After 20 years as a teacher of radio and television, David Nixon received a call that would change his life.
“I got a call one night from a firm that was looking for a president in Michigan and said, ‘You need to take a look at this job based upon your experience.’ ” That phone call in 2003 led to Nixon’s appointment as MCCC’s fourth president.
He resigned in November, and his last day will be July 31. Nixon grew up in Dakota City, a small Nebraska town with an area of only 1.2 sq miles.
“I got to attend a one-room country school,” Nixon recalled. “Mrs. Krause would teach us how to dance,” whenever the weather was too bad to go outside, he said.
Growing up, Nixon would watch the local radio station’s DJ. Living in the country, the disk jockeys would actually broadcast in the middle of a farm field. During the summer, while working on a nearby farm, he introduced himself.
“They were the ones that told me of a school that I could attend … in Minneapolis,” he said, “That successful training got me a job at a radio station.”
When he moved into television, one of his mentors suggested that he get a degree.
Besides earning his master’s in Mass Communications, he also earned his doctorate in Higher Education Administration at the University of South Dakota, which has helped him get to where he is today.
After 20 years in television and radio, he decided to become a teacher.
He said many people have influenced him, but the most influential mentor was his mother, who worked hard all of her life.
“Be nice to people, she always said that,” Nixon stated, “She would say even though something looks like a challenge or looks like it’s going to be difficult, try to look for the silver lining.”
Another major influence on Nixon was Jim Billings, a retired president of a college in Iowa.
Billings gave Nixon his first job as an administrator of a community college.
“We need someone to work in an administrative position in our college that develops resources, and marketing for the college,” Billings told him.
“He taught me the value of collaboration,” Nixon added.
Nixon was an administrator for a community college the size of MCCC in Iowa . They found they had a need for a swimming pool.
The community and the college were willing to work together to get a swimming pool on campus for everyone to use, he said.
“That was a $4.3 million project,” Nixon said. “As a result, that campus now has a wellness center that has a combined city and college library.”
When he retires, Nixon will have been MCCC’s president for 10 years. He talked to the chairman of the board last April about leaving, knowing that it takes time to find the next president.
“Once the search starts … the outgoing president is not involved in that process,” said Nixon.
Every president hopes to leave behind a legacy.
“I hope my legacy is what I’ve done for students,” Nixon said.
“My favorite moments are, of course, when the students graduate.”
Nixon suggests reading a book he has given to many students and colleagues called “Man’s search for meaning,” by Viktor Frankl.
Frankl’s memoir is about his struggle with surviving and escaping a Nazi concentration camp.
When asked why he gives this book to so many people, he said it’s about overcoming obstacles. Though things look tough now, there is always a silver lining, as his mother used to talk about.
“There are more than 10,000 people in Monroe County that do not have a GED,” said Nixon.
People can definitely relate to having to overcome obstacles in their education. As enrollment has grown, MCCC hasn’t received more funding, Nixon said.
“The greatest difficulty that a community college faces in Michigan is that our funding is not driven by the numbers of students we have,” Nixon said.
Over the last few years, MCCC has struggled to balance the budget without raising tuition, while still offering students an affordable education, Nixon said.
For example, the support staff agreed to take a pay freeze and hasn’t received a raise in four years, he said.
Despite the economic slump, the college has continued to create job opportunities for Monroe County and the surrounding areas, he said.
“In our welding grant, we placed more than 260 certified welders for great jobs,” he said.
Nixon also cited the college’s effort to create a new form of leadership called shared governance.
After two-and-a-half years of work, the college came up with three councils to replace the previous system, which had 17 committees. This includes a faculty council, a support staff council, and an administrator council.
Proposals come through each of the councils, and are decided upon once a month.
“I have a great deal of respect for the faculty,” Nixon said.
“More than 80 percent of our actual, of our total funding here at the college, goes for paying our faculty and staff,” he said.
Nixon said he has had a great 10 years, teaching and also being taught. “I owe the college a lot and the reason is because I’ve been going to school nhere at the college the last 10 years in this job,” he said.
“Thank you, Monroe County Community College for giving me an education.”