The Spur

“If you can dream it, do it”: Pres. Gores reflects after announcing retirement

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President Connie Gores announced that after six years as president of Southwest Minnesota State University she will retire in May.

Before Gores made history by becoming the first female president of SMSU in 2013, she served in positions such as a chair of governance on the board of the Minnesota campus compact and as a founding member of the Jared P. Stene Student Leadership Scholarship Board.

Interview President Gores and the SPUR:

Q: How do you feel being the first female president of SMSU?

A: I hope I’m not the last one. Sometimes institutions do that, sometimes when they have the first of any race, gender or ethnic group they think they are “one and done”.

Let us hope I am not the last one and there are other women who follow as well. I have

always been a leader in my life; high school, college, I have often been the first or the only.

Something happened my first year which made me think how important this was for the

university, the town of Marshall and so forth. I was speaking at a luncheon and before the

it started, the director said before we go on we need to stop and recognize what a historic occasion it was. I thought how is this historic? The director said I was the first woman president of SMSU and everyone burst into applause. It became clear to me how much this meant for so many people.  I was reminded of the importance of being the first or only person to do something. We have the responsibility to include others who are with us and bring other people along to the same point. I realized I represented all the hopes and dreams of the people who came before and after me and of other people who come after me and whose nieces, daughters, granddaughters want to strive for top positions within a company, a or an organization. I understood there was a lot of responsibility which came along with being the president. It has been easy, there are many good people who are at this university.

Q: What was your vision for SMSU when you came here?

A: The first time I came to SMSU, I was not in the search process yet for the presidency, I was

invited to give a workshop and at the same time I was an intern at Winona State. I was really impressed with the people here. It was in the summer students weren’t here but faculty and staff were and there was a group of about forty people. I was struck by how people worked together and were respectful and collaborative and that really stood out to me and I thought this is different. During the presidential search process, when the candidates came to campus for an interview, it usually lasts for a couple of days and as a candidate we meet with a lot of different people time and time again. I was struck by how wonderful, genuine, industrious and resilient they were. This was the best thing which stood out to me and remains as one of the most enduring aspects of my experience.

Q: What is your vision for education as a whole?

A: Education to me, especially higher education, changes lives and makes a difference. We transform lives every single day and that attracted me to higher education and this is what kept me motivated, inspired all these years. My mother did not graduate from high school. She had to work outside the home to take care of her family. Her mother died when she was six. My grandfather was an immigrant, did not remarry, and did not believe in stepmother for his children. My mom was the oldest daughter and she took care of her siblings. At either 15 or 16, she left school and worked outside the home full time. My father was a good student, he wanted to go to college, got a couple of scholarships but he had to farm because his mother was a widow and he was a good son, but he died at 28 years of polio. This left my mother with four children at 27 years old. Education was critical for the six children my mother raised. I did not think my mother expected me to do what I have done but I was the one who gravitated to education and higher education and saw early on the effect of higher education on families and their lives. Out of the six children, everyone graduated from college, four of us have graduate degrees and I have a doctorate. It changed every one of our lives and it’s a ripple effect where it changed both ours and our children’s lives. It will be the ripple effect of what education means in a family. It is not just a profession, it is a calling.

 

Q: What is your favorite memory in Marshall?

 

A: I am going to miss the students. They are the reason we are here. They give me the inspiration and strength. I’m going to miss that a lot. I am going to miss the people in

Marshall, what the university represents, and I do not know if the students know this or not, but this university used to be a cornfield. We are the only four-year university in the nineteen counties of SW Minnesota. Many people thought we could not have a university here. In 1963, the legislature said we would have some people didn’t think it was possible. There was a group of people here in town about 10 or 12 people who made it happen. They built a university right here on this cornfield. They had a vision, passion, foresight and they worked very hard to make this all possible. It is all about having a dream and making it come true. My inauguration address was titled The Prairie, The People, The Possibilities. That is how I see SMSU and I am going to miss it.  I will stay in contact and will be supporting the university from afar.

Q: What do you want to do after your retirement?

A: When I retire which almost doesn’t seem possible because I have worked since I was 13. I will move to be closer to my daughter and two grandchildren. A big part of my decision is my grandchildren, I am Nana. They bring me a lot of joy, I see them every three to four months. I figured I still have about ten years where they would still want to be around their Nana. I’m going to spend time with them and we are going to have sleep overs at my house and do all sorts of stuff and make some memories. I will take about six months or so to get settled and then I will decide if I consult or do some inner room appointments somewhere which will hopefully be within driving distance of my grandchildren. The real goal is to get closer to them.

Q: What advice do you have for the next president of SMSU?

A: It depends on who it is, and I will work closely with that person for sure. My goal is to help them build the university to be as strong as it can be. It is important for the new president to listen and to know the culture. Most of us who are at the level of the president have been at a couple of institutions. When you move to a new place, you have to learn the culture, environment and what is important to the institution. Make sure you get to know the people, place, programs and possibilities because people here really want the best for this university and they will work hard to help move the university to move forward if we give them a chance. I hope the person comes in ready to learn and lead. If they come in with a preconceived notion of things to do, immediately because they think that’s what the university needs well that is one approach, but I hope they listen and lead along the way and, I will help them be successful.

Q: What advice do you have for students of SMSU?

A: Believe in yourselves and set goals. Believe and try to make a difference. Be involved and act on your values, work hard and be authentic. Sometimes it is easy to get caught up in what you think you should be or what other people want you to be. If you can dream it, do it.

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“If you can dream it, do it”: Pres. Gores reflects after announcing retirement