Shannon O'Brien

Shannon O’Brien took over as dean of Missoula College on July 1.

Courtesy of University of Montana

As the bulldozers and construction crews continue work on the new $32 million Missoula College campus on East Broadway, a new dean has taken the helm to begin guiding the two-year school into the future.

Shannon O’Brien was named dean of Missoula College in May, taking over for the retiring Barry Good.

O’Brien, who began her duties at Missoula College on July 1, is a former education policy adviser to Gov. Steve Bullock and a longtime Missoula resident.

She earned a doctorate in educational leadership from the University of Montana.

O’Brien also holds a master’s degree in education from Gonzaga University.

She previously worked at the American School in Spain, Appalachian State University and school districts in Washington state. From 2009 to 2011, she was an adjunct professor at UM’s Phyllis J. Washington College of Education and Human Sciences.

That experience, O’Brien said, especially her most recent work for Bullock, has allowed her to gain a wide understanding of education at all levels.

Critical to that picture is the role two-year colleges play, she said.

The new Missoula College building, which O’Brien says will contain a host of state-of-the-art facilities to help prepare and propel graduates into the workforce, is set to be finished in the summer of 2017.

Below, O’Brien outlines more about how her past experience will help shape her vision for Missoula College, how the new facility will aid students, and how she’ll work to help connect graduates with jobs, and area businesses with quality employees.

How has your past experience as an education policy adviser helped prepare you to lead Missoula College?

It was a great honor to serve as Gov. Bullock’s policy adviser for education. In that role, I learned a great deal about education policy and best practices at all levels; from infancy through entry into the workforce, both at the state level and the national level. One of the primary things I learned is the critical role that two-year education plays in economic development. There is a significant heightened awareness of the value of post-secondary education, especially two-year education.

If you had to describe Missoula College to prospective students in one tweet, what would you say?

MC provides quality, affordable education with experienced, caring instructors for boundless opportunities in the workforce and beyond.

The new Missoula College facility is set to open in the spring of 2017. How do you see that facility helping advance the mission of Missoula College and prepare students for the workforce?

The new building will bring opportunities to serve more students with state-of-the-art and innovative tools. Additionally, the location will help students access resources on the mountain campus and allow us to build upon the strong relationships we have built with other programs.

The Culinary Arts students will offer riverside dining for breakfast, lunch, dinner and special events. Our health-care programs, including nursing and medical assisting, as well as respiratory, surgical and radiological technologies, will have state-of-the-art resources to prepare our students to be the best in their fields.

Many people argue that community college is a great avenue to earn a more affordable higher education degree that in turn allows graduates to enter the workforce earning higher wages. What is one specific example of a Missoula College program that fulfills that sentiment?

It’s true, tuition is significantly lower at Missoula College than most four-year institutions, plus students enter the workforce faster.

Students graduating with a certificate or degree in welding, for example, enter the workforce earning upwards of $20/hour, with a strong earning potential as they gain more experience. Health occupation salaries are even higher for recent graduates who are interested in radiology or respiratory technologies and nursing.

Alternately, both employers and graduates often grumble about the challenges of finding good workers and/or finding a good job after graduation. Do you think Missoula College should play a role in connection those dots? If so, what do you consider the best way to involve local business stakeholders on the campus?

The primary role of Missoula College is to understand the workforce needs and be adaptable to those needs.

I have already had numerous meetings with representatives of private industry to ensure that there is alignment between what we teach and what they need. Our instructors take that into consideration.

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