As provost search goes on, interim provost sets agenda

Maria Ly
Staff Writer

Dr. Matt Cecil, interim provost and senior vice president for academic affairs at Minnesota State University, Mankato plans to continue increasing student success and closing the opportunity gap.

Cecil is filling the role as interim provost as former provost Marilyn Wells has moved on as chancellor at Penn State Brandywine. Cecil will fulfill the roles of provost while the search for a permanent provost is underway.

Cecil’s job is to oversee all of academic affairs and programs, which is about three-fourths of the University. He also supervises the deans, and some of the associate vice presidents and work with them to figure out the best kinds of programming and initiatives to increase student success.

“Part of the job, you’re the president’s designated second in command. If there’s a situation where I’m needed, I’m there and often times I speak on behalf of the president,” said Cecil.

Cecil plans to move the agenda forward that former Provost Wells has worked on and President Davenport has set out for the university. The agenda consists primarily of student success and eliminating the opportunity gap.

“The opportunity gap merely refers to the idea that students of color tend to graduate at a slightly lower rate than the majority of students. We’re trying to figure out why that is and trying to come out with ways to address that, because we know the future of our state requires that we have lots and lots of people of color that are graduating from college,” said Cecil.

One thing to help close the opportunity gap and increase student success is the new program, MavPass. MavPass, which started in fall 2019, is supplemental instruction in courses where students have high rates of grades of Ds and Fs or high withdrawal.

MavPass relies on student facilitators who’ve been in the course prior and helps students in those classes. These student facilitators are expected to facilitate study groups. Cecil claimed they’ve seen good returns from the program and hopes to expand and continue it in more courses.

Cecil’s passion for higher education started in the beginning of his life in Brookings, South Dakota. Cecil has been exposed to higher education as his dad worked as an administrator in South Dakota State University. Growing up, he continuously became interested in higher education as he bounced from school to school getting his bachelor’s, master’s and PhD.

Cecil is a graduate from MNSU as he got his master’s in history working as a graduate assistant in the Lass Center in the library. Cecil joked that he basically lived in the library at the table on the second floor overlooking the balcony above the front desk.

After working as a political journalist, press secretary and media relations specialist – even writing a couple of books about FBI history – he realized he wanted something different. He decided to go into higher education and became a professor. As a professor, he mostly enjoyed teaching 100 level classes to freshmen.

“There’s more to it than just teaching the materials and the course, it’s about helping students understand how college works, which was a big part of that job. Just sort of showing them and helping them discover what it means to be a college student vs high school student, I just really enjoyed that part of the job,” said Cecil.

He worked as a faculty member at Purdue University, SDSU and University of Oklahoma. He then moved on to work in administration as he progressed to SDSU, Wichita State University, and MNSU gathering more than 10 years of administrative experience.

Cecil came to MNSU almost four years ago as the dean of the College of Arts and Humanities. Although Cecil’s worked as interim provost for nine days, he’s loving it.

“I mean having sort of worked as a dean, you know, you see ways that you can use your talents and skills to make a difference and obviously when you move up in an organization you have a little more of a voice,” said Cecil. “Deans’ have a lot of voice in what happens, but certainly a provost has the ability to bring people together and getting people to talk about what’s possible, and that’s the thing I really like.”

Cecil will be put on the candidate list for permanent provost and plans to apply when the search for a new provost begins.

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