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Olson to miss MSU, but new challenge awaits

Olson: Proud of his work for MSU, wishes he could see what’s ahead

Robb Murray, Mankato Free Press, 5-17-12

It wasn’t like he was look­ing to leave.

“I really haven’t been ter­ribly interested in leaving MSU,” said Scott Olson, Minnesota State University’s provost and vice presi­dent for aca­demic and student affairs. “MSU has been an amazing place and I’ve loved every minute of it.” But this, he says, was the right opportunity at the right time.

Olson, who first came to MSU in 2003, was named president Tuesday of Winona State University.

He’ll become WSU’s 15th president and succeed out­going president Judith Ramaley, who served as WSU’s president for seven years.

Olson was in St. Paul Tuesday morning as the Minnesota State Colleges and Universities Board of Trustees made their selec­tion (board members could vote for either Olson or the other finalist). And while he didn’t know how the vote would end up, he was prepped for what would happen if he was selected.

“They had prepped me in advance,” he said. “ They said that if it goes well, I’d need to have the day blocked off because I’d be going to Winona and Rochester.”

Receptions were held in Winona for Olson, where he met with members of the university community, and then in Rochester where he met with an alumni group.

He’ll remain on the job in Mankato until mid-July.

Then it’s off to Winona. But back in Mankato, the work of replacing Olson will just be beginning.

“He is going to be very, very hard to replace,” said MSU President Richard Davenport. “He has bound­less energy and enthusi­asm.”

Olson has been a major player on the MSU campus since his arrival. But at no time did he have a bigger impact than when he took a leadership role in MSU’s efforts to cut its budget.

Needing to trim by about $1 million, Olson led the charge to evaluate programs and figure out which ones could be cut. Ultimately, a handful of programs, including some in computer science, were cut.

He was credited with making sure that process went as smoothly as possi­ble. When it was done, he was invited by former MnSCU Chancellor James McCormick to serve as interim vice chancellor while MnSCU searched for a permanent replacement.

Davenport said he named Olson provost — a position that hadn’t existed at MSU until then — because he needed someone he trusted on campus to make key deci­sions when on important matters when he was away.

“When you create a provost postion, you really gotta have someone you trust,” he said. “He had the right demeanor, experience and characteristics to han­dle that job, and he never disappointed me in that regard.”

Olson said he’s proud of the work he’s done at MSU.

He said he also wishes he could have been around for some major things coming down the road. New pro­grams in accounting, imple­mentation of professional science degrees, a new engi­neering program they’ll be rolling out in the Twin Cities. And he regrets he won’t be there for the com­pletion of the “ big ideas” they’ve been working on.

“There are so many things I will not get to see through to the end and it almost breaks my heart,” he said.

But his excitement at heading to Winona out­weighs the regret. He said WSU is a university that has a lot going for it. And in the area of things it needs to work on, Olson says his expertise and experience are the right fit.

“The thing they need to work on is partnerships with other colleges, with industry and business,” he said.

“That made me think I’d be a good fit for the job because we’ve done a lot of that in Mankato.”

Beyond that, he said Winona has been well taken care of.

“It’s not a fixer-upper,” he said. “It’s in good shape.”

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