DOWAGIAC — Joseph Odenwald is the Southwestern Michigan College Board of Trustees’ unanimous choice to be the college’s eighth president.
Odenwald has been with the college for two years, serving as vice president for student services. He came to SMC from previous positions at Louisiana State University and Mississippi College. He has his bachelor’s degree from Louisiana College, his master’s from Mississippi College and his doctorate in education from the University of Southern Mississippi.
Current President David Mathews announced in August that he will be retiring at the end of December.
Board members voted in August to conduct an internal search for their new president and held a day of interviews with the four candidates on Sept. 30. Others applying for the job were SMC Vice President of Instruction David Fleming, Admissions Director Lucian Leone and School of Business and Advanced Technology Dean Stacy Young.
Odenwald was selected after six of seven board members said he was their top choice after the Sept. 30 board interviews, and subsequent answers to written questions.
Trustee William White was the first to speak Monday evening. He said he is impressed with all four candidates but feels Odenwald has the strong interpersonal communication skills the college needs in a president. “I think he is committed to SMC being a learning and not just teaching institution,” he said.
Trustee Elaine Foster agreed, saying she was torn back and forth between the candidates before deciding that Odenwald is her top choice. Board Treasurer Rebecca Moore said she feels the other three candidates are already in their “best fit” positions.
Dr. Heidi Grabemeyer-Layman and Keith McKenzie also gave a stamp of approval to Odenwald. Board President Tom Jerdon concluded the discussion with a recap of Odenwald’s presentation on Sept. 30, as well as reporting on Odenwald’s references, who all spoke of him in glowing terms.
“The cover letter Dr. Joe wrote was very different and unique,” Jerdon said. “He talked about the success of the college, its mission and core values and then at the very end talked about himself. That’s not how you’re supposed to do it, it’s supposed to be about you. For me, it was like the song, ‘you had me at hello’.”
Board members were particularly impressed with the presentation Odenwald made during his interview, when he described himself as a “fourth generation farmer and first generation college student.”
He outlined seven vision themes and eight conditions needed for success. He promised he would grow enrollment by 3 percent a year, which would in turn provide the college with extra revenue to expand programs and services.
Jerdon praised all four candidates and said he believes there is “more than one future college president” on the SMC campus. “We have a deep talent pool and we’ve been lucky we’ve been able to attract that talent,” he said.
Jerdon also reported on the work of the board’s presidential compensation committee. He, Moore and Cripe gathered information about college president salaries both nationally and in Michigan and asked fellow board members to look over the information. They did not give a specific salary recommendation.
Only Trustee Beth Cripe didn’t speak during the selection discussion.