Tenure helps programs grow

June 3, 2015

Three professors reflect on programs, achievements

The security to teach the very best content without pressure to compromise is one of the highest-sought and hardest-won benefits any educator can earn. Knowing that your professional role is secure can free an individual to focus on skill development, team building, research and myriad other tasks necessary to keep any higher education program functioning perfectly in its primary goal: the education of students.

Eighty members of faculty from throughout the North Dakota University System were awarded that high honor recently when the State Board of Higher Education approved recommendations for tenure from the state’s public colleges and universities. The extensive list embodies a broad spectrum of skillsets and programs from STEM to social sciences to humanities.

Three of those educators had a chance to reflect on their individual educations, their respective programs, and their paths to tenure. Their stories follow.


Grid Work

Greg Hutzenbiler, Associate Professor of Electrical Lineworker

Greg Hutzenbiler, Associate Professor of Electrical Lineworker

Greg Hutzenbiler, Associate Professor of Electrical Lineworker

Bismarck State College


Sometimes the best student in a program finds his or her way back to lead that program. Such was the case for Greg Hutzenbiler, who was recently awarded tenure and a promotion to Associate Professor of Electrical Linework. Hutzenbiler was a student in the Lineworker Program in 1999-2000 and after applying the techniques he learned at Bismarck State College to the transmission grids out in the world, he came back to the college to teach students how to do the same.

And from his time as a student through the last 10 years as an assistant professor, he’s been loving every minute of it.

“My advisor at the time, Keith Landeis, along the other faculty members Don Thompson, Mike Wilson and Chris Westman, really established an example for me of connecting with students and preparing for the employers of the electrical lineworker industry,” Hutzenbiler said. “All the faculty were very supportive and inspiring, but each was a different style of teacher. One of the industry expectations of a journeyman is working with apprentices, mentoring them in preparation to be a journeyman.”

Upon graduation from the program at BSC, Hutzenbiler began his apprenticeship with Missouri Valley Line Constructor’s Apprenticeship and Training, out of Indianola, Iowa. While apprenticed there he was attached to the Local 160 in Minneapolis and worked on lines throughout the Midwest. He completed the apprenticeship in mid-2004. A little over a year later he began teaching at BSC. He said he couldn’t have done it without a little help from his friends.

“Landeis (now Hutzenbiler’s mentor) as well as several amazing faculty members at BSC [including] my advisor David Melgaard, (Valley City State University – Transition to Teaching program) were instrumental in helping me adjust and succeed in the laboratory and classroom settings,” Hutzenbiler said.

Now, he’s an integral part of the Lineworker Program, which includes three full-time faculty, one full-time lab assistant, and between 54 and 64 students, depending on the semester and coursework.

From start-to-finish, it’s an extremely involved program. Prerequisite climbing and equipment operations course provide the footing for the nine-month coursework to come.

“The students’ climbing tools are provided during this three-week summer climbing class session, basically allowing students to ensure that this profession may be for them,” Hutzenbiler said, “[and those] can count as transfer credits if a student chooses to go into a different program.”

According to Hutzenbiler, the program is specifically designed to educate and prepare the students to become skilled apprentice lineworkers.

“Instruction time is divided between classroom study and indoor and outdoor laboratory work,” he said, noting that students also are required to prepare for and take the N.D. Department of Transportation Commercial Driver’s License exam.

And that’s just a start. Once graduated and in the field, apprentice lineworkers need to log 7,000-8,000 hours of on-the-job training to obtain journeyman status.

Hutzenbiler shows students the ropes.

Hutzenbiler shows students the ropes.

Despite the near-monumental effort it takes to become established in the industry, demand for the program has remained consistent. Hutzenbiler said that a rebounding national economy combined with a strong state economy has created an industry shift where more jobs than students now exist. And more opportunities are coming.

“I truly enjoy meeting new people, especially new students; learning where they are from; how they ended up here at the BSC Lineworker program; if family or friends brought the student to the program; why they chose one of the most hazardous professions,” he stated, offering some reflection on what keeps him on the path of education. “I also like the graduate success stories, individuals who have graduated from the program and have become successful in the industry.”

He said he plans to keep at it – the program is as important to him as it is to the state.

“The BSC Lineworker program is the only lineworker program in the state that I am aware of,” he said. “There are several in the region, but history and tradition have grown the BSC Lineworker program from the first class of eight men in 1970, to 42 graduates in Spring of 2015. The industry is changing, the job is still very physically demanding, but also requires a high critical thinking level. Industry expectations require more specialized, energized powerline work, using specialized equipment. Also, a significant percentage of current area lineworkers will be retiring in the next 10 years.”

In order to help prepare the students, the program works directly with an advisory board of industry representatives. The board helps create multiple opportunities for temporary or permanent employment, as well as internships. That allows Hutzenbiler and the other Lineworker faculty to advise students on their best possible options.

Although the job requires serious thought, in May the students took time for some fun and games when they showed off their skills to family and friends during the Lineworker Rodeo.

“The Lineworker rodeo was an opportunity for students to invite family members for a demonstration of skills which have been developed over the prior nine months,” Hutzenbiler said. “Students were drafted into teams which completed five events that were timed with deductions taken for improper or unsafe procedures. Awards were given for first, second and third place.”

While he feels the rodeo was a fun outlet for the students, Hutzenbiler knows there is work to be done. He felt being awarded tenure would help that along greatly.

“Tenure is a wonderful accomplishment for my 10 years at BSC, but I feel that I have much more to accomplish with curriculum and industry changes as well as student learning and transition to the workplace,” Hutzenbiler said. “I consider my time at BSC as a student and now as a faculty member a true privilege and blessing. I look forward to the new students and growing with the industry and education into the future.”


Teaching Power

Kelli Odden, Assistant Professor of Education

Dr. Kelli Odden, Assistant Professor of Education

Dr. Kelli Odden, Assistant Professor of Education

Mayville State University


Dr. Kelli Odden has formally been with Mayville State University for just under a decade, serving as an assistant professor of education for eight years running. But she’s been associated with Mayville for much longer and it shows.

Odden first started at MaSU as a student, first completing the requirements for an Early Childhood Associate of Arts degree, then earning her way through the Elementary Education program for a Bachelor of Science. After graduation she spent some time applying her new elementary education skills before moving into an administrative role with MaSU’s Head Start program. Later, an adjunct instructor opening brought her back into collegiate orbit as a Comet.

Now she teaches sophomores, juniors and seniors in the finer aspects of the education and management of classrooms. The application of those lifelong techniques begins early, Odden said, and opens the students up what becomes both a familiar, and accountable, classroom.

“I set the classroom exactly how I’d expect them to teach their students,” Odden said. “Everyone has a name plate that they come in to. They’re set up with different colors that come into play later. We spend class time getting to know each other and I think that builds accountability. That accountability to your class helps build a real enthusiasm for the coursework and if students miss a class period they feel like they really missed out on something.

“I want them to feel like they’re part of a community,” Odden continued. “They know what to expect and what could happen. The familiarity really helps. I’m a part of that consistency. I can’t come one day and state one thing, then state another thing the next day in the same class.”

Classes ranging from 18 to 26 students taking part in the 250-student program include:

  • Special Ed in Early Childhood
  • Inclusive Classroom Environments.
  • Social and Emotional Guidance in Early Childhood.
  • Home, School and Community relations.

“At Mayville State the numbers aren’t astronomical and the class sizes are manageable,” Odden said, noting professor-to-student ratios allowed more time for the professor to address individual student’s educational needs. “You get to know every student and what they’re about. That gives us the opportunity to learn what the students want out of the program and we can work to make sure they get it. As a professor I’m there for students to talk to and bounce ideas off of. I’m there to see what roles they want to play in education as well.”

Odden desire to understand her students more helped in the recommendation for tenure. As did her constant presence as an advisor, a role familiar to all professors. She typically advises around 32 students, helping provide guidance as they move through the program.

“I really enjoy figuring out where people want to go next,” she stated, offering a bit of advice she passes along to her students and advisees. “It takes perseverance, drive, a love and want to be an educator – not everyone can be a teacher. It takes a special skill set to see other’s perspectives. It also requires being able to see how others learn and to see beyond the self. At MaSU we work hard as a community to build off of one another. That way students can receive an education that’s well-rounded.”

Odden instructs students on the finer points of education.

Odden instructs students on the finer points of education.

Odden said one of the most rewarding aspects continued to be advising students who were the first in their families to attend college.

“You’re the direct guide to their experience,” she said. “Here’s what it’s about and what the expectations are. What’s most rewarding is the student who’s the first-time graduate and seeing them proceed from beginning to end. Their support is the advisor and their professors since their parents might not have the experience.

“I’m made to be in the classroom – that’s where my strong suit is,” Odden continued. “I like figuring out where the students are in the classroom and figuring out how to make the coursework fit their needs – to get them where they need to be. I like educating them and learning from them at the same time.”

Demand for the MaSU education program has continued steady through the years. After all, the world will always need educators. So too does the program find a vital place on the MaSU campus, where it remains a mainstay of the university.

“Mayville State University has a unique opportunity since education is a main major at here,” Odden noted. “We have the opportunity to work with our community and others to be successful. I feel that we do a nice job at it.”

Working with others is something as essential for the university and program as it is in the classroom, and Odden said that collaboration existed with school districts as well to satisfy the students’ requirements to student-teach. That’s taken Mayville students throughout the state and beyond – as far as Yuma, Ariz., and Calgary, Alberta.

And now, she’s got the formal approval from the university behind her in the form of tenure.

“That tells me that the university believes in what I’m doing and are seeing the positive impact I’m having on students,” Odden said. “I feel that I’ve got a positive attitude that’s reinforced by that support. I’m also able to broaden myself and potentially bring new things to the program. I always knew I wanted to be a teacher. I wanted to impact people in a positive way. I wanted to drive home the idea that positive impacts need to start with the teachers in the classroom. I wanted to empower those who were going out in the field to be the best they could be.”

Odden is sure to continue positively impacting Mayville State University teaching students into the far future. She hopes so, and thanked her colleagues for creating such a remarkable program.

“I would say that we’ve got a strong education program as a whole,” she said. “One of the bonuses in working in the department is working as a team with other professors. It’s a pretty special team and a unique situation. Sometimes in higher ed you work alone and that’s not how it’s done here – that’s evident in our school and throughout our campus as a whole. It’s a positive experience!”


Oil Can

Vamegh Rasouli, Professor of Petroleum Engineering

Dr. Vamegh Rasouli, Professor of Petroleum Engineeing

Dr. Vamegh Rasouli, Professor of Petroleum Engineeing

University of North Dakota


Dr. Vamegh Rasouli may be relatively new to the University of North Dakota campus, but the experience he brings is extensive and valuable to the pursuit of the highly-sought-after resources held under North Dakotan soil.

Prior to his formal start at UND this March, Rasouli worked at Curtin University in Western Australia for nine years, as a professor and head of the Department of Petroleum Engineering.

The transition to higher education in the United States came when he began looking for a change. Rasouli stated that he wanted to experience a new environment with “exciting challenges for my family and myself.” That search led him to UND, where he landed as the university’s Continental Resources Distinguished Professor and Chair of the Petroleum Engineering Department. Rasouli’s experience and substantial career were so impressive that the SBHE agreed with the unanimous recommendation from UND that he be offered tenure.

“Amongst all the potential opportunities I had, I chose UND as I felt that my proven track record in leadership, management and technical expertise would make me an excellent match for the requirements of the Petroleum Engineering Department,” Rasouli said. “UND offers the only Petroleum Engineering degree program in the state and I am very excited to be a part of a program that is educating future generations of petroleum engineers to serve the industry needs of this state as well as other states.”

The department’s five full-time faculty and one part-time instructor work hard to ensure the educational needs of the program’s 300 on-campus and distance-learning students are met. From the start, the program’s students need to master general science courses, like physics and chemistry. From there the coursework gets more specific, with Professional Engineering-related curriculum starting to get more intensive – a trend that continues through their senior year. The engineering courses also provide opportunities to practice project management skills and the presentation of research and other projects.

Rasouli says the demand for the program has grown significantly in recent years.

“The number of students since 2010 – when the department admitted the first group of students in PE – has increased exponentially,” Rasouli noted. “It is expected to grow in a similar way in the coming years, especially with the idea of starting a Master of Petroleum Engineering program and admitting PhD students.”

Rasouli explained that one reason for that increase was the state’s large resources of shale oil, and the unconventional territory the industry may find itself in as it develops techniques to extract shale oil resources.

“It is an honor for me to be working in an educational institute within this expanding oil and gas business environment to educate young talents to develop the future of this country,” he said. “With the discovery and development of the unconventional resources, this program is strategically important to UND in terms of educating practical and hands-on engineers who can work in the field, and also develop the latest technologies for discovery, exploration, drilling and production of the oil and gas fields to produce future energy.”

The program has found widespread support from the university, and from industry. Four years after graduating high school, North Dakota-raised students can find work in their home state in a major extraction industry without ever having to travel elsewhere, although options for that are available, too.

“UND has some industry fare programs where students are exposed to industry to learn about the career opportunities in different companies,” Rasouli stated. “Also, a number of industry professionals present lectures in different core courses as part of the Petroleum Engineering program, providing valuable information to students about the industry and their companies. Similar events are also arranged by the Student Chapter of the Society of Petroleum Engineers, where industry people are invited to present short courses and workshops and to talk about future career in this profession.

“In addition to the above, students spend a few months in the industry during their summer internship program which is an excellent opportunity for them to get exposed to real life workplace,” Rasouli continued.

He noted that being hired as a tenured professor was an acknowledgement from the university for his previous work and awarded him the opportunity to make longer plans regarding research, teaching and services the program could deliver to students. He enthusiastically looks forward to the future of the program.

“I foresee a very bright future for the petroleum engineering program at UND based on the strategic location of North Dakota,” he concluded. “With the strong support of the state, the university and the industry, it is expected that high quality hands-on and practical graduates will be produced to join the workforce and play an important role in leading the future of the energy industry in the country.”