Incoming president of Champlain College wants to push 'radically pragmatic' approach

Donald Laackman speaks to the press.

(This interview first appeared in the Burlington Free Press on Jan. 16, 2014 in the Innovate Section)
By Lynn Monty, Burlington Free Press

Champlain College will soon usher in its next president, Donald Laackman, 52, from Chicago. Retiring president David Finney will step down June 30.

Laackman said one of the many things that attracted him to Champlain College is the opportunity to play a role in growing Vermont's talent pool and economy. He comes with a commitment to ensure Champlain College, and Vermont businesses, attract and retain the best people.

Champlain College is a net importer of talent to the state, he said. "I want to continue to make Champlain a magnet for talent," he said in an interview.

He spoke with the Free Press on Jan. 14.

Free Press: Champlain College has produced many local business leaders. What will you do to keep with that tradition?
Donald Laackman: My first order of business is to connect with Vermont's business community so that I can understand their needs. Our strong board will aid me in this process. After I develop an understanding of the Vermont business community, I will work with faculty to review our program offerings to ensure they are relevant. This is a process President Finney started and that I will build on. We will conduct this process regularly to ensure Champlain's offerings are at the forefront of preparing students for leadership roles.

FP: Past presidents have chartered Champlain's successful journey from a two-year to a four-year institution. They guided the school through a massive transformation. What comes next?
DL: Champlain is in a unique position in that the reality of its strengths is not yet matched by public awareness. Our team will work to elevate Champlain's profile. The recent article in The Atlantic is an example of the type of recognition we seek. We also need to execute on Champlain 2020, our strategic plan. I am committed to ensuring we achieve the goals of Champlain 2020.

FP: Champlain College has anchored itself as a technology-focused institution. Do you see any areas that need further developing as pertains to technology fields?
DL: I come from a technology background with 23 years at Accenture. I understand how technology rapidly evolves. Champlain's nimble, innovative approach to program development helps ensure we remain relevant so that our students can get jobs in emerging technology fields. Our faculty have innovated and created market-leading technology offerings, from digital forensics to video gaming. I expect this to accelerate in coming years.

FP: The importance of obtaining an education beyond high school is paramount today. What is Champlain College doing to recruit students and keep the cost of education affordable?
DL: We have seen gains in our applicant pool, in line with our Champlain 2020 plan. I look forward to working with our team to get the word out to more of our prospective students — in undergraduate, graduate and continuing education — about the strong value proposition afforded by a Champlain education.

FP: Define your target student audience.
DL: We are a career-focused institution. At the undergraduate level, we best serve students who have an interest in pursuing a career passion, yet also want to position themselves for life-long learning to help them adapt to rapidly changing industry developments. At the graduate and professional education levels, we seek students who are interested in advancing their careers and want an institution that provides high quality online instruction.

FP: Will there be further developments in the college's online offerings?
DL: Yes. We will constantly scan the market, seeking to fill needs for individuals who want to advance their careers and companies who see a strong, educated workforce as critical to their success.

FP: What are your plans to sustain and develop the job market training programs already in place for Champlain College graduates?
DL: In order to remain relevant, we need to engage with the business community and listen to their needs. I will personally lead efforts to engage with business leaders in Vermont, and my team will also work with the business community so that we all understand the skills and talent needed to help Vermont's economy grow. We are radically pragmatic in our approach to education, and we will remain that way by being good listeners.

We are having strong success in our continuing professional education offerings. Applications are up across the board in our education offerings. The market is responding to the Champlain College value proposition. I want to build on this success across all of our programs.

FP: When will the recent real estate acquisitions be developed at the college? And what will these developments bring to the college?
DL: My team and I will work with local government, business and community leaders to ensure that any development we undertake respects the character of the community and enhances the quality of education for our students.

Contact Lynn Monty at lynnmonty@burlingtonfreepress.com and follow her on Twitter.

Watch a short video interview: http://www.burlingtonfreepress.com/videonetwork/3037232408001/Champlain-s-new-president


Since 1878, Champlain College has provided career-focused education to students from its hilltop campus in Burlington, Vt. Champlain's distinctive educational approach embodies the notion that true learning only occurs when information and experience come together to create knowledge. Champlain offers traditional undergraduate and online undergraduate courses, along with online certificate and degree programs and 11 master's degree programs. Champlain offers study abroad programs at its campuses in Montreal, Quebec and Dublin, Ireland. Champlain College is included in the Princeton Review's The Best 379 Colleges: 2015 Edition. Champlain was named a "Top-Up-and-Coming School" by U.S. News & World Report's America's Best Colleges and is ranked in the top tier of 2014 Regional Colleges in the North. For more information, visit www.champlain.edu


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