NDSU can thrive, not just survive, presidential candidate Hesham El-Rewini says
The fourth candidate to visit campus is a former University of North Dakota Dean. Mary Holz-Clause, a leader for the University of Minnesota Crookston and Morris campuses, will visit NDSU Thursday, Feb. 3.
FARGO — North Dakota State University has faced challenging times over the last several years, but Hesham El-Rewini said he sees the hard times as a call to action.
“Surviving is not the goal,” the provost and senior vice president of academic affairs for Marymount University in Washington, D.C., said Wednesday, Feb. 2, at the Memorial Union. “Thriving is the goal.”
The fourth of five candidates to visit NDSU for the presidential search said many colleges and universities across the country will survive the challenges amplified by the coronavirus pandemic, but few will thrive. NDSU could be one of the latter, he said.
“Those are the ones that take advantage of this defining moment,” he said of thriving schools.
El-Rewini is familiar with North Dakota. Before going to D.C., he was the engineering dean and a senior vice provost at the University of North Dakota. His wife, Sherine, also completed her medical training in Fargo through Sanford Health, so they spent a lot of time in the city, he said.
He also was a computer science and engineering chair at Southern Methodist University in Dallas and an interim computer science chair for the University of Nebraska Omaha.
During his public forum, El-Rewini emphasized building a culture of trust, openness, transparency and positivity. NDSU faculty and staff have noted these qualities are wanted in their next president.
“To me, this is foundational,” he said, adding he is proud of his reputation of listening to stakeholders. “You cannot succeed, you cannot do anything without this.”
He said in the past he has hosted monthly town hall meetings, walks with students and weekly teas so people can visit with him and discuss concerns about his school. He said he would do something similar at NDSU.
He also discussed stabilizing NDSU’s finances through increasing enrollment, seeking out more research dollars and telling the story of the university to help increase fundraising. NDSU’s enrollment has dropped over the last seven years.
El-Rewini said he intends to offer innovative programming and target online students, nontraditional students and those who haven’t finished their degrees.
“We need to reach them where they are,” he said.
NDSU also can use Bison sports, particularly football, to attract students. Marymount is trying to start a football program, he said. Athletics not only plays a role in creating spirit at schools but can be used as teaching mechanisms for nonathletes, El-Rewini said.
He noted he invited UND head football coach Bubba Schweigert to his engineering classes to teach students about teamwork, planning, discipline and other aspects of sports.
“I understand the role that the president must play in an NCAA Division I university, and I will be more than happy to play that,” he said.
When asked about diversity and inclusion, El-Rewini said it involves more than hiring a team of administrators with different ethnicities. NDSU must make people feel, as he put it, accepted, respected and expected everyday.
“Diversity and inclusion should be something that we believe in and not just do it to check a box,” he said.
Mary Holz-Clause, chancellor of the University of Minnesota in Crookston and acting executive chancellor for the University of Minnesota’s Morris and Crookston campuses, will visit NDSU on Thursday, Feb. 3.
A presidential search committee will choose on Friday at least three finalists for interviews with the North Dakota State Board of Higher Education. The board will then pick a candidate to succeed President Dean Bresciani later this month. The next president is expected to assume office around July 1.