Montana State University Billings announced on Thursday that Joseph Oravecz, dean of student affairs at the University of Nebraska Kearny, will be its next vice chancellor for student affairs.
“I’m equally humbled, excited and thrilled to be able to join MSUB in this exciting time of transition,” he said.
The position has been vacant since January, when Stacy Klippenstein left to become president of Miles Community College in Miles City, and Thursday’s announcement marks one of the first official acts by recently hired Chancellor Mark Nook.
“Joe brings over 25 years of higher education experience to MSU Billings,” Nook said. “His expertise and energy will make an immediate impact on our campus as we look to graduate more students from our institution over the next several years.”
Oravecz’s duties at MSUB will include overseeing the student affairs division, related matters and enrollment.
Since 2010, he’s performed similar duties in his current position at UNK, a school of about 7,000 students in a town of about 30,000. Before that, he was associate vice president for student affairs at Bowling Green State University in Ohio from 2007 to 2010, as dean of students at the University of Bridgeport in Connecticut, associate dean of students at Syracuse University in New York and other higher education positions dating back to the late 1980s.
Oravecz earned a bachelor’s degree in psychology in 1988 from Gettysburg College, a master’s in higher education and student affairs in 1992 from Ohio State University and a doctorate in higher education administration in 2002 from Florida State University.
When he first heard of the open position at MSUB, Oravecz sought out Ed Whipple, a mentor from his days at Bowling Green who worked at MSUB back when it was known as Eastern Montana College.
“He indicated to me, ‘You would absolutely love MSUB and the Billings community,’ ” Oravecz said. “As a mentor, I take his word strongly and I decided to pursue it.”
Further research on MSUB and Billings solidified that desire as he “saw new opportunities that aligned with my values.”
One of the duties in his new role will task Oravecz with working on MSUB’s enrollment. The 2013-2014 school year was the first time in five years that enrollment there has dropped below 5,000.
He said on Thursday that taking a close look at the current student body — such as the kind of students who are being recruited, what kind of programs they’re taking and the state of their financial situations — and using that information to address enrollment will play a key role.
“We need to look at the current data that’s available,” Oravecz said. “You always need to look at the composition of the current student body and you need to look at that over the last five to years and how it has changed.”
Nook said Thursday that he’ll be counting on Oravecz to do just that.
“As our chief student affairs officer, Joe is going to help us grow enrollment and enhance our ability to retain and graduate students, building on institution’s foundation of access and excellence,” he said.
Oravecz described himself as the son of a plumber and an administrative assistant who is a “first-generation student.” He said that upbringing helped instill an appreciation for higher education in many forms, something he plans to bring to his workings with two-year and certificate programs, including at MSUB’s City College.
“There are so many opportunities for continuing on in higher education, whether it’s a certificate, a two-year or four-year degree or beyond,” he said. “You need to be able to articulate that in the community.”
He will take over MSUB’s student affairs division on Aug. 25, pending approval by the Montana University System Board of Regents.