- Associated Press - Wednesday, September 30, 2015

FARGO, N.D. (AP) - A South Dakota native with a background in chemistry was named Wednesday as president of Dickinson State University, the western North Dakota college that has dealt with a series of setbacks in recent years.

Thomas Mitzel has spent the last two years as vice president and faculty dean at Trinity College in Hartford, Connecticut, after a stint as the dean of natural resources at St. Edward’s University in Austin, Texas. He was offered the job after a formal interview during the state Board of Higher Education meeting Wednesday in Dickinson.

“I texted my wife and let her know and got back all smiley faces,” Mitzel told the board after he was announced as president.

Mitzel noted in his interview with the board that 67 percent of DSU students are from North Dakota, as compared to 51 percent for the rest of the university system. He said that shows room for growth and he believes the school can increase enrollment by about 5 percent per year.

The Dickinson school has been dogged by a series of setbacks in the last five years, beginning with a controversy over inflated enrollment that cost one president his job in 2011. Earlier this month, the state attorney general announced that he would dissolve the college’s independent foundation after finding that the group’s financial records were in disarray. A new foundation is in the works.

“Dickinson has gone through some difficult projects and some difficult times,” Mitzel said. “I was pleasantly surprised at how enthusiastic everybody is and how forward-thinking everybody was, with most of the groups with whom I met. You almost feel a little tension in the air in a positive way.”

Mitzel said he was forced to make some tough decisions when he was asked to cut 10 percent of the budget at Trinity College. He said that experience was a “wake-up call” that taught him how to work with faculty and others to make changes work.

Donna Jurick, executive vice president at St. Edward’s University, called Mitzel “a creative problem-solver who brought resolution to a number of thorny challenges.”

Mitzel, 48, was born and raised in Aberdeen, South Dakota. He received his bachelor’s degree in chemistry from hometown Northern State University in 1990 and his doctorate in organic chemistry from Boston College in 1994.

“Much of my family still resides in South Dakota and I have retained a great appreciation for the strong Midwest ethos and high academic standards,” Mitzel said.

Former Dickinson State President D.C. Coston stepped down in August due to health concerns. Mitzel became the lone finalist for the position after Peru State College President Daniel Hanson withdrew from consideration earlier this month.


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