SHELDON—Mark Brown has kept the books at Northwest Iowa Community College in Sheldon for years, but he’s ready to graduate into retirement.
He came on staff as executive director of operations and finance in 2007 and was promoted to vice president of the department in 2010.
With the end of his career on the horizon, The REVIEW spoke with the college’s longtime administrator to reflect on the last 14 years:
Q: Why have you been in this line of work for so long? Did you just fall into it early on or is there a specific reason? What’s your origin story?
A: I served on the Northwest Iowa Community College Board of Trustees for a few years before becoming an employee. Through that board position, I became familiar with the great work that NCC was doing, and the dedicated staff that worked at the college.
When the position came open, I helped to review the applications. During that process, I decided to throw my hat into the ring as a candidate, and fortunately was chosen for the job by (former president) Dr. Bill Giddings. I’ve made the comment more than once that the NCC job found me. At that time, I was not really looking to change careers.
Q: When I think “finance director,” I just imagine being hunched over a calculator all day. What’s a typical shift actually look like for you?
A: I am thankful to work with a very talented staff who capably take care of all of the day-to-day financial details. More of my time is focused on either big picture financial issues, or issues that don’t really involve finances at all. Meetings take up 60 percent of my work day. Specific financial projects account for 30 percent of my time outside of meetings. Policy issues account for the majority of time outside meetings.
Q: The college has changed a lot over just the past couple years. How would you characterize the new era for the school from your position as someone so connected to NCC?
A: We recently put together a graphic for a public presentation that documented 22 significant facility projects that had occurred over the past 13 years. Most of these occurred under the direction of President (Alethea) Stubbe with (former facilities director) Doug Rodger providing tactical oversight. Several of the projects were funded through internal dollars. The most recent renovation of our automotive area and the new construction of our diesel technology area was accomplished thanks to our supportive area taxpayers who approved our general obligation bond.
All these improvements were done with the express purpose of delivering quality education to our students. These facility improvements combined with smart, caring, hardworking instructors and staff will continue to elevate the institution in the years ahead. And our exciting upcoming health building project, will certainly continue this momentum.
Another area of rapid change has been the redesign of internal processes that support student outreach, registration, financial aid and student learning. These processes typically are IT intensive, have many stakeholders and are subject to the scrutiny and monitoring of several outside regulatory agencies including the Department of Education. These processes will continue to evolve.
Q: You’re retiring around the same time as President Stubbe (who is retiring June 30). It’s a time of change. What does the future look like as you head out the door?
A: I think the future is very bright for NCC and community colleges in general. Rural America needs a skilled workforce, and community colleges have been and will continue to be a major driving force due to our open access policy that welcomes all learners, regardless of your socioeconomic status or ethnic background. Specific to NCC, I have every confidence that the next generation of leaders will capably respond to the challenges and opportunities coming down the road.
Q: What are you looking forward to in retirement? Is there a trip or hobby you’ve been meaning to take up? Are there grandkids? A different vocation? What’s next for you?
A: (My wife) Lori and I will look to travel and spend more time with our children and our grandson. I look forward to staying active, including workouts at the NCC LLRC, riding my bicycle and serving as a reading volunteer in the public school system.
I will continue to work with Love INC and the Chalmers Center with training volunteers across the country on faith-based strategies that support low-resourced people who are working to get their financial lives in order.
Q: With everything you’ve done, what’s your thesis? What’s the theme that ties your career together?
A: First, success through teamwork. Higher education is way too complicated to go it alone. You need the experience, expertise and talent of your co-workers to move things forward. Any public acclaims I may receive as a vice president is 100 percent due to the skills and talents of my professional colleagues who I trust and rely on every working day. Many of my co-workers are recognized as state leaders by the Iowa community college system.
Second, President Stubbe continually emphasizes two fundamental core values: service and success. That consistent message has really resonated with me over the years. All NCC employees want to see our students and fellow co-workers succeed. Equally important, all NCC employees want to give back to our local communities. I take great pride in working for an organization that supports and promotes these ideals.