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‘A dream job’

Ulrich named next Iowa Central president

If you told Jesse Ulrich three years ago — or even just last year — that he was going to be the president of Iowa Central Community College, he would have laughed at you.

“It truly is a dream job,” the Fort Dodge Community School District superintendent said.

And now it’s a dream come true as Iowa Central announced on Thursday morning its selection of Ulrich to serve as the college’s next president, replacing former college President Dan Kinney, who left at the end of 2020 to take over the president role at Iowa Western Community College in Council Bluffs.

“Iowa Central has always had a special place in my heart because I wouldn’t be where I am today without Iowa Central and I truly believe in making sure that all students within the region that Iowa Central serves have access to community college and can be successful there,” he said.

Ulrich, who was hired in 2018 as superintendent of the FDCSD, grew up in West Bend, and went to Iowa Central to earn his associate degree as well as his bachelor’s degree through the Buena Vista University — Fort Dodge campus. He completed his Ph.D. in educational leadership from Iowa State University in Ames in 2018.

Ulrich and his wife, Amy, have four children.

In 2019, Ulrich was inducted into the Triton Hall of Fame as a distinguished alumnus.

Prior to taking the helm at Fort Dodge, Ulrich spent five years as the superintendent of the AHSTW School District in Avoca. He also formerly served as the superintendent/principal in Graettinger-Terril; student services coordinator and seventh-grade teacher in Dallas-Center Grimes; and high school social studies teacher in Arizona.

The Iowa Central Board of Directors received 37 applications for the president position. Of those received, 27 were forwarded to the search committee and cabinet to review and rank, narrowing the pool down to five finalists.

During the search, the board had opened a community survey to ask students, faculty and community stakeholders what they want in a college president. The 229 responses identified top characteristics of honest, accessible, approachable and communicative.

Ulrich ticked all those boxes for the board, and he came with 10 years of experience in administration, state funding, bond issues, community partnerships and engagement and work with legislatures, said Iowa Central board President Mark Crimmins.

Ulrich’s contract and salary at Iowa Central are not yet final, but will be approved by the board during its April 13 meeting.

Making the transition from the K-12 setting to the community college setting should be a smooth one, Ulrich said.

“What a superintendent of a school district does and what a president of a community college does really parallel each other,” he said. “At the end of the day, leadership matters.”

He said the skillsets he brings to the table — building relationships with people, communicating and collaborating with business partners and community partners — is essential to a community college, all things he is passionate about and is ready to take to the next level.

Ulrich also noted that about 40% of community college enrollment is high school students, so he places high importance on the collaboration and relationship between school districts and community colleges.

Ulrich will start at Iowa Central on July 1. From that very first day, he plans to begin building a shared vision for the future of the college.

“Where we move Iowa Central for the next 10 to 15 years is going to be important,” he said. “What can Iowa Central provide within our centers and our main campus to all of the people in our region that makes us the premiere college for the state?”

While leaders in the FDCSD congratulate Ulrich on his new role at Iowa Central, the school board acknowledges the lasting impact he has had on the district over the past three years.

“He’s been a strong leader,” said board President Stu Cochrane. “He’s been someone that, as a board, we’ve been able to rely on consistently through difficult times and good times.”

Ulrich’s hands-on leadership has been indispensable, the board president continued.

“He placed kids first, making Fort Dodge and the FDCSD a great place to be,” Cochrane said. “He’s invested in the community and we’re going to sorely miss his leadership.”

The details of finding the next FDCSD superintendent have yet to be ironed out by the school board, but the district will likely use a search recruiter to assist in the process, he said.

The board is committed to hiring the right person, Cochrane said, even if it means placing an interim superintendent for the upcoming school year as they continue to search for the best candidates.

Ulrich feels that his education from Iowa Central allowed his dreams to come true, so he wants to create an environment at Iowa Central where everyone can be successful and make their dreams come true, too.

“The purpose of a community college is so that people can make a better living and have a better life, and we’re going to stay true to that core mission for the people that we serve within our counties,” he said.

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