College perseveres with interim leader
February 3, 2023
Until her sudden passing in November, Stephanie Hammitt had made herself into an indispensable figure at Fond du Lac Tribal and Community College. At the time of her death from cancer on Nov. 14 at age 60, the president of the college was prioritizing enrollment, student success and an updated strategic plan.
But she led in other ways, too — ways which make her absence more profound. Hammitt fostered connection with an open-door policy. Each day and every week, many people would pop in to talk about work, brainstorm ideas, share their crafting hobbies, or even stories about children and grandchildren.
“Stephanie had that true ability to listen, to laugh, and to support, and it’s what I miss about our workdays,” said acting president Anita Hanson.
In an effort to understand more about how the college is coping with the loss and what comes next, the Pine Knot reached out to Hanson, who penned a detailed and thoughtful response.
“Our staff and faculty are strong and resilient, but President Hammitt’s passing has impacted a number of people whom she worked closely with over many years (and even for a short period of time),” Hanson wrote. “There’s an indescribable emptiness that lingers. She is talked about often and she is missed.”
This week, the college will undertake one of Hammitt’s lasting priorities, with an updating of its strategic plan. Hanson outlined a process which will start with internal and external stakeholders from the Fond du Lac Reservation, Cloquet and surrounding communities providing their input on two surveys. Throughout the spring and into the summer, the college will also hold meetings and discussions to finalize a new strategic plan.
Additionally, the college is making sure Hammitt’s approach to bolstering enrollment and student success remain a regular focus of the entire college.
“She firmly believed this work was an all school effort,” Hanson wrote, “and our staff and faculty have worked hard to continue to communicate with prospective and returning students in an effort to encourage their enrollment.”
Hanson said Hammitt would’ve been happy to see that the spring 2023 on-campus student headcount has increased compared to this time last spring, and that on-campus FYE (full year equivalent) has improved by 23 percent.
“FDLTCC is a special place, and she would’ve been very proud of what our staff and faculty have done to positively impact our enrollment,” Hanson wrote.
Regarding a permanent replacement for Hammitt, Minnesota State spokesperson Doug Anderson described next steps to be taken by Chancellor Devinder Malhotra, who has leadership oversight of 30 community and technical colleges and seven state universities serving approximately 350,000 students.
“Chancellor Malhotra plans to return to campus in the next few weeks to convene additional sessions with the college to discuss the skills and qualities the community would like to see in the next president and a timeline for the search,” Anderson said.
Hanson and the others figure to persevere, and even thrive, in the example set by Hammitt.
“Her loss and the feelings of sadness that accompany it will take us much time to heal,” Hanson said. “I don’t think it will ever go away. She was our leader, and she was taken too soon. None of us were prepared, and for many, her loss still runs deep.”