On the first day of classes at Owens Community College last Monday, Mike Bower headed out to walk the campus, map in hand.
As expected, a young man soon approached him, asked if he worked there, and could he help him find the transportation building? Never mind that Mr. Bower is the new president at Owens. He was soon directing the student to the pedestrian footbridge across Oregon Road.
"He said, 'I appreciate it. By the way, what is it you do here?' I said, 'I'm the president,' " Mr. Bower recalled. " 'Oh, I feel bad,' he said. I said, 'It's our job.'
"It doesn't matter who you are -- your title -- we're here to help our students. … I used to be a student and I would get lost and somebody helped me out, and I think that's important."
Not only was Mr. Bower, 62, a student once, the former president of Lake Region State College in Devils Lake, N.D., was a student at a two-year college not so different from Owens.
THE BLADE/JEREMY WADSWORTH Enlarge | Buy This Photo
After growing up in Chillicothe, Ohio, he had dreams of studying agriculture at Ohio State University but couldn't afford it. He wound up at Vincennes University in Indiana, where he received an associate's degree in automotive technology. The two-year school ended up being the right place for him.
"This is what I tell students: do your first two years at the two-year school," he said. "You'll save money. You'll be in smaller classes. You'll have very good rapport with your faculty. You'll have people that will help you. Then you can finish those two years."
Mr. Bower arrived at Owens on July 1 as its sixth president, replacing Larry McDougle, who retired Sept. 30. Mr. Bower and his wife, Carol, have settled into a home in Monclova Township, both thrilled to be closer to their son, daughter-in-law, and two grandchildren, who live north of Indianapolis.
Rich Rowe, vice chairman of the board of trustees, said various groups on campus met with finalists for the president's job before settling on Mr. Bower. He was given a three-year contract with a $200,000-a-year salary, a $1,250 monthly housing allowance, and use of a college-owned vehicle.
"There was wide acceptance and recommendation of Mike," Mr. Rowe said. "For me and many on the board, he had a very extensive background that could relate to many of the groups: students, faculty, staff, and the community."
His resume is not a traditional one for a college president, beginning with that associate's degree and later a bachelor's in industrial supervision that landed him jobs in a paper mill, an automotive company, and a television picture-tube plant.
He served three years in the Army and was involved with training and apprenticeship programs with the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers.
Mr. Bower was 40 before he received a master of business administration degree from Indiana Wesleyan University. He later taught evening classes at Indiana University's Kokomo campus. That's where his passion for education grew, he said.
He obtained a doctorate in education administration, curriculum, and instruction from the University of Nebraska at Lincoln and held a variety of administrative jobs at colleges in five states, including Mott Community College in Flint, Mich. He became president of the 3,000-student Lake Region State College in 2008 -- a much smaller school than Owens, which has more than 18,000 credit and noncredit students.
Despite its smaller size, Mr. Bower said Lake Region had a large number of international students and four residence halls. He's big on attracting international students, not so enthusiastic about having residence halls.
"That is a difference because you've got a community within itself and you have students and yes, you have challenges on weekends," he said.
Mr. Bower says he's committed to students -- not numbers.
He said he wants students to succeed, even if that means talking them out of enrolling in a degree program because they're simply not suited for it. He said he wants to work with area school districts to reach students as young as sixth grade, to get them in the mind-set of college and career. Career camps are one way to do that.
"I think it's very important if you can get to the students at that age and give them a good understanding of what those professions are about, it really starts a learning environment," he said.
Brad Fields, student government president at Owens, said Mr. Bower has been all over campus and the community getting acquainted and spreading his enthusiasm for Owens.
"I think he's really going to care about the students," he said. "He wants to know every aspect of the school."
Mr. Bower said he thoroughly looked into the factors that led to the National League for Nursing Accrediting Commission rescinding Owens' accreditation for its registered nursing program in 2009. He said the problems that led to the accreditation loss have been resolved and stressed that the program never lost its standing with the Ohio Board of Nursing or its ability to train and graduate nurses.
He said he is confident the college will regain its accreditation with the nursing commission in January when the commission visits.
"When they come in, I think they will find out that everything is in place that they asked for," he said. "They will put the official accreditation seal on the fact that the nursing program has met all those requirements that they asked them to meet."
Mr. Bower promised he will rely on staff and faculty to help him guide the college.
"If you've got the right people in place … responsible for that part of the organization, which we do here and I did my research on the school here, you can make good things happen," he said. "The president is not going to be out there controlling and micromanaging, and if he is, shame on him or her. Your responsibility is to have good people in place."
Contact Jennifer Feehan at: email@example.com or 419-724-6129.