Dr. Stefani Hicswa is one of the newest Yellowjackets on the Montana State University Billings campus. The new chancellor has only been on the job a few weeks.
“Starting a new job in the middle of a pandemic has been really interesting,” she says. “Meeting new people with masks on and knowing who they are and even something as simple as not shaking hands to follow those Covid protocols has been really hard for me.”
Hicswa says the pandemic has been a “wake-up” call for education that will have lasting repercussions-- some of them positive.
“We’ve had a crash course in doing courses differently, in being more flexible for student’s needs, and I think it will change education forever. What that looks like we don't know yet, but it makes us step back and look at how It meets students’ needs and that's really important to me,” she said.
Hicswa takes over for Dan Edelman, who stepped down last fall due to health reasons. She is the first woman to hold the post in the school’s history going back to 1927.
She credits growing up on a ranch in Montana for her work ethic and perseverance: “I grew up on a ranch in Dillion and that has been installed in me from a young age.”
She jokes that running a university is actually a lot like running a ranch.
“The only thing that's really different is that when you run a ranch you harvest in the fall. When you're running university harvest is in the spring… and that's graduation,” she says.
Raising the completion rate for MSUB’s approximate 4,000 students will be one of her priorities, she says. It’s something she was successful in with her previous job as president of Northwest College in Powell.
“Finishing a degree sets him on a path for success forever. So I think it's important for all of us at MSUB to focus on helping students complete,” Hicswa says.
Despite some of the uncertainties for the moment that have been brought on by the pandemic, Hicswa sees a bright vision ahead for MSUB in the next five years.
“There is so much potential for MSUB. I think that being more integrated in the community in the next five years is one of my own personal goals--to look at what the needs are in the community, especially in the health care arena. We can really tap into that because Billings is a medical corridor for the entire region,” she says.
Construction and renovation on MSUB’s Yellowstone Science and Allied Health Building will be completed this year. It will feature state-of-the-art laboratories and equipment connected with classrooms in the science and health fields.
“I think we can really look at what our strengths are in the healthcare area, in business, in education. Our special education program is one of the best in the region. We can capitalize on those strengths and find some of those niches. Rather than being everything to everyone we can focus on what we do well and then take that to the next level,” she says.