BY ALISON SMITH
After six years of calling herself a Dragon, MSUM president Edna Szymanski will retire this summer, saying goodbye to Moorhead and hello to her next chapter in her life.
Szymanski has led MSUM through some tough times, including the historical 2009 Red River flood as well as the financial problems made familiar with the recent faculty cuts.
“I came in. I found a large structural deficit,” she said. “The institution was in pretty severe financial problems before the recession hit.”
Szymanski was disappointed in all the negativity the university got with the recent faculty layoffs and wished people would recognize why certain decisions had to be made. In her eyes, it was for the good of the university.
“We had to eliminate these so that we could have new programs that met employer needs,” she said. “The place is in great shape. It’s fiscally sustainable.”
Szymanski made it part of her mission to directly connect with industry business leaders for the last four years in collaboration with the Greater Fargo-Moorhead Economic Development Corporation. These meetings have resulted in a better understanding of what employers need and expect from college graduates, making sure individuals are able to get a job applicable to their major and interests upon graduation.
As a result the university has modified curricula and programs, adding many new majors and emphases for the changing job market. Some of these include a bachelor’s in project management, master’s in both accounting and finance and an entrepreneurship minor and certificate.
The modification of programs to better suite employers’ needs as well as getting the university’s budget in a place that is “fiscally sustainable” are Szymanski’s proudest accomplishments, allowing her to leave MSUM confident with where the university is headed.
“It’s been a difficult presidency,” she said. “But, I feel I’ve left the institution in really good shape for the future. Every decision I have made has been about making it better for the students. After all, that’s the only reason we exist isn’t it?”
While she’s proud of what she was able to do for the university, Szymanski is more than ready for retirement.
“When you’re president, you never have a life. You’re always on call,” she said. “You know you’re responsible. And I can’t wait to be responsible for nothing other than myself, my husband and enjoying life.”
Szymanski is looking forward to exercising, getting enough sleep and taking care of health and happiness with her husband. She plans to focus on the four F’s of retirement other retirees often talk about: fun, fitness, faith and family.
As far as the future of the university, Szymanski has full confidence in president elect Anne Blackhurst.
“She is the best (leader) I have seen in my entire career,” Szymanski said about Blackhurst. “I couldn’t be happier to hand the place over.”
Because Szymanski was faced with multiple issues when she became president, she wanted to make sure the slate was wiped clean for when Blackhurst takes office. “We did all the hard stuff this past year,” she said.
“We had to tackle them because I refused to leave them to the next president.”
Szymanski’s advice for current and future students is to utilize all the university has to offer.
“I’ve worked at a lot of other places, and here the faculty and staff care more about the students,” she said. “This is a great place; take full advantage of it.”