SCCC welcomes its 12th president

Greg Gunderson came to Seward County Community College from Park University, a private four-year institute in Kansas City. During his free time Gunderson likes to make pens out of wood. A senator has one of his pens since Gunderson likes to give his pens to people after he makes them.

Greg Gunderson has become Seward County Community College’s 12th president after a six-month absence in that position. The new president officially arrived on campus Dec. 1. Gunderson was previously at Parks University, a four-year institution near the Kansas City area. He served as the president for Park for five years and then President-Emeritus as their college transitioned to their next president. 

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One of Gunderson’s major areas of focus during his presidency will be student success. He believes that institutions like SCCC are built on an upside-down pyramid with a major focus on students and sees himself at the bottom. Gunderson’s goal is to engage the student body through attending events and classes to build a strong rapport.

“Students are the most important thing,” Gunderson reinforced. “My first area of focus is on student safety, student success and seeing to it that we meet the needs of the people we serve.

“Higher education doesn’t transform your lives, you transform your lives, you use the tools we create, so my attitude is I need to find out what it is you need from us, so you can harness all of your abilities,” said Gunderson.

The importance of the college experience is not lost on Gunderson. He understands how formative one’s college experience can shape their future career. Gunderson credits joining student government during his college time as what led him to his current profession. Starting off as an accounting major turned into him becoming student government treasurer. This club position challenged him and taught him about politics and people — it went beyond numbers in the classroom and gave him the skills to be successful. 

“I wouldn’t be sitting here today if I hadn’t had that experience,” said Gunderson. 

On his very first day of work — filled with introductions, meetings and learning how SCCC functions — Gunderson opened his schedule up for Crusader staff. Below are further questions to get to know SCCC’s new president.

UpClose with Greg Gunderson, new SCCC president

My favorite experience in college was in student government and I was the student body treasurer. I was an accounting student but before I became a treasurer for student government, I really didn’t understand what finance was really about. I learned a lot about politics and people – things that had nothing to do with numbers. I wouldn’t be sitting here today if I hadn’t had that experience.
It’s always hard to ask a president because we don’t do things in a few words. I would say I am transparent, I am honest and I am committed to doing what is right.
Another word for it is the chief executive officer. The keyword in that is executive is to execute, so this institute has a set of rules, procedures, policies and by-laws the chief executive officer is responsible to see to it that they are implemented. The board quite rightfully sets the direction of the institution and establishes the processes and procedures. The president is responsible for the day-to-day operations of the institution.
Policies should be driven by what our public health officials tell us. Both here in Kansas and in my experience in Missouri – you monitor hospitalization rates, you monitor how many beds are available in the ICU and emergency room and you begin to examine the infection rate within your student population. Those kinds of things will drive changes in policy.

People often look at us and say ‘how did you deal with this last time’ – this is a new experience, it’s been a century since we have had a pandemic as a society. I can assure you that none of us have any more experience than you do.

My belief is that we have to monitor the data – the newest variant is of concern because it is highly communicable. The initial data is that it appears to have come less lethal in some ways. My hope is that everyone gets vaccinated that can, I have had my vaccinations and boosters as have my wife and children. I think we have to take responsibility and that responsibility will likely expand to masks if cases expand again. Anyone that can tell you with certainty what we will do is probably mistaken because we are going to respond based on data. Another variant may pop up, other things may accrue – there aren’t any magic answers to this but I think we have learned a lot in the first round.

We have had [at Park University] a very strong policy response and I expect us to shoot for the same standard here. To not just protect your lives but the lives of your extended family and our faculty and staff in the process.

That to me is the right thing to do and we will always be what is the right thing to do.

The first thing I would work on may seem redundant to you but it’s listening. I would like to spend some time listening to students, faculty and staff. I have discovered in my career that the challenges an organization faces and solutions are evident to the people that are involved just no one ever asks. I would like to hear from people where the opportunities are and try to develop a plan to implement them.
I plan to have open office hours once a week. I haven’t worked through with staff yet what day it will be one. Open office hours anyone can come through the door for any reason: faculty, staff, students, parents or community members. It’s one of the ways – you have to create opportunities. I will attend as many sporting events as I can and student clubs I am made aware of. If faculty ask me to step into their class, I will do so. I believe very strongly that in order to serve students I have to engage with them.
I hope so… there is a midnight breakfast that is going to be served I believe next week. I will be wearing an apron and serving food at that event. There is a holiday parade this Saturday as well as some additional basketball games – I will be attending both. I am hoping to get involved in all sorts of ways. I would like to actually even take some classes – I saw that you had glass blowing and I am really intrigued by that. I would like to take some classes with students and interact with you not in a suit but just as a normal person.
From what I have discovered is that international students come to an institution very strong academically but don’t always have everything they need to be successful. We have students I imagine here that arrive and aren’t used to winters or aren’t used to the summers. They have experienced different weather so you have to do fundraising so that there are gloves and jackets for when they need them.

I also find international students very adventurous, they didn’t come here because they are wimps or are afraid of things – they came to embrace a challenge. At the same time, they are leaving behind a culture and a community and we have to see to it that they embed into ours – that they have a chance to embrace the American experience that they came here for. We have to see to it while they are adventurous – we give them opportunities to leverage that so when they leave here they take away not just a degree but an understanding of our culture and society.

I have always found international students the hardest working students because they have had to sacrifice a lot to get here and they are here to be a success. So there is a lot to be admired there.
I have a lot of hobbies. I enjoy woodworking and making pens and a day off where I can build something that actually does something productive and valuable is a lot of fun to me. I am also a big reader so a day with a book is a day I always enjoy. Those are things I enjoy doing on a regular basis.

Mauricio Gonzalez also contributed to this story. The answers have been edited and condensed.