Minnesota State College Southeast Technical President James Johnson will retire from the position he has held for the past 19 years on June 30, 2014. Johnson first joined the college in 1981 as a Trade and Industry Coordinator. Over the years he climbed the leadership ladder, and was named president in 1995.
Photo by Jen Burris
Minnesota State College — Southeast Technical President Jim Johnson talks of his time at the college in his office.
Johnson didn’t start out working in education; in fact, at the age of 10 he began helping out with the family business, a bakery owned by his grandfather and father. After high school, Johnson went on to work in the metal industry and was eventually convinced by his mother to go to college. He spent two years at a junior college in Rockford, Ill. Later, Johnson’s uncle, an instructor at Madison Technical College in Madison, Wis., convinced Johnson to attended the University of Wisconsin, Stout, where he received a bachelor’s degree in industrial arts, followed by a masters degree in vocational education. Johnson then received a doctorate in vocational education at the University of Minnesota, and a doctorate in educational administration at Winona State University.
Johnson has used his industry experience in the hiring of staff, creating curriculum, and updating programs.
“We have 25 programs directly related to industries, and they all have advisory committees,” Johnson said.
The advisory committees, created upon the merging of state technical colleges into one system through MnSCU, meet twice a year, and members include previous graduates of the program as well as industry representatives. These committees help keep the programs updated, from recommending a focus shift to improve a program, to utilizing new software.
Southeast Technical’s slogan, “Get in, get out, get on with it,” describes what Johnson believes is the benefit of attending a two-year school. Students will have a degree in half the time as a four-year university, and student debt is considerably less for technical colleges.
Johnson believes that the time and cost effectiveness can be very attractive to older students, and many people who enroll have spent time in the work force already. People who initially forgo college, decide to make a change in their career or are laid off, often make up the core of enrolled students.
“Our average age is about 26 or 27,” Johnson said.
The range of student age is something Johnson is proud of, especially for older students who may have had to make huge life changes.
“We have been that resource for them to really get their lives back on track — that’s what I like most about this job,” Johnson said.
Southeast Technical has collaborated with Winona State University and Saint Mary’s University, developing transfer agreements and career ladders that enable graduates of Southeast Technical to build upon their degrees at universities. The transfer of credits was not available until 1995, when Southeast Technical merged with all public state technical colleges into one system.
As Johnson prepares to finish his final year at Southeast Technical, he hopes the college stays engaged in the regional communities that it serves. The focus must continue in training for the workforce, education for employment, and engaging in economic development for the area, he explained.
“That’s what I’d like to see continue; we do a good job of it now,” Johnson noted.