When Matt Thompson arrived on the Southwestern Community College campus in the fall of 2008, he set a list of challenges for himself and the future of student life at SWCC.
He wanted to increase enrollment, improve the student community atmosphere on campus and continue to build upon what he called a “very strong” faculty and staff.
In five years, President Barb Crittenden said Thompson met those goals by genuinely caring about the students and staff, as well as creating initiatives to build camaraderie.
Thompson recently took a position at Indian Hills Community College as the vice president of academics and institutional affairs and starts the new job this fall in Ottumwa.
As the dean of student services and the director of institutional advancement, Thompson worked to increase the enrollment from 1,468 students his first year on campus to 1,666 in 2012.
“The beautiful thing about community college is that you have the opportunity to bring people in and retrain them, and then they go out and find employment,” Thompson said.
Thompson credited a poor economy for part of the enrollment increase and the college’s effort to add academic and activity programs to attract more students.
Enrollment, including online and high school students taking dual-credit courses, has improved four out of the past five years.
“We’ve strategically looked at the future of Southwestern and tried to think about what we could add to be very competitive and to provide to local students,” Thompson said.
Southwestern has added track and field, bowling and shooting to athletics and built new housing on campus to attract students.
“Matt was just a fit the day he walked on campus,” Crittenden said. “It doesn’t matter what time of day or day of the week, Matt was always there to respond.”
To improve the college atmosphere, Thompson helped create an eight-week course for all freshman to help develop the college experience.
Thompson revamped the dining services at SWCC to allow commuting students and on-campus students the ability to eat meals in the same location.
“As students make decisions, they look at what activities you have, what housing you have and what kind of food you can provide,” Thompson said.
He also said the installment of SWCC Week during the fall semester and the expansion of the Pay it Forward initiative has helped SWCC become a part of the Creston community.
“This is a thriving college and it will continue to do so,” Thompson said. “It will continue to be a significant part of Creston.”
Crittenden said the search for a replacement will begin as soon as they post the position, hopefully by the end of this week.
In the meantime, Thompson is working with Crittenden and other staff members to make the transition as smooth as possible.
“Any time you have change, there is opportunity for it to continue to grow and have some new thoughts on how to best serve students,” Thompson said.
Thompson said the quality people in student services feel empowered to make decisions and continue to move forward with ongoing programs.
“I think back on the five years I’ve been here and just to see the growth on campus,” Thompson said. “Not only from an enrollment standpoint, but some of the neat facility updates that we have made at Southwestern.”
Thompson has two favorite memories from his time at SWCC and both of them reoccur every year: orientation and graduation.
At orientation, Thompson said the background stories of a wide variety of students’ is a very exciting time.
Graduation is the culmination of those students hard work and a step in the right direction to help them be successful in life.
“I love to see them come in, excited and ready to go and then walking across the stage after they accomplish what they came here to do,” Thompson said.
Crittenden said in the time that Thompson has been on campus, there have been some difficult moments for the college, including the tornado that damaged student housing and campus infrastructure in April of 2012.
“When the tornado hit our campus, in particular where it hit housing, Matt was just an absolutely critical part of our ability to deal with that,” Crittenden said.
At graduation last spring, Cittenden said as students received their diploma, instead of handshakes there were a lot of hugs.
“We would hand a diploma and there would be a hug,” Crittenden said. “I know a lot of that is attributed to the environment that Matt has helped create with students.”
Thompson’s wife, Jenifer, is the Cancer Center Co-Director and Specialty Physician’s Clinic Director at Greater Regional Medical Center in Creston.
“We had a lot of discussions on what would be best for our family,” Jenifer said. “It is very bittersweet, we are leaving a lot of friends and colleagues.”
Thompson said his boys, Luke, 5, and Grant, 2, will miss the Tootsie Rolls Ruth Clinton would bring for them at each Spartan home game.
“I think so fondly of the time spent at Southwestern,” Thompson said. “This was a very hard decision to make.”
The Thompson’s also have a 12-week-old daughter Mazie.
Jenifer is also making the transition from her position at GRMC and finding a replacement for the cancer center team.
“In the end, I think it will be good for Creston,” Jenifer said. “They will find great people to replace us and continue to grow as Matt and I continue our adventure.”
Quotes from SWCC staff about Thompson’s departure
Tom Lesan: "Professionally, I understand why he is leaving. He gave us five years, which is two more than I expected. He wants to be a president, and this move gets him one step closer to achieving that goal.
"Personally, though, I hate to see him leave. He's a great person to work with. He fit right into this community. He's so well liked, it's hard for him to go to Hy-Vee, Walmart or Fareway right now. It takes him an hour to get through the grocery store because so many people are stopping to talk to him and telling him they hate to see him leave, too."
Teresa Krejci: "He's done such a great job at Southwestern. He was instrumental during our tornado and made sure our students were safe, had a place to stay, and he remained in connection with them, their family and the media to make it the least disruptive situation possible for the students. He will be missed. His whole family will be missed, but we wish them well in the future and we know Matt will do a great job wherever he goes."
Bill Taylor: "He brought energy and new, young innovative ideas to Southwestern. He was very easy to communicate with, and the students liked and respected him. He was a big part of Southwestern. And, in a relatively short amount of time he developed very good relationships with community, faculty, staff and students. Personally, I'll miss him. We exercised together over the noon hour and had some great conversations. He was a positive influence on us all, and we wish him the best at Indian Hills."
Barb Crittenden: "I'm having mixed emotions because while I'm really sad, and I am genuinely sorry to see Matt leave us, because he was been an important part of our administration team, I'm happy for him, because I know he is going to have so many opportunities in his career. He is just really getting his career started. Being at an Iowa college, I'm going to be able to get to keep watching him and I will be cheering him on because I know he is going to have a lot of success."