manage about a $50 million budget," he said. "And over the past three years, we've had to deal with about a $15 million reduction in appropriations, so that's been a bit of a challenge. We've been very creative in how we've handled that, and it's been a very positive output, so I'm very excited about that."
In addition to working with educational technology, adding programs that are entirely online, Rosati said he's done a lot with fundraising. Along with doing a lot of work with assessment, Rosati said he's been very involved with enrollment growth.
"My current institution is in its 18th consecutive year of enrollment growth," Rosati said.
Most recently, Rosati said, much of that growth has been due to going after some new populations.
"We've significantly grown our international students," he said. "We're currently implementing an initiative to bring returning veterans to campus. That's a new initiative and it's not fully implemented yet. It will be soon. We've also grown our online population significantly. For example, we've expanded an RN to BSN program. I know Southwest is doing the same thing."
When asked what he saw as the biggest challenges facing a rural university like SMSU, Rosati highlighted four areas.
"Enrollment, budgets, keeping the curriculum current as society changes so rapidly and keeping up with technology," Rosati said.
In terms of enrollment, Rosati believes there are some things SMSU can do to address the issue.
"It will take some work, but I don't think it's an insurmountable issue," he said. "I think we're going to see some growth at Southwest, looking at new populations in some of those areas I've already mentioned, international, returning military. Adding some new programs will bring in some new students, so I think the campus is already engaged in that area."
The agriculture program at SMSU is an example of keeping the curriculum up to date, Rosati said.
"Agriculture is a booming industry right now," he said. "It's a major industry in southwest Minnesota and throughout the state. And there isn't another regional, comprehensive university with a major agricultural program, so that's an example of this university already engaged in keeping this curriculum current. The RN to BSN program is another example. So we need to take care of enrollment, and we need to take of the budget. Those are under control, but there's work that needs to be done there."
Rosati also pointed out that technology and the way information is developed and transmitted is very different now than the way it was when he went to school 20 years ago.
"It's a challenge for higher education institutions, to make sure that they're teaching students how to manage information in this new environment," Rosati said.
In addition to the information management mode, the way information is developed and transmitted has changed immensely, Rosati said.
"It's not just a researcher going off into his or her lab and working on a project for a few years and then sending a fact out for peer review journals," he said. "It's community-based and crowd-sourced, with lots of folks being involved. It's very fascinating."
As a growth-oriented administrator, Rosati feels SMSU is poised now for some rapid development.
"I think the university is in very good shape," Rosati said. "That speaks very well of the faculty and the administration that are at the university now. The facilities are great. The attitude on campus is very positive."
Rosati said he'd spoken with a number of students who say they love SMSU.
"Mostly what they love is their relationship with the faculty," he said. "They are very positive, upbeat and supportive. That speaks very well of the faculty, and that will serve the institution very well as it looks to grow and develop."
For the most part, Rosati said he thought the budget was very strong.
"Obviously, there's been some reductions over the years and the university has had to tighten its belt and deal with those, but it's done that very well," Rosati said. "I think we're through the worst of it and the future looks pretty good."
Rosati has also been impressed with the level of support shown to and from the community. He believes SMSU has done well in keeping the community involved in what's going on at the university and would like to see that continue.
"There's a lot of support from the community, so that's great to see," he said. "I very much appreciate that. I think that's going to serve both the university and the community very well in the future."
Connie Gores, the other finalist for president at SMSU, will be on campus Friday. The Minnesota State Colleges and Universities Board of Trustees is expected to act on Chancellor Steven Rosenstone's recommendation for president at its Feb. 26 meeting. The new president will take office July 1.