The first of four finalists for Montana State University Billings' soon-to-be-vacant chancellor position visited campus on Monday, where he met with faculty and school officials before holding an open forum later in the day.
Ricardo Maestas, special assistant to the Texas State University System chancellor and a professor at Sul Ross State University in Alpine, Texas, spent about an hour on Monday evening speaking with about 40 MSUB students and faculty and community members.
"I'm very honored and pleased to be here," he said.
MSUB Chancellor Rolf Groseth announced earlier this year that he will retire in May after three years in the position.
Maestas spent about 30 minutes giving a presentation on how he'd approach Gov. Steve Bullock's goal of increasing the number of Montanans with post-secondary certificates from 40 percent to 60 percent.
"It's a very important aspect of producing what I consider a highly educated workforce," he said.
He said that a number of strategies should be applied to reaching the goal, starting with increasing the number of area high school students in dual-enrollment courses, including through efforts to ensure more teachers at high schools are qualified to teach such courses.
Reaching out to former students who never graduated and convincing them to finish will also play an important role, he said.
"We may not get all of them but we can certainly move forward with bringing in some of them," Maestas said.
He also proposed working with area businesses and focusing on the MSUB and City College programs that line up with fast-growing and in-demand jobs and industries in the region.
For the second half of the forum, Maestas answered questions from the crowd. In answering a question about how to allocate resources between MSUB's four-year programs and City College's two-year efforts, he said he didn't have the specific information to give a specific answer, but that he believes they both need to be fostered.
"I think both play an important role," he said.
He told the group that he's very comfortable in a fundraising role, having worked to bring in private, state and federal money for previous institutions.
When asked how co-workers would describe his leadership style, Meastas said that he is focused on collaboration and is data-driven but has high standards and expects his employees to be problem-solvers.
"You better walk in with two solutions to every problem you have," he said.
The remaining three candidates will be on campus throughout the week, with each holding an open forum at 4:30 p.m. in room 148 in the library on the day they visit campus.
On Tuesday, Michael Droge, president of Park University in Parkville, Mo., will be on campus, followed by Margaret Madden, provost and vice president for Academic Affairs and a professor at State University of New York, on Wednesday.
The final candidate, University of Wisconsin System senior vice president for academic affairs Mark Nook, visits MSUB on Friday.
Terry Leist, Montana State University vice president for administration and finance, said that the 18-person chancellor search committee, which he chairs, will meet next week to discuss the four candidates.
Soon after, it will pass along a list of pros and cons of each candidate to MSU President Waded Cruzado, who will meet with each candidate before making a final decision.