Learning & Leading into the 2020s
Welcome, New WCTC President, Rich Barnhouse, Ph.D.
When Rich Barnhouse, Ph.D., was growing up, he remembers his now-retired father coming home from the office with his suit a bit wrinkled, a stain or two on his sleeve. His father worked as a manager of a national meat packing plant and later, as the owner of his own business. While at work, his father would often head out to the shop floor and climb under the machines to take a closer look at how things worked. In the process, he built strong relationships with the employees who operated the equipment. Those efforts helped him better understand workers' critical roles within the plant and the impact it had on the company's success.
While Barnhouse was only in high school at the time, he watched and listened closely to his father's example and has adopted that same philosophy and work ethic in his own life and career – particularly now in his new role as president of Waukesha County Technical College.
"I think the (WCTC District) board thought I was joking in my interview when I said I'd carry a pair of steel-toe boots in my trunk so that I can get on the plant floor – and find out what the needs are, what we can do better and what's coming up next – but I was serious about that," Barnhouse said. "You've got to get under the machine, with the folks who are running the machine, to figure out how to make it better," he said, noting the importance of understanding and responding to industry's needs and how the College prepares students for the workforce.
Getting to Know the College, K-12 Districts, and Business and Industry
In his first year as top administrator, Barnhouse said his focus will be getting to know the College, as well as K-12 school districts and local employers – and elevating those partnerships.
"Number one is, without a doubt, to understand. I think it's a mistake for any new leader to come in and sort of espouse a vision for which they have no basis. And I think that's where you can get off kilter," said Barnhouse, who started Jan. 5. "My job this year is beyond leading, and transactional, and a little bit of vision. It is to really understand and listen to what's happening here inside the institution – but also to the needs and issues of business and industry."
Collaborations with local K-12 school districts are also important to promote awareness about WCTC and the Wisconsin Technical College System as a whole.
"It's equally important to have really strong relationships with K-12 districts in the region. It's our obligation to make sure that students in the K-12 systems understand the benefit, the value and the life-changing opportunities that exist at WCTC."
Additionally, being a good financial steward is paramount so taxpayers know their dollars are being put to good use. "We really need to think about how we deliver on what our responsibility is and ensure that the taxpayers look at their bill and think, ‘Okay, this is worth it,'" Barnhouse said.
Progressive Experience in Higher Education and a Return to Wisconsin
Barnhouse has 20 years of higher education experience in a variety of roles. Most recently, he was vice president of Student Services and Enrollment Management at State College of Florida, Manatee-Sarasota from 2016 to 2020.
Prior to working in Florida, he spent 12 years in Wisconsin. He was associate vice chancellor for Student Affairs and Enrollment Management at the University of Wisconsin Colleges from 2011 to 2016, dean of students at Moraine Park Technical College from 2007 to 2011 and assistant campus dean for Administrative Services at the University of Wisconsin-Sheboygan from 2004 to 2007.
In the early part of his career, Barnhouse was assistant director for Facilities – Student Affairs at the University of South Carolina from 2003 to 2004 and assistant director for Operations – Student Affairs at Rice University in Texas from 2001 to 2003.
His career has taken him across the country, but he considers Wisconsin home.
"I came to Wisconsin in my mid-20s and left to move to Florida when I was 40, so for me, Wisconsin is my home. This is where I spent some of the most important years of developing my career," said Barnhouse, who grew up in suburban Toronto, Canada.
A return to the Badger State is also a homecoming for Barnhouse's wife, Tiffany, who grew up in Pewaukee, graduated from Pewaukee High School and took a class at WCTC one summer during her time as a student at the University of Wisconsin – Madison. "She's thrilled to be back," he said. "It's really a nice coincidence."
Barnhouse holds a Ph.D. in Leadership, Learning and Service from Cardinal Stritch University, a master's degree in Sport Administration from Central Michigan University and a bachelor's degree in Physical Education, with an emphasis in exercise physiology, from Brock University in Ontario, Canada. Also, in 2019, he completed the Institute for Educational Management professional education program at Harvard University.
A Passion for Community and Technical Education
While Barnhouse has worked at both two- and four-year institutions, he has great fervor for technical education and its ability to transform lives.
"I've spent the last 16 or 17 years in this part of the academe, which I find to be the most notable and rewarding," he said. "We start by changing individuals and changing families, and then we can change communities. I feel like WCTC is where I can have an impact within the two-year college experience."
Additionally, he said a WCTC education offers something for all students: those enrolling straight from high school, returning adult students in their 30s, 40s or 50s and individuals looking for career retraining. If students want to continue their education or directly enter the workforce, they will be ready for the next step.
"From here, our students can go anywhere and everywhere," Barnhouse said. "I think our graduates are phenomenal critical thinkers, and they're going to do well because they've had such an exceptional education."
Praise for the Year-round, 8-week Calendar
Barnhouse joined WCTC halfway through the College's initial year with the year-round, 8-week calendar, and he has nothing but praise for the innovative academic model. He commended those involved with its development, calling it a "Herculean effort."
"It's amazing how quickly this was designed, built and implemented. Rarely, do things go well in their first iteration, but all signs are pointing to real success," Barnhouse said, noting the calendar's numerous benefits, among them reduced time to degree and mastery of coursework. "The fact that our student survey went out and that student satisfaction went up, that's unheard of when you start a new model. So it's a real credit to the faculty for the way they changed their curriculum and their pedagogy to make it fit and to excel at it. And to do it during COVID-19 – it's absolutely incredible."
Settling in and Looking to the Future
On a personal level, Barnhouse and his wife are enjoying their recent move back to the Midwest. They have been participating in outdoor activities such as winter hikes, and cross-country ski and snowshoe outings, and they've been discovering new restaurants and savoring the classic Friday fish fry. Both sports fans, the couple is excited to cheer on the Packers and the Brewers in the teams' home state.
Professionally, Barnhouse is eager to guide WCTC into the next year and decade as the higher education landscape will continue to shift in how curriculum is delivered, how students' expectations are met and how technology impacts learning.
"I am thrilled to be here," he said. "I really look forward to advancing WCTC's legacy, which is, of excellence. It's a privilege and an honor to lead WCTC through the 2020s."