Meet President Wohlpart

Learn more about your new President, Jim Wohlpart


Sean Bessette, Editor in Chief

Back in June, President Jim Wohlpart stepped onto CWU’s campus for the first time. Over 1,500 miles away from his previous position, Wohlpart began a new adventure as CWU’s 15th President.

Wohlpart took the position after spending six years as Provost and Executive Vice President for Academic Affairs at the University of Northern Iowa (UNI). Before his time at UNI, Wohlpart served in several academic and administrative positions at Florida Gulf Coast University, including Dean of Undergraduate Studies, Associate Dean in the College of Arts and Sciences and Chair of the Division of Humanities and Arts.

He holds a doctorate in English from the University of Tennessee, received his masters in English from Colorado State University and his bachelors in English and Philosophy from the University of Tennessee.

Well-traveled, Wohlpart brings a collection of experiences to fill the shoes of former President James Gaudino.

Q: What about CWU, or the larger Ellensburg area, attracted you to this position?

A: “As you probably know, I spent 21 years at Florida Gulf Coast University, a regional comprehensive like Central Washington, and then six years at the University of Northern Iowa (UNI), again a regional comprehensive that achieved at a really high level. I was really happy at UNI in the Cedar Valley with a phenomenal faculty and staff, a great institution and a welcoming provost. This was the only presidency I applied for and I applied because of the way in which faculty and staff touch students’ lives and help them see a potential that they may not have known they had, and then help them get really good at that and succeed later on. I call that ‘deep care’ when I talk to audiences. I talk about the ‘deep care’ that faculty and staff have for students, their lives, and it really is transformative. Since I’ve been here, I’ve had the last four months meeting with alumni and donors and they each have a story of a faculty member or a staff member who cared about them and saw the potential in them. And that made them believe in themselves. So I was able to discern that from looking at all the materials and able to discern kind of that CWU wanted to take all that to the next level and I thought that maybe I had some experiences that would help with that.”

Q: What surprised you upon arriving to campus back in June?

A: “I’ll tell you the only thing that was a surprise was how long the summer is when you’re on quarters. So usually I’ve been on semesters. By mid-August, everybody’s back on campus and here it’s mid-September so an extra month of summer which I was not accustomed to. There were really no surprises, Sean. We had done enough research about the institution. We knew what we were coming to. Maybe another surprise, in terms of Ellensburg, is the richness of opportunities for restaurants, furniture stores, there really is just a lot here in a small town that you don’t necessarily find in other towns this size and so we were very impressed by that.”

Q: What has the adjustment from Northern Iowa to Central Washington been like?

A: “Seamless. There’s a fantastic team here, again, a great faculty and staff. I said that and I’ll say that a million times. The work is very similar because they’re both regional comprehensive’s, budget are roughly the same. The challenges are roughly the same for this kind of institution so in terms of the transition into this role and into this institution, I would say pretty seamless. It feels like it’s very comfortable and very natural.”

Q: What is the biggest hardship you’ve faced up to this point in your career and how did you overcome it?

A: “One was a perennial problem on many college campuses and that is creating a culture of inclusion and I would say that has been a primary challenge in all of the work I’ve done. It was especially hard in the Midwest at an institution when I got there was about 91-92% of the students were white. By the time I left, it was down to about 88%, so we have expanded the students of color in phenomenal ways, by creating a culture of belonging. We also need to do that work here, so I expect that to be a continued journey. And then the last thing I would say in the last six years at Northern Iowa was budget cuts at the state level. Those are always challenging and we had hard decisions to make.”

Q: What was it like being recognized at the football game (versus Angelo State on Sept. 25)?

A: “Oh, fantastic! It was so good to see everybody there and enjoying what was going on. The only thing I would change is the end result. But Coach Fisk does a great job and I was so impressed with the team, the players out there.”

Q: In a Yakima Herald article, you said the university saw an enrollment decrease during the pandemic. How do you plan on addressing the enrollment decrease?

A: “So what we need to do, Sean, is create something that I did at Northern Iowa, which, during the pandemic in Northern Iowa, the enrollment grew. And it’s because of things we put in place that were very intentional. We need to put those things in place here. We need to create what I call an intentional and strategic pipeline of students. We need to be reaching back into elementary schools, middle schools, but certainly in high schools, and building relationships with pockets of students, with individual students, with their families, with communities, with counselors, building those relationships, doing the marketing and the branding, getting them interested, the outreach, and then finding really intentional ways to do the orientation, the onboarding, the week of welcome which we do well here. And then the transition piece, keeping students retained and persisting towards their degree goals. And so that needs to be a very thoughtful and intentional process on our part so that it is relationship-based, focused on getting to know who the students are, and helping them understand why coming to Central would make a difference in their lives.”

Q: Is there any chance you have enrollment numbers for this quarter?

A: “We’re going to be down about the same as the other institutions. I don’t know, something like 5%. That’s what we’re expecting. It’ll be somewhere between 10,000 and 10,500 is my guess, but we take the snapshot two weeks in. We still have students enrolling so those numbers are still increasing.”

Q: With an enrollment decrease, are there any major budget issues you see coming in the near future?

A: “No. We were able to address that on the front end right when I got here in June. We were prepared for the enrollment number so our budget will be fine.”

Q: Because the budget looks fine, you don’t see any potential for a decrease in specific degree programs offered as a result of the enrollment decrease?

A: “No.”

Q: What would you identify as the number one problem at CWU and how do you plan on fixing it?

A: “So again, I would say culture. Creating a culture of inclusion. We have a large population of students of color, about 40%. Over 50% are first-generation students. We have some low-income students. Those students bring rich cultural languages, literacies, backgrounds, histories and we need to welcome that richness to our campus and find ways to celebrate it and elevate it so that those students feel like they belong and can celebrate that work. So that’s probably the biggest challenge we have is creating a culture of belonging. And that will hopefully lead to an increase in our ability to hire faculty and staff of color and retain them. We have work to do there so it’s not just the students, it’s also faculty and staff of color. That’s work we need to do.”

Q: How would you describe your leadership style?

A: “Collaborative, distributive, relational. I am someone who believes that community is the best way to drive a vision and get answers because there’s a lot of really smart people in the community. So I’ll give you two examples of things I’ve done differently since I’ve gotten here that are examples of that. Maddy Koval, who is the associated student president, has been involved with it. So when I got here in June, we created a committee and task force to figure out how we would open classes this month. And that committee and task force included all different employee groups. Classified employees, exempt employees, faculty, administrators, students. It included everybody so everybody’s voices would be heard as we were figuring out how to open in the fall. They made recommendations to the executive leadership team. We accepted every single one of those recommendations. So again, we’re being driven by the voices on the campus community. We’re doing the same thing with the vision, mission, and strategic plan that we’re developing right now. Again, representatives from all across the campus community coming together in a steering committee. And it’s that group of folks who will be facilitating the voices of the campus to develop a new vision, mission and strategic plan.”

Q: What do you think your biggest flaw is?

A: “I see such great work ahead of this institution and I see the great work that it does but I’m impatient and I want it to happen faster. My wife Sasha says, ‘Your work is urgent, but it must be filled with patience, because to do the work right and to involve the community, it takes time.’ And so I have to have patience and I’ve learned how to have patience. I’m also very competitive. So I think that Central Washington University is a very good institution of higher education. I think it could be great and I’m interested in really helping the institution as much as I can, as President, get to that next level. I’m very competitive individually and personally. I do a lot of long-distance running. I don’t know if those are flaws, but that’s who I am.”

Q: It’s been about a week since classes have started. What has been your first impression of the campus community through the first week of fall quarter?

A: “So Sean, I’ll tell you last Friday, not last Friday because we had classes last Friday. The Friday before that when move-in started, I walked around campus to see where all the students were being dropped off with their families and stuff and then I walked across campus to see it was being filled with students and I started to cry. To have that vibrancy back on our campus was overwhelming. It is the students. That’s why we’re here. That’s why we’re here, and it was just, just overwhelming to have the students back. And so the volleyball game, football game, walking around, visiting some of the events that we have, just to be in contact with some of these students has been awesome.”

Q: As the school year continues, what are some of your goals for the university this year?

A: “So we will develop a vision, mission and strategic plan. We’re rolling out a new budget model. We are going to investigate, through what’s called the equity scorecard, developed by the University of Southern California. We’re going to investigate our culture and find ways that we can build a stronger culture of belonging. We’re going to elevate our academic programs, especially around what are called high-impact practices, things that we know make a difference in terms of student engagement and student learning.”