KWC students, staff meet new President Thomas Mitzel

Thomas Mitzel, the 35th president at Kentucky Wesleyan College, speaks as he is officially introduced during a news conference on Wednesday in Rogers Hall in the Winchester Campus Community Center.

To kick off the first day of classes Wednesday at Kentucky Wesleyan College, the school held a press conference to formally introduce Thomas Mitzel, its new president, to students, faculty and community partners.

Mitzel told a crowd of about 200 that one of the questions he is often asked is what his goals are as the new leader of the private Methodist liberal arts school. He said that question can be "a little bit dangerous," because before a person begins to make decisions about a higher education institution, it's important to truly learn about its past and its present.

"Once you have that information you can begin to make good decisions about the future," he said.

There are three guidelines, he said, that he adheres to regarding decisions. The first, he said, is community and teamwork on campus, the city and the region. He doesn't want Kentucky Wesleyan College to be a college in Owensboro, he wants it to be for Owensboro and the region.

He wants to continue building the vibrancy, community partnerships and teamwork that he said has been so integral to KWC's mission and history.

The second guideline, he said, is that students are paramount because, without them, there would be no higher education. They are not, however, customers. He wants to ensure students are not only getting what they need for their careers but what they need for life.

"Education is not a commodity," he said. "The education you get here is really a stepping stone for education later in life."

The third guideline, he said, is that faculty and staff are the core of an institution. Without a great faculty and staff, higher education institutions can't guide well. He also said that educators need to continuously strive to be better learners themselves as their education does not stop with their degrees.

"We have to give faculty and staff opportunities to stay in the top of their field," he said.

By integrating these three guiding principles, Mitzel said, a campus can continue the revolution of moving forward.

"I am so excited to be here," he said.

Mitzel, the former president of Dickinson State University in Dickinson, North Dakota, will be KWC's 35th president. He is replacing Bart Darrell, who resigned June 1, 2019. Since then, Western Kentucky University-Owensboro Chancellor Gene Tice has served as interim president.

Mitzel's career in education started in 1996 when he started teaching chemistry at Trinity College in Hartford, Connecticut, a nationally ranked liberal arts college. During part of his tenure there, he also served as associate provost.

Later, Mitzel, who earned his doctorate in organic chemistry from Boston College in Chestnut Hill, Massachusetts, became dean of the School of Natural Sciences and interim director of the Wild Basin Creative Research Center at St. Edward's University in Austin, Texas. St. Edward's is a faith-based institution.

He left St. Edward's and returned to Trinity College, where he served as provost.

Kiley Foster, KWC student government association president, said that Wesleyan is a place where students come to find themselves, their calling, and their path. With the new decade upon the college comes, coincidentally a new era of leadership.

"This new year will bring change that will influence and impact all current and future students who choose to walk the halls and learn in the classrooms at our special college," she said.

Sarah Johnson, an Owensboro native who is a KWC senior, has come to learn throughout her years at the college that family is not just a selling point there. She knows first-hand the support system at KWC as she had to switch her major mid-way through her junior year.

Mitzel, Johnson said, will fit right in with the warm community or support the campus has always had.

"I think he has the family values behind what Kentucky Wesleyan is," she said. "I'm excited to see what changes and new ideas he brings to the table."

Bobbie Hayse, bhayse@messenger-inquirer.com, 270-691-7315.

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