Rural living prompts 2 new vice presidents to choose Colorado Northwestern Community College
November 23, 2018
CRAIG — Two new vice presidents were welcomed to Colorado Northwestern Community College on Nov. 12, and after spending their first week in orientation and training, both were on the Craig Campus for the Moffat County Affiliated Junior College Board Meeting on Monday, Nov. 19.
Both men chose to accept positions in Northwest Colorado to live in a rural community that offers their families a better quality of life.
CNCC Vice President of Instruction Keith Peterson
"My favorite job in the world is being a husband and dad," said family man Keith Peterson. He is moving from Arkansas with his wife Sara, his son Logan — who will be 11 years old in a couple of weeks — and his 9-year-old son Kaiden.
"The four of us are not a sit-still family. We are a day-adventure family. One of the things we love about Colorado is there is no end to the amount of day trips you can do," Peterson said.
And it was creating a better life for their family that motivated the couple to move to Colorado.
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Kaiden has physical and cognitive disabilities.
"The state of Arkansas ranks about 49th of 50 with support services," Peterson said. "Kaiden is 9, and his needs are becoming more complex. We were unhappy with the amount of consideration he was getting. Colorado ranks in the top five in every category in supporting children and families with special needs children."
Originally from Kansas City, Peterson is passionate about sports and acknowledged that, when he's not out adventuring with the family, he can be found enjoying marathon sessions of ESPN. He persists in supporting the Kansas City Chiefs football team and Jayhawks basketball.
"I can't change the fact that I was born in Kansas City," he said.
A career educator who had been teaching more than 20 years, Peterson has also worked in the communications department for the governor of Arkansas and the Arkansas Department of Career Education.
While serving that department, Keith said, he developed a passion for applied sciences and vocational education during a time of transition for trades.
He provided an example by discussing the evolution of automotive shop classes that used to be the place tactile learners who didn't do well in traditional classroom were sent. Though shop classes continue to benefit tactile learners, today's automotive classrooms are also "highly sophisticated," Peterson said.
"It's a sophisticated trade to learn with multiple types of software. Smart cars are now as smart as our digital devices, so it's not as simple as wrenching on old carburetors. They have to be sophisticated learners," he said.
Most recently, Peterson served as dean of workforce education and economic development for Northwest Arkansas Community College, an institution he said is "super big in the world of community colleges," serving 11,000 to 12,000 students.
"Jobwise, I was very happy. I didn't have to go anywhere," he said. "The most important thing in my world is my family, and I want to be a good dad."
He feels he can do that best in a community where people will get to know his sons.
His position is based in Rangely, though he expects to be on the Craig campus "as often as possible" and even more to help fill-in as the search for a new vice president of student services based in Craig continues.
After six days on the job, he's already hard at working learning and listening.
"Communities we support at CNCC have clear cultural identities and how they want to present themselves. … I need to get to know these communities and integrate my family," Peterson said.
He added he’s "looking forward to meeting the people that we represent, hearing what they think and want. We are a community college. Our primary goal is to serve the communities that support us, period."
The listening tour has begun and will continue the week of Nov. 26, as CNCC administrators hold community meetings in Craig, Meeker, and Rangely.
Peterson has also begun diving into Northwest Colorado's labor market data.
"We need to make informed decisions. Another task of mine is understanding what the local labor market is like, what are the trends, what industries are growing, what are the engines, and what are they trying to bring in," he said.
During the selection process, Peterson said he was impressed with the transparency about the high turnover rate CNCC has experienced in the position of vice president of instruction.
He's faced similar situations and said, "All I can do is my best. … I'm ready for that challenge and excited about it."
He and his family "want to be here. We did just as much background and research on these communities as they probably did on me."
Peterson said he hopes this will be "the last move for us." His family looks forward to sinking deep roots and eventually retiring in Northwest Colorado.
CNCC Vice President of Business and Administration James Caldwell
Among the tasks on James Caldwell and wife Jeannie Caldwell's to-do list is to find a house in Rangeley "big enough for all the kids," he said.
The couple are relocating from Erie and have six adult children and nine grandchildren.
Erie used to be "a little county town, and now, it's not," Caldwell said. He and his wife were looking for "something more rural" when a friend alerted him to the opening at CNCC.
Originally from Pikeville, Kentucky, Caldwell said he "grew up on a farm,” adding that, moving to Northwest Colorado to be a part of a rural community college will allow the couple to "get back to our roots. "
With more than 25 years in higher education, Caldwell has spent the past year running a consulting company.
Throughout his career, sound budgeting and careful attention to finances have "been part of everything that I've done. You live and die by the budget," he said.
On Monday, after six days on the job, Caldwell was waiting for complete access to CNCC's systems, but so far, he said, "I see a high level of integrity at both locations. Finances certainly meet GAP (general accounting principals) and other measures of propriety in the budget."
However, he also believes in "finding places to improve and to work with people" and is concerned about the level of financial transparency at the college.
"We will be working together. … There will be a much greater understanding of the budget, where we came to those dollars and how we got them," he said. He added: "All I can do is share with you my commitment to finding a path to improve that transparency and communication and keep the board involved."
When not working, Caldwell spends time perfecting his photography skills and volunteering as a raptor monitor for Colorado Parks & Wildlife.
As he steps into his new role, he said he's most excited about being part of an institution that helps people to change their lives.
"We were drawn to CNCC. The people who have a plain, straightforward openness, that I had missed," he said. "It's a great school with a great mission in a part of the state that is underserved."
Contact Sasha Nelson at 970-875-1794 or snelson@CraigDailyPress.com.