Area residents invited to attend NWC candidate forum

Posted 10/20/20

The Northwest College Politics Club, the Student Senate and Faculty Senate invite area residents to attend a forum for NWC Board of Trustees candidates on Monday. The Oct. 26 event will be held at 6 …

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Area residents invited to attend NWC candidate forum


The Northwest College Politics Club, the Student Senate and Faculty Senate invite area residents to attend a forum for NWC Board of Trustees candidates on Monday. The Oct. 26 event will be held at 6 p.m. via Zoom.

During this virtual event, candidates who are currently running will be given the opportunity to share opening statements about their candidacies and answer questions from attendees.

For the single open Powell area seat, incumbent Mark Wurzel is being challenged by Bill Johnson and Karen Elton.

Additionally, two Cody area seats are available, with trustee Bob Newsome running for re-election and Tara Kuipers and Richard Jones campaigning to join the board. Current Cody area trustee Luke Anderson is not seeking re-election after serving one term.

Meeteetse area representative Lawrence Todd, who was appointed to the NWC Board during the summer, is running unopposed. During the summer, Todd filled longtime board member Nada Larsen’s unexpired term after she moved out of the Meeteetse district, making her ineligible to serve. 

Park County community members, faculty, staff and students are encouraged to attend Monday’s forum. For those interested in attending, email NWC associate professor of political science Walt Jatkowski at to request a Zoom meeting link.

Current Board of Trustees members include Carolyn Danko, Dustin Spomer (president) and Wurzel (vice president/secretary) of Powell; Anderson (treasurer), John Housel and Newsome of Cody; and Todd of Meeteetse.

To stay up to date on all upcoming events at NWC, visit


Elton seeks to bring accounting skills to NWC

Karen Elton wants to bring her accounting knowledge and experience to the Northwest College Board of Trustees. Elton said her skills would be an important asset as the college struggles with budgetary challenges in the coming years.

Elton is one of two challengers running against incumbent Mark Wurzel for the Subdistrict A position, which covers Powell.

“I’d love to see this college moving forward,” she said.

As a CPA, she said she could go through the budget line-by-line, and she could examine building leases to make sure they’re a good fit for the school’s needs.

Elton said cuts will need to be made, and she would advocate a more gradual approach to them, which makes it easier for people impacted by them to adjust.

Wise decision making, Elton said, comes from fully understanding the issues that come before the board, and she said more research is needed in the process.

“I think more of the board members need to be more inquisitive about the information they’re getting,” Elton said. “Unless you can fully understand what’s going on, I don’t see how you can make a good decision.”

To tackle declining enrollments, Elton proposes better marketing campaigns. She said it wasn’t the only thing that’s needed to reverse the trend, but she points to an NWC billboard in Cody as an example of where she believes the college is coming up short. She said it’s difficult to see that the advertisement is associated with NWC.

“I think we need to get the name out there more, so people can recognize it,” the candidate said.

When the University of Wyoming started its “The world needs more Cowboys” campaign, she said it saw some of its highest recorded enrollment rates.

“You can build a better mousetrap, but if you don’t have it marketed, they’re not going to get that mousetrap,” Elton said.

She said marketing and outreach are “by no means the only thing” that’s needed, but thinks they would go a long way to reverse the college’s enrollment trends.

Elton said she’s not for or against the selling of Trapper Village West, which was proposed as part of a master housing plan the board recently adopted. If elected, how she’d vote on the issue would depend on a lot of factors. She said if it did come to pass, she’d want any revenues from the sale to be used wisely.

Elton is a Powell native who also ran for the board in 2018. She earned two associate’s degrees from NWC, and a bachelor’s in accounting from Montana State University-Billings. Her husband is an NWC welding instructor, and she has two adult sons.

“I would like to be the voice of the community. I want to hear from different people. I want to hear their thoughts and opinions,” Elton said.


Johnson looks to bring teaching experience to board

Bill Johnson was a Northwest College welding instructor for 22 years, retiring in December 2018. He wants to bring those years of teaching experience to the board of trustees.

“There’s a lot of stuff that goes on policy-wise that has to be looked into, I think,” he said.

Johnson has been a welder since the 1970s, working in Bozeman and Missoula, Montana, and Las Vegas, among other places. He said it was around the 1970s that higher education began to move away from trades into the professional services.

“I think education is a great thing. We don’t need $6 million doctors and lawyers. We need people who know how to turn a wrench. We need people who know how to drive a nail, how to finish a concrete floor, how to build a building and how to build a house,” Johnson said. 

He also believes beefing up the college’s focus on trade programs and certificates would improve enrollment; he said Sheridan College attracts students that way.

Johnson also thinks NWC needs to advertise more and that faculty should be actively recruiting students. As a welding instructor, he said he spent a lot of time talking to young people about continuing their education at NWC. He said his efforts contributed to the four-fold increase in students enrolled in his class from the time he started until he retired.

“It’s a crying shame to watch our students graduate here and go to Sheridan or Billings or somewhere else because we don’t have programs to fit their needs,” he said.

As a trustee, Johnson said he would have a much stronger presence on campus than current board members typically have. 

“They need to get involved with the faculty, the classified and professional staff. They need to get involved with everybody. And everybody needs to communicate with the board of trustees,” he said. “That’s the only way it’s going to work. We’ve gotten too segregated.”

With diminishing state support, the college is facing budgetary challenges in the coming years. As a board member, Johnson said cuts should be made in administration, and he wants faculty to enjoy more protection.

“They make the big bucks,” Johnson said of the school’s administration.

He opposes divesting of Trapper Village West, which was proposed in the master housing plan the board recently adopted. Rather than selling the Trapper West property, Johnson said the college should use it as rentals for the general public.

“There’s no reason they can’t do that. They rented it out to the students. Why can’t they rent it out to the general public and get the revenue from it?” he said.

Johnson was born and raised in Montana. He went to Montana State University and earned a degree in technology education. He came to Powell in 1996 to pursue the teaching position at NWC.

He has two adult children.

“If I am elected, I promise to do my very best,” Johnson said.


Wurzel hopes to continue serving on NWC board

Mark Wurzel has served on the Northwest College Board of Trustees Subdistrict A for five years — and now he’s seeking another four.

“I’ve enjoyed being on the board,” Wurzel said. “I think it’s a good board that works well together, even though it has disparate voices.”

Wurzel said it’s a good time for a stable board with experienced trustees, as it’s possible NWC President Stefani Hicswa will be offered the chancellor position at Montana State University-Billings, requiring a transition in leadership at the college.

Wurzel was appointed to the board in September 2015 after the death of Jim Vogt, and he was elected to the position in 2016.

Wurzel said NWC is taking initiatives to address falling enrollments, and the efforts have greatly increased in the time he’s been on the board. However, he said many of these take time to bear fruit.

“There is some lag time between measures you take and successes from those measures,” he explained.

As far as whether it will reverse the downward trend — which colleges across the country are experiencing — “we’re hopeful,” he said.

Wurzel pointed out that dual and concurrent enrollment impacts the needs of college in the future. Students in the programs count toward the college’s enrollment, but they aren’t in a dorm, aren’t buying meal plans, aren’t shopping at the bookstore or going to events. These all will impact the revenues from fees and services going forward.

The college is also facing a $3 million shortfall this year as a result of declining state support, and Wurzel said it’s normal for state legislatures that are facing major financial challenges to cut community colleges’ budgets.

“Anytime a state legislature has almost a $2 billion shortfall over two years, they can’t leave any options off the table,” Wurzel said. “We have to consider all options in front of us to find $3 million, and that’s just one year. The next year there could be $3 million more.”

He thinks it’s possible that one day NWC will need to operate without any state support. The work the college is doing with consultants CampusWorks, he said, is helping it approach such possibilities realistically rather than “pie in the sky” thinking.

On the contentious proposal to sell Trapper Village West, he said he understands the reasoning, which is to “right size” the college’s housing needs to reflect future enrollment projections. However, at a town hall meeting on the proposal, a discussion with a faculty member on how the housing option was a “lifesaver” for her family changed his thinking on the topic. Wurzel is now considering a “hybrid” option where the college retains use of a portion of the subdivision rather than completely divesting of it.

Wurzel is a doctor at Powell Valley Healthcare. He and his wife, Patti, have three adult daughters. He is originally from California and has lived in Wyoming since 1985. He moved to Powell in 1989.