North Central’s Marketing Department sat down with Provost Pete Olson to talk about his career at North Central, his plans for retirement, and the legacy he leaves at the college.
Tell us about your career at North Central.
When I left higher education in 2000, I had no plans to return to college teaching. But when I began teaching Emergency Medical Services classes here at North Central as an adjunct 15 years ago, something about returning to an academic schedule simply felt right. I had no idea that my path would eventually lead to the office of the provost, but I have thoroughly enjoyed the demanding opportunity of using “both sides” of my head (the liberal arts English professor side vs. the problem-solving paramedic side) to help our students and faculty navigate the considerable challenges we all face as higher education evolves. It has been a wonderful pleasure to learn to understand the differences between divisions and departments here, and I remain in awe of the dedication that I see every day among my colleagues who so creatively apply themselves to solving our students’ unique and difficult problems with grace and compassion.
What are you most looking forward to about retirement?
It will be great to spend more time with my wife, Marta, to watch my oldest daughter, Brita, and her husband, Fuller, grow in their own public service careers, and to celebrate my youngest daughter, Kaia, and her fiancé Tyler’s wedding (once the Canadian border opens). We will try to remain as grounded and centered as we can within our community on Mackinac Island, but also continue to venture outward into the larger, wilder world whenever we can. I imagine that reading and writing will continue to afford me the opportunity to leap across these worlds and to refresh my connections with our friends both living and dead. I expect there will also be some more time for cycling, kayaking, and skiing, too.
When you reflect on your tenure as provost, what accomplishments give you the most pride?
Although I was involved in each of these initiatives, I would prefer to celebrate what each of the teams involved was able to accomplish; we’re at our best when we work together.
- I’m delighted that we have been able formally to fully extend our delivery of classes into the online environment without the acrimony and heavy-handed management other colleges have endured. I believe this initiative will help solve some of the more difficult problems surrounding enrollment. A very talented team led by Melanie Leaver, MA, on the admin side and Chet Jessick, MBA, on the faculty side deserves the bulk of the credit here.
- I’m gratified by the successes our Nursing graduates have achieved in the last couple of years, but I am most proud of the way the nursing faculty responded to limitations in scheduling face-to-face clinical opportunities by increasing our use of high-fidelity simulation to help replace what was lost due to pandemic constraints. Dena Smith, MPA, EMT-P, I/C, Lisa Stabile, MSN, RN, Laura Hill, MSN, RN, and Pam Herrera-Oshaben, MSN, RNC-OB, all gave absolutely selflessly of their time and have created an enduring, powerful component of our nurses’ success in the future. Jim Cousino, MBA, EMT-P, I/C, who nearly single-handedly won national accreditation for our EMS programs, brought Dena Smith to North Central and provided the inspiration for these initiatives.
- Sometime in mid-March of 2020, I admitted in a cabinet meeting that I used the video gaming application “Plague” to help teach epidemiology to skeptical paramedic students. The absolute stares of disbelief from my colleagues suggested that I might be in the right place at the right time to help interpret the crisis that was unfolding before us. I am extremely proud of North Central’s efforts to try to keep us all safe over the past year, but in particular I want to single out my right hand associate (and probably left, too) Jennifer Wood, who has steadfastly helped every day to respond to health tickets from sick or worried students, faculty, and staff. As in many other things, Jennifer did not come to this role naturally, but as in everything else, she has learned to respond calmly, professionally, and above all, compassionately, to every single one.
Anything else you would like include, professionally or personally speaking?
As I have participated in meetings with colleagues from other community colleges across the state over the years, I have heard of the very common tension that exists between the instructional and student affairs sides of the campus. (Instructional believes they bear the most responsibility for a student’s success, while Student Affairs lays claim to the same title.). I have been extraordinarily fortunate to enjoy almost none of the tension and a tremendous amount of respect, laughter, warmth, and compassion from the core Student Affairs team of Vice President Renee DeYoung (special help with credit/contact hour math), Registrar Joe Balinski (relentlessly willing to do the “right thing,”) and Assistant Registrar Nicki Morris (for the magic wand that lies within reach at this very moment). It has been a tremendous pleasure to work with all of you.
Finally, a word of thanks to Dr. David Roland Finley, Ph.D.: It would be hard to imagine a more turbulent couple of years in the life of a relatively new president. In a culture skeptical of change, you are proving to us that the constant hard work and dedication you bring can produce measurable results in sustaining our future. I hope that our found ability to work with each other (the engineer and the humanities guy) will serve as a model for many more such collaborations in the future. Thank you.