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Bettsey L. Barhorst, Madison College

IB Wisconsin's Professional of the Week is the premier way to meet the state's professionals. This week features Bettsey L. Barhorst, president of Madison College.

Business Address: 3550 Anderson St., Madison, WI 53704
Phone 608-246-6678
Birthplace: St. Louis, Mo.
Spouse/Partner’s Name: Alan Barhorst
Board Membership: Greater Madison Chamber of Commerce Board of Directors, United Way of Dane County Board of Directors, Biopharmaceutical Technology Institute Board of Directors, Schools of Hope Leadership Team, Board of Community Colleges for International Development (CCID), Board of Community College Consortium for Autism and Intellectual Disabilities (CCCAID)
Organizations: Rotary, TEMPO, Madison Civics Club, American Association of Community Colleges, American Council on Education, Higher Education Research & Development Institute
Education: Ph.D. in educational administration and foundations, Illinois State University; M.A. Webster University-Geneva; M.A. Bradley University; B.A. Fontbonne University

Bettsey, what does a college president do?
I was appointed president of Madison Area Technical College (Madison College) in November 2004. As president of the college, I have two major functions: 1) to represent Madison College to the general public and all its diverse constituencies and 2) to provide leadership and direction for the institution, based upon learning college principles; the college’s mission, vision, and values; and the District Board’s strategic plan.

I supervise the Executive Team, which is comprised of the provost, vice president of Learner Development, vice president of Human Resources, senior vice president for administration, vice president of Enrollment Management, the administrative assistant to the president and District Board, the administrative assistant to the president, executive director of the Madison College Foundation, and the public affairs and government relations manager. All other employees ultimately report to the president via a system of delegated responsibility.

You’ve become a role model, surely, for some of your direct reports, but who was your role model in your professional life?
Dr. Thomas K. Thomas, who was the president to whom I reported when I was a vice president at Illinois Central College. He was my mentor, and my teacher, and I use some of his advice almost every day.

Who would you most like to be a mentor to, or have the most influence on – and in what way?
I like to mentor all of those who report to me – particularly the five vice presidents at Madison College who have the potential for further leadership. It is my pleasure to help them advance. I’ve already helped four people attain community college presidencies through tutoring, opening doors, and providing opportunities and support. Sometimes the most important thing a mentor can do is simply plant the idea or dream in someone’s mind, “You can do it.”

For those who have advanced to become college presidents – what would you advise them to read to keep up with current trends? What do you read?
I try to keep abreast of current best sellers focusing on leadership or management. For example, right now I am reading Thomas L. Friedman’s That Used to Be Us: How America Fell Behind in the World It Invented and How We Can Come Back. And I enjoy all of Malcolm Gladwell’s works. A longtime favorite is Purple Cow: Transform Your Business by Being Remarkable by Seth Godin. I also monitor Chronicle of Higher Education and Inside Higher Ed, among many other publications, on a daily basis.

Any titles you’re reading for fun?
Yes, The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks.

Have a book character you’d most like to be identified with?
Jo in Little Women – she was always taking risks, being creative and leading others.

You’ve had a pretty illustrious career to date. Can you pick a high point or two?
Winning the bond issue in Iowa for Hawkeye Community College, and the 2010 referendum for Madison College.

What is a long-range goal that you’d like to achieve as your thumbprint for Madison College?
I would like to see students and parents in the Greater Madison area choose Madison College first when selecting higher education.

Let’s go to the student Bettsey Barhorst, before the titles and the responsibilities. When you were in high school, what were your career aspirations?
I’ve always wanted to be a teacher and lead a school.

Well, you’ve certainly done that
I’ve spent my whole career in the educational arena.

Do you remember your first paycheck and what you did with it?
I can’t remember my first paycheck, but am sure I bought clothes or shoes with it. It wasn’t much and was from Weil Clothing Company in St. Louis, Mo., which was going out of business – I was part of their going out of business sale!

That’s funny! And speaking of business, running a college is certainly running a business. Do you feel you had any entrepreneurial interests at a young age, as well as academic leadership leanings?
I’ve always been “out there” with entrepreneurial ideas, even before I knew what the term was. My parents owned a sign and display company in St. Louis, and I constantly had new ideas for the company.

What brought you to Wisconsin from St. Louis?
Madison Area Technical College brought me to Wisconsin. I was born and raised in St. Louis, Mo., home of the St. Louis Cardinals. Can you tell I’m a Cardinals fan?

So in addition to watching Cardinals games, what else do you do “beyond the office” that brings you happiness or relaxation?
I like to sit and look at Lake Monona and the Capitol. That is when I think and conjure up new ideas for Madison College’s vice presidents to implement. I also like to ride bikes, ski … but mostly read books. I’ve also been so blessed, not only with parents and siblings, but with a wonderful husband, two children, two foster children, and several grandchildren – who are the most beautiful, smartest, best athletes in the world, of course!

You spent some time overseas with your husband, and you are a worldwide traveler. What is your favorite place to go and why? What makes it special?
I am very fond of the mountains in Switzerland and Colorado. The mountains are special because they make me feel at peace and bring me a sense that God is close.

Last question, but a revealing one. Dr. Bettsey Barhorst, if you were to pick three words, and three words only, to describe yourself, what would you select?
Exuberant, caring, and competent.

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