Higher education

Kirkwood Community College to name new president Thursday

One of four finalists will replace Mick Starcevich

Cedar Rapids’ 51-year-old Kirkwood Community College on Thursday will announce its selection for who will succeed outgoing President Mick Starcevich as the institution’s fifth head.

Administrators will unveil the new president at a 4:30 p.m. news conference in Iowa Hall on Kirkwood’s main campus. The Kirkwood Board of Trustees at a subsequent meeting will vote to approve an employment agreement with the new hire, who is scheduled to officially take over for Starcevich in June.

The announcement follows a lengthy nationwide search led by a committee of board members, administrators, faculty, staff, and students. That group narrowed a pool of more than 60 applicants to nine semifinalists and then four finalists, who visited campus in November.

Finalists include: Kristie Fisher, Iowa assistant vice president and senior director of strategic partnerships with ACT, Inc. and former Kirkwood vice president; Steve Schulz, president of North Iowa Area Community College in Mason City — a smaller institution about 130 miles northwest of Kirkwood; Lori Sunberg, a former businesswoman-turned-academic who heads Carl Sandburg College, a two-year community college in Galesburg, Ill.; and Michael Thomson, president of Cuyahoga Community College in Ohio.

Consultant Larry Ebbers, an Iowa State University professor emeritus, helped run the search, earning him $7,500 — not including expenses. Following the finalists’ campus visits, Kirkwood collected feedback via online submission forms and written comments during public forums.

Starcevich, who turns 70 this year, announced in January his plans to retire next summer, giving the school plenty of time to find a successor and transition leadership. He’s leaving after 14 years on the job.

The Finalists

Since 2013 Michael Thomson has served as president and executive officer for the eastern campus with Cuyahoga Community College, Ohio’s first community college. The institution as a whole offers courses in more than 190 programs and serves more than 55,000 credit and noncredit students annually.


With the eastern campus, Thomson oversees programming for more than 5,000 students and a $23 million budget. He served as a campus vice president before taking the helm of the east campus and also was dean of academic affairs on one of the campuses.

He’s the only candidate without any academic experience in Iowa — he earned a bachelor’s degree from Pennsylvania State University and a master’s and doctorate from University of Kentucky — all in political science.

Lori Sundberg has been president of Carl Sandburg College since 2010. Before taking the helm, Sunberg served in vice president, dean, and director roles for the community college of about 2,000 students.

She earned a cosmetology certificate from the school in 1977 and then a bachelor’s degree in economics and history from Knox College in Galesburg, followed by a master of business administration in marketing from Western Illinois University, and a doctorate in business administration from St. Ambrose University in Iowa.

In her resume, Sundberg refers to herself as a “dedicated, visionary higher education professional.”

Steve Schulz has been servings as North Iowa Area Community College president just up the road since 2013. Before that, he was provost of the Des Moines Area Community College’s Carroll campus from 2006 to 2013, and he coordinated DMACC’s 2+2 program with University of Northern Iowa from 2004 to 2006.

Before jumping to higher education, Schulz rose through the K-12 ranks — first working as a secondary social studies teacher and cross-country coach and then advancing to junior high and senior high principal of Plainfield Community School in Plainfield, middle school principal with the Carroll Community Schools, and then superintendent of the Carroll district.

He earned a bachelor’s degree in education and history from Wartburg; a master’s in education administration from UNI; an education specialist degree from Drake University; and a doctorate in educational leadership and policy studies from Iowa State University.


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Kristie Fisher has the most Kirkwood-specific experience, stretching all the way back to her own undergraduate education, when she earned a Kirkwood associate degree in liberal arts. She went on to get a bachelor’s in communication studies from University of Iowa, a master of business administration from UI, and a doctorate in higher education from Iowa State, where she completed a dissertation titled, “Service on the community college campus: The millennial generation perspective.”

Her first stint working at Kirkwood started in 1995, when she was hired as annual giving director. She left to direct community relations for the College Community School District in Cedar Rapids, but returned to Kirkwood in 2004 as its director of special projects and assistant to the president.

Fisher’s last post at Kirkwood before leaving for ACT was as vice president of student services. As ACT’s assistant vice president, she leads a team of market experts who served in K-12, collegiate, and university roles, as well as workforce development, to inform and support short- and long-term strategy.

l Comments: (319) 339-3158; vanessa.miller@thegazette.com

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