Fort Lewis College names three finalists for presidency

Wednesday, March 21, 2018 10:49 PM

Fort Lewis College has named three finalists for the school’s presidency – two are currently higher-education administrators teaching abroad and one works for the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

Teresa C. Balser is dean of teaching and learning for the School of Engineering at Curtin University in Perth, Australia.

Maria Guajardo is deputy vice president of Soka University in Tokyo, Japan.

Tom Stritikus is deputy director of K-12 U.S. Programs for the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation in Seattle.

“Our finalists all bring incredible energy, expertise and focus to Fort Lewis College, as well as strong commitment to our historic mission,” said Steve Short, chairman of the FLC Board of Trustees in a news release issued Wednesday. “I encourage our students, faculty, staff, administrators and the Durango community to take the upcoming opportunities to meet them.”

The search drew 120 applications.

Each finalist will travel to the Fort Lewis College campus for a two-day visit that will include opportunities for interaction with students, faculty, staff, administrators and the community.

Constituents will have the opportunity to provide feedback on the finalists to the Board of Trustees through an online survey. The first campus visit will begin March 29. The finalists’ biographies, curricula vitae and details of their campus visits are available at

“Because the Fort Lewis College presidency offers such an exciting opportunity, our search committee had a deep, diverse field of candidates to choose from,” said Trustee Richard Kaufman, who chaired the 13-person search committee. “Our three finalists stood out because of their dynamic personal leadership styles and their records of working collaboratively to build strong higher education communities.”

Teresa Balser


Balser currently serves as dean of teaching and learning for the Faculty of Science and Engineering at Curtin University in Perth.

She will visit Durango for a campus visit April 4-5.

Balser previously served as dean of the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences at the University of Florida, Gainesville, as well as a faculty member and administrator at the University of Wisconsin, Madison.

She earned bachelor’s degrees in earth sciences and biology from Dartmouth College and her doctorate degree in soil microbiology from the University of California, Berkeley. Her research interests are in the area of environmental science and education.

Balser has supported advancing educational goals through the incorporation of active learning, innovative curriculum design and teaching-as-research initiatives.

She is widely known in higher education as a change agent and leader in STEM. She is a co-founder of the Society for Advancement of Biology Education Research, a National Vision and Change Fellow with the Partnership for Undergraduate Life Sciences Education, and was a Fulbright-Nehru Distinguished Chair to India in 2015 to help build capacity at the national level for pedagogically advanced and responsive STEM education.

Maria Guajardo


Guajardo currently serves as deputy-vice president at Soka University in Tokyo, where she developed a new degree program in international liberal arts.

She will visit Durango for a campus visit March 29-30.

She is the first Latina to serve on the Soka University of America Board of Trustees. She received a bachelor’s degree in psychology from Harvard University and master’s and doctorate degrees in clinical psychology from the University of Denver.

Her doctoral dissertation examined the question of Latinas dropping out of school, which launched her career at the Colorado Department of Education, where she served as the state’s dropout prevention coordinator.

Guajardo later served as the executive director of the Latin American Research and Service Agency in Denver and executive director of Assets for Colorado Youth. Then-Denver Mayor John Hickenlooper selected Guajardo as the executive director of the Mayor’s Office for Education and Children.

The daughter of illiterate Mexican immigrant parents, Dr. Guajardo is recognized for her advocacy on behalf of children in Colorado, nationally and internationally. She has served on the boards of the University of Denver, Children’s Hospital Colorado and The Denver Foundation, among others. She is a member of the Colorado Women’s Hall of Fame.

Tom Stritikus


Stritikus currently serves as a deputy director of K-12 Education at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, where he oversees initiatives of personalized learning, assessment for student learning, instructional leadership, teacher observation and feedback, and teacher preparation.

He will visit Durango for a campus visit April 2-3.

Before joining the foundation, Stritikus was dean of the University of Washington College of Education.

Raised in an immigrant household, Stritikus began his public school teaching experience with Teach For America in Baltimore.

He received his bachelor’s degree in English from the University of Nebraska, Lincoln, and his master’s and doctorate degrees from the University of California, Berkeley, in education in language, literacy and culture.

Stritikus has served on the boards of the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching, Educurious and the Seattle Educational Alliance, among others.

FLC’s current president, Dene Thomas, will retire at the end of the academic year. Thomas’ successor is expected to assume the presidency on July 1.

Thomas currently earns $260,000 annually and is provided with the use of a house and a car.

The executive search firm Witt/Kieffer led the recruitment process, and the final 120 applicants exceeded the firm’s estimate that 80 applications would be received.

Declining enrollment has pinched finances at the Fort, and a now-rejected course of tenured faculty layoffs was but one avenue examined in a budget review to deal with the looming lack of funds for the 2018-19 academic year.

Enrollment for the fall semester came in at 3,356 – 239 students shy of the previous year. Fall 2016 enrollment was 3,595, which at that time was the lowest enrollment in more than a decade.

During the recession in 2009, fall enrollment was 3,685.

“We’ve had an open process, a shared governmental process.”

However, by holding tenured and tenure-track professors free from cuts, the focus of any potential layoffs will now fall on administrators, staff members, adjunct professors and lecturers.

“There will be changes,” Thomas said. “I’m not in a position to discuss the details now. We are in negotiations.”

Thomas said the college has emphasized recruitment of new students and will continue to look at putting more resources into admissions and recruiting to turn around problems with lagging enrollment.

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