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McClellon ready to lead RCTC

When Leslie McClellon officially takes over Rochester Community and Technical College on Tuesday, becoming only the second permanent president since the college's merger in 1996, she will be in charge of a college very different from the one inherited by the last permanent leader, Don Supalla.

Forty percent of the college's more than 8,300 students are considered low-income, up from 25 percent seven years ago. Many more first-generation students and part-time students now go to RCTC than ever before. One in four students is minority, a 34 percent leap from 2007. And a third of the college's students now take their coursework online, an option that didn't exist two decades ago.

If two-year colleges are the PT boats of higher education, it now falls to McClellon to keep the RCTC ship nimble and flexible through waters expected to be turbulent and fast-changing.

"The No. 1 challenge is keeping pace with the needs of the community," McClellon said during a recent interview. "There are times when the community needs change faster than we can change as an institution. I think higher education institutions face that across the country."

McClellon, 45, has 20 years of experience in higher education. Her last job was as vice president of student affairs at Community College of Denver, a two-year college that primarily serves Hispanic students.


She is the first from outside the Minnesota State Colleges and University system and RCTC to reach the top job. She succeeds Gail O'Kane, who took over on an interim basis after the first search failed to identify a candidate.

McClellon said she had harbored ambitions of becoming a college president but wasn't actively searching for a job until a friend told her she had nominated her for the RCTC opening. McClellon's personality and energy quickly made an impression in the interview process, and she became the unanimous No. 1 pick of the various constituency involved in the search, from students and faculty to business and community leaders.

Mike Wenzel, an RCTC sophomore and president of the college's student body, said the qualities that made McClellon stand out in the interview process have generated an excitement on campus.

"There's just an energy about her," Wenzel said. "She has a vision for RCTC and for this community to really make this institution great."

McClellon doesn't get too specific about her plans for RCTC. She said she intends to launch a communitywide discussion about the college's strategic direction some time within the next year. She also noted it generally takes college presidents about a year to get to know their jobs, to listen and learn about the culture.

Her arrival coincides at a unique time, when the college will be both honoring its past and focused on the future. Next fall, the college will open the Career and Technical Education Center at Heintz (commonly referred to as C-TECH), a joint RCTC-Rochester Public Schools' effort to revive vocational and technical education for high school students.

RCTC also will celebrate its 100th anniversary next year. And off into the horizon is the anticipated growth and building boom many predict will happen in the Rochester area, as the city transforms into global health-care destination anchored by Mayo Clinic.

"Those are the things that were appealing," McClellon said, when she first began to research the college. "When I saw that RCTC was going to be 100, I thought that was great and awesome."


For all the demographic changes taking place at RCTC, Supalla said the biggest challenges McClellon likely will face are those connected to Destination Medical Center, the private-public partnership that leaders predict will bring in $5.6 billion in private investment and generate 35,000 jobs in 20 years. RCTC will be among the educational institutions at the forefront of meeting the area's workforce needs, people say.

"I think what Leslie is going to experience, if there is going to be a change in academic programming, it's going to be brought on by DMC and what transpires out of the DMC master plan," Supalla said.

As she approaches the beginning of her college presidency, McClellon said she is aware of "stepping into this whole new realm."

"I'm excited to be here," McClellon said. "It is an awesome opportunity. We're going to do some great things. I'm ready to go."

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