Winona State University vice presidents Jim Schmidt and Connie Gores are both leaving this year to become presidents at other universities.
It’s become a growing trend at WSU: At least two other WSU administrators in the past decade have gone on to head colleges and universities across the country.
University leaders with roots at Winona State include Troy Paino, the president of Truman State University in Missouri, and UW–La Crosse chancellor Joe Gow.
Both speak of a “special sauce” of leadership and a reputation of academic excellence that helped them grow and develop into the leaders they are today.
Gow was the dean of the college of liberal arts at WSU from 2001 until 2004 before heading off for leadership positions at another university and then becoming chancellor at UW-La Crosse in 2007.
“WSU was just the right size to give an administrator a good exposure to a range of responsibilities,” Gow said.
He also found strong mentors, he said, particularly in former WSU president Darrell Krueger. He said Krueger was a key person in his growth and was very supportive of continual professional development for all staff.
Gow said he was very appreciative of his time at WSU and glad he was able to return to the region.
“I never dreamed that experience would lead to where I am today,” he said, “just across the river from where I started.”
Paino came from a similar background to Gow, serving as a faculty member at Winona State until 2004, when he took over as dean when Gow left. Paino became provost of Truman State in 2008 before becoming president of the university.
Paino gives a lot of credit to Krueger, as well as to Krueger’s successor, Judith Ramaley, as mentors. Paino said Krueger believed in a “lean and mean” administrative structure that helped push and grow the staff. It wasn’t unusual for Krueger to bring deans into high-level discussions and issues, Paino said. He said the structure gave him and others the opportunity to do many things at WSU and take on a lot of responsibilities.
He also gave a lot of credit to the Winona community, particularly the entrepreneurial spirit he found when he got involved in groups like the Great River Shakespeare Festival and the Frozen River Film Festival.
“It’s that spirit of wanting to create new and interesting things,” Paino said. “It really inspires future leaders.”
For Gores, the experience at WSU was all about the people, because she said WSU attracts high-caliber talent.
Before coming to WSU, she served as a vice president at three other institutions and said she chose WSU because it was the best place and best fit.
“First and foremost, it’s the people we attract to the institution,” she said. “WSU truly attracts top-tier employees and the campus has had a history of student, faculty and staff engagement.”
She admitted there is always a little luck involved, too.
“It’s all about having the right people at the right time,” Gores said. “They can grow and prosper and see the opportunities out there. That’s the sweet spot, and when you reach that it is almost magical.”