WITC welcomes new administrator

July 12, 2013

From witc.edu: “WITC welcomes new administrator, Vice President of Academic Affairs” — Within her first hours on the job, Dr. Bonny Copenhaver unpacked her personality. With her office freshly painted in a relaxing but still upbeat blue, she let her collection of trinkets that have followed her throughout her career find a spot in their new home: a brightly-colored slinky, a lucky Beatles poster rough around the edges after surviving a tornado that demolished her previous office, numerous smiling photos of past staff and a poised, battle-scarred gargoyle with a broken wing dutifully nestled on the shelf. She is WITC-Superior’s new campus administrator and vice president of academic affairs and wants her space to reflect that she’s approachable for both staff and students, and she wants you to call her Bonny.

Coming to Wisconsin Indianhead Technical College-Superior earlier this spring, Copenhaver’s first impression of the area was that it was genuinely friendly.

“People talk about the south being friendly, but everyone here has been so incredibly kind and helpful, even the pizza guy,” said Copenhaver, but that impression was quickly followed by Jack Frost’s welcome of his own.  “When I came for my first interview, I intended to stay for another day, but there was 10 inches of snow predicted. I thought, ‘never mind.’”

While she might have a bit of what Northlanders may consider to be a southern accent and is from a state that’s warmer (make that a lot warmer) in the winter months, she decided to head north for the four campus district. She liked that each campus was attached to its community.

“I’m sure they fit their communities just like Superior’s campus fits here,” said Copenhaver. “I didn’t limit myself on geography. I wanted something different.”

Copenhaver comes from Lynchburg, Tenn., with her husband, Alan, and cat, Asia.  In her last position, she was provost for Motlow State Community College in charge of the academic affairs unit. She says she was known for her shoe collection there, but above all, her dedication to her students.

“My first question is always ‘how does that impact the students,’” said Copenhaver.  “I really care about the students and finding programs that help them.”

Copenhaver streamlined operations, implemented six dual admission agreements and revitalized the campus’s quality enhancement plan required by the accrediting body.  She says her biggest accomplishments were getting an emergency medical technician/paramedic program started and helping redesign the developmental studies program, similar to WITC’s student success center.

“We redesigned that program to be a self-paced program,” said Copenhaver. “It’s a competency-based program. The student only had to work on what the student didn’t know.”

At Motlow, a high percentage of students transferred on to four-year degrees. While she still roots for those who want to take their education further, Copenhaver says she’s excited about working with a population of students focused on making the most of their two-year skill sets and excelling.

“I love working with students who are non-transfer, here to get a very specific skill and then go to work, which I think is very underappreciated,” said Copenhaver. “There are really good jobs with good wages that are great places to work with this kind of education.”

WITC President Bob Meyer points out Copenhaver’s long list of past significant leadership positions.

“Bonny Copenhaver brings a wealth of previous experience and has a long track record of active community involvement that will serve her and WITC extremely well,” said Meyer.  “I am extremely excited to welcome Bonny to her new role and look forward to working with her.”

“Bonny has a strong background in developing and leading initiatives designed to improve student success at community colleges,” said Steve Bitzer, vice president of student affairs and Ashland campus administrator. “Her expertise in this area will be very valuable as we work together to improve services available to students at WITC.”

When Copenhaver started her career, her eyes weren’t on administration.  She began her career as an assistant professor of English and theatre at Northeast State Technical Community College. She had wanted to be a tenured professor, but she quickly realized she wanted to continue to take on new challenges. After hearing another former instructor’s story about moving from faculty to administration, Copenhaver got inspired to make her own move. She went on to other colleges in leadership roles before taking the provost position at Motlow State.

Holding a master’s degree in English, she added a doctorate in educational leadership. Besides those credentials, her resume is also dotted with graduate classes in theatre history and a graduate certificate in women’s studies, which she completed last year.

“I used to always tell my students who were taking general education classes that we don’t remember Rome for their technology, but for their literature, drama and for their government,” said Copenhaver. “It really is about learning something different, something new.”

She explained how welders can work in theatre creating perfect sets for a production and how people in technological careers are, at their base, an artist of their product.

“There is a connection. There always is a connection,” said Copenhaver. “I spent 25 years of life as a dancer, and one doesn’t learn any better about teamwork and how to communicate than that. It’s part of who I am. ”

While her fun office and liberal arts background show her personality on one side, she is also a big believer in managing with equality and fairness.

“People have termed it my ‘justice gene.’ We have to be just and fair. You may not like the decision, but it’s done through thought,” said Copenhaver, but added work should be a place of fun. “We are here so much, and we can have a little fun and enjoy ourselves and play a little joke now and then. We don’t have to take ourselves too seriously.”

In 2010, she was presented the Woman of Achievement Award by Women in Higher Education in Tennessee. She also has an extensive record in volunteer and leadership efforts in the community having served on several boards dealing with theatre and the arts.

While she’s only just diving into her work at WITC, she wants spend the first few months listening.

“The ideas for growth and change are always there, and then it’s my job to add a different perspective,” said Copenhaver. “I tend to create with others rather than be the person who comes up with all the ideas. You take it and you go with it, and I’m going to leave you alone and let you do what you do best. If you need help, I’m right there to help you.”

She says she can sense the staff here really cares about their students, and she says she’ll always have their best interest at heart. “If you don’t mention students in an interview, then I don’t go past that point. They are the reason we are here and why we have a job.”

Copenhaver looks forward to her time discovering the northland and making a home here and hopes to continue to grow as person here.

“I think you have to look for all the new opportunities that come your way, like ice fishing,” she said, laughing. “OK, I’m going to walk on a lake that’s really cold. Let’s give it a whirl.”



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