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Board OKs contract for new BTC boss

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ANN MARIE AMES
June 29, 2010
— Despite his long list of academic degrees, Tom Eckert said the passion for his work comes from his start as a “farm kid.”

He is thrilled to be moving back to Wisconsin, where he will advocate for technical education and maybe do a little gardening on the side.


The Blackhawk Technical College Board on Monday unanimously approved a contract with Eckert to replace retiring President Eric A. Larson. Larson’s last day on the job is Wednesday.


Larson announced his retirement plans in October after 12 years on the job.


The board interviewed six finalists for the position. A 22-person committee guided the search for a new president, and BTC held forums to gain public input.


Eckert isn’t new to technical education or Wisconsin.


Since 2007, he has been the president of Bellingham Technical College in Bellingham, Wash.


Before that, he held three positions for 14 years at Nicolet Area Technical College in Rhinelander. He worked as the director of student development and vice president of student services before spending nine years as the vice president of college services.


He also was academic advisor/instructor of special services at Central Washington University in Ellensburg, Wash., from 1984-93. He served in the United States Air Force at Lowry Air Force Base in Denver, Colo., as behavioral science officer/wing safety officer from 1980-84.


Eckert calls himself a huge advocate for technical education. The more he learns about it, the more he loves it, he said.


“It’s a real strong part of my belief system,” Eckert said. “I think it’s going to become more and more important that we have highly trained technical people to do what needs to be done in this country.”


Those people will be needed to care for an aging population and aging infrastructure, Eckert said.


Technical jobs support middle class families, he said.


Although technical education is his passion, Eckert had to go the academic route to get where he is. He earned a bachelor’s degree in psychology from Washington State University in Pullman, Wash. He earned a master’s degree in counseling psychology at Central Washington University in Ellensburg, Wash., and a doctorate in educational leadership at Seattle University.


He sought an academic education because his parents believed strongly in it, Eckert said. But his love of hands-on training started while he grew up on a dairy farm in Washington state, he said.


“I find this (technical education) for me, personally, is the most meaningful part of secondary education,” Eckert said. “The more I’ve been exposed to technical training, the more of an advocate I become. I am a huge advocate for technical training and the impact it has for business and industry.”


Eckert’s wife, Robin, is a Wisconsin native. After working in Rhinelander for 14 years, the couple call Wisconsin home, he said. They describe themselves as farm kids and look forward to having a nice, big garden when they move to the area, he said.


Eckert will start Aug. 30. His salary will be $165,000.


The other finalists, chosen from a pool of 40, were:


-- Kathleen Brock, dean of instruction at Ridgewater College with campuses in Willmar and Hutchinson, Minn., since 2007.


-- Mark Curtis, vice president of instruction at Alpena Community College in Alpena, Mich., since 2007.


-- Bruce Exstrom, president of Allegany College of Maryland in Cumberland since 2008 and president-elect of the college from 2006-08.


-- Harry Muir, vice president of instruction at Pima Community College in Tucson, Ariz., since 1994.


-- Sheila Ruhland, vice president of instruction at Rockingham Community College in Wentworth, N.C., since 2007.



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