Dining Dialogue: Blondin looks to Ohio

story by Michael Tilley
mtilley@thecitywire.com

Editor’s note: The Fort Smith area Dining Dialogue is sponsored by Whole Hog Cafe in Fort Smith and managed by The City Wire. The Dining Dialogue delivers interviews with personalities, newsmakers and business and civic leaders in the Fort Smith area. Whole Hog delivers fast and economical lunches combined with service that facilitates a good lunch and conversation within 60 minutes.

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Of the many things she will miss, Jo Blondin is not happy about leaving her home in Van Buren – an historic home built sometime between 1900 and 1910.

Blondin, the chancellor of Arkansas Tech University-Ozark Campus for a few more weeks, has accepted the job of president of Clark State Community College in Springfield, Ohio. She is set to begin in her new role on July 1, and will succeed Dr. Karen Rafinski, who is retiring after 16 years as CSCC president.

Blondin said they have already found a home in Ohio.

“We bought a slightly newer house. It was built in 1927,” Blondin joked during a recent interview.

Her housing tastes favor older architecture, but her tenure at ATU-Ozark has seen the modernization of campus facilities and programs.

Blondin joined ATU-Ozark as its chief academic officer in August 2005. She was promoted to chancellor in June 2006 and has been instrumental in a period of growth at Ozark that included an enrollment increase of 562% and the addition of 16 new academic and technical programs.

In fall 2012, enrollment at Arkansas Tech-Ozark Campus rose above 2,000 students for the first time ever. Clark State reports 5,139 credit students for Fall 2011, with 2,239 registered as full-time students.

Clark County had a 2010 population of 138,333, with Springfield at almost 61,000 in population. Springfield is home to a Navistar manufacturing plant that produces International brand trucks. The city is also near the massive Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, which in addition to being home to the Air Force Materiel Command is home to the National Museum of the United States Air Force.

The hardest part of accepting the Ohio job was leaving the friends she has made in the area, especially those among the team she helped assemble at ATU-Ozark.

“But they’ve been great. They understand the professional development opportunity that this provides,” Blondin. “If there is any area of the country where they are like family and are understanding, it’s this area. ... People have been so unbelievably gracious and kind. But it will still be hard to leave after 14 years (living in the Fort Smith region).”

Ozark, Blondin believes, is one of the more progressive communities in the region. She is confident the city will continue to make progress on key projects, like the riverfront development plan.

“I will miss Ozark. I will definitely miss that town. I tell everyone that Ozark thinks it’s bigger than a small community ... and that’s great,” Blondin explained.

Blondin is not concerned about the future of ATU-Ozark. She is convinced the “campus is in a good place” and has a “dedicated and knowledgeable administrative team.”

She is also confident Clark State Community College is in a good place, noting that the school is in good financial shape and has a strong community foundation. Blondin is eager to begin learning more about the Ohio region served by CSCC. She will attend the May graduation, and plans to attend the May meeting of the Dayton Chamber of Commerce.

“There is a lot going on there. ... I look forward to being part of their coordinated regional approach to economic development,” Blondin said.

A good part of the CSCC job is that the president’s position is included in several regional organizations and initiatives, Blondin said, and then added that such inclusion is also something that could be overwhelming.

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“I think being intentional about being engaged will be the biggest challenge,” Blondin said. “You have to be smart about getting involved.”

Blondin also plans to “bring the spirit of program innovation we have here (ATU-Ozark)” to Clark State.

“At the end of the day, our job is to find ways to ensure that students get the credentials and the training they need to do the jobs that will help grow the regional economy.”

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