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NEW LEADER AT DETROIT LAKES COLLEGE: Whelihan named M State provost

Though he just took on the position of interim provost at Minnesota State Community & Technical College in Detroit Lakes, Tom Whelihan is no stranger to M State, or to the community.

"This is my 14th year here," he said Wednesday.

Whelihan first came to Detroit Lakes when he was hired to work at the local tech college campus in March 1997; at the time, it was still named Northwest Technical College.

"I was hired as the financial aid director," he said.

Since then, Whelihan has held several other positions with the college, from director of admissions to college registrar and most recently, dean of student services.

"I was also the acting vice president of student affairs during the reorganization, right before we became M State," he said.

A native of Duluth, Whelihan served as financial aid administrator at Duluth Business University and director of financial aid at Cosmetology Careers Unltd., in both Duluth and Hibbing.

"I lived there (in Duluth) right up until the time I came to Detroit Lakes," he said.

His youngest son, Nick, will be a junior this fall at Detroit Lakes High School, while older son Tony works in construction.

"I like spending time with my boys," he said.

When he's not working at the college, Whelihan's interests include golfing, reading, and a passion for antique automobiles.

"I like old cars," he said, noting that he has two vintage Lincoln Town Cars at home. "They're my favorite."

Whelihan's passion for vintage automobiles came about, he says, while he was working for a Lincoln Mercury dealership in Duluth as a teenager.

"I started working there when I was 13, and I worked in the auto business for 18 years," he said. "I just never outgrew that fondness for automobiles."

When he applied for the financial aid job at Northwest Technical College, Whelihan said he was also under consideration for a similar position with the University of Minnesota in the Twin Cities.

He chose the position in Detroit Lakes, and has been here ever since.

"This is a really alive and dynamic place to work, which has made it fun," he said.

All the changes that have taken place on the campus since he started have kept things interesting, Whelihan added.

As provost, he will essentially serve as the campus CEO, overseeing facility operations, academic and student affairs.

"All campus activities fall under the purview of the provost," he said. "The position is also a political one -- you're out building collaborative relationships and partnerships with community leaders in business and industry, as well as secondary and post-secondary (educational) partners."

Since M State added "community college" to its name, the campus has also expanded its mission to include a liberal arts emphasis, Whelihan said.

"We serve a broad range of educational needs in the community," he said.

For instance, students can now complete the first two years of their general education coursework at the local college, then transfer those credits to a four-year college or university to complete their bachelor's degree.

"Some of the advantages of our college are that we have a very talented, educated and dedicated staff, small class sizes, and we're affordable (i.e., tuition is lower), relative to our higher education partners," he said.

Whelihan believes these are just some of the reasons why enrollment at M State has risen steadily over the last three years. Current enrollment stands at about 1,600 full and part-time students per year, with about 900 full-time students attending classes each semester.

Other reasons: "We're doing a better job of marketing and aligning our programmatic offerings to meet the needs of the community, and our student affairs staff has done a great job of helping those going through our enrollment process," he said.

The "economic slowdown" has also brought more people back to campus for re-training to change careers, and "we're trying to broaden our online presence," Whelihan added. The ultimate goal, he said, is to have "continued, measured growth in our enrollment."

"We want to continue to be a relevant player in the community, and in the economic vitality of the region," he added.

Vicki Gerdes

Staff writer at Detroit Lakes Newspapers for the past 16 years, currently editor of the entertainment and community pages as well as covering city council and the Lake Park-Audubon School Board. Living in DL with my cat, Smokey.

(218) 844-1454