Straka prepares to say goodbye to MSU

After nearly 36 years working in the Minnesota State system, Vice President for Finance and Administration Rick Straka is retiring. 

Straka came to MSU in November of 1987 as the athletic business manager before becoming the university’s budget director. Straka worked at MSU for seven years before taking the vice president of finance role at South Central Technical College in North Mankato where he worked for 11 years. He then took his current position at MSU in 2006. 

Straka said his time at South Central gave him the experience of supervising people he needed to return to MSU.

“I learned how to manage people and it was the first time I really became intimately involved in the decisions relating to facilities both in facilities operations and in master facility planning. It helped me broaden my reach,” Straka said. 

Straka has been responsible for the campus facilities and overseeing financial plans. He has a team in Facilities and Planning and Construction who work with the architects and contractors to ensure projects are built and move forward the way they’re intended.  

Some of the projects Straka oversaw were the Trafton renovations, the Clinical Sciences Building and the underground tunnel from the Centennial Student Union and the Memorial Library. 

Straka said keeping MSU financially stable is one of his greatest contributions. 

“We’ve been able to continue to make investments in the university even when resources were tight or declining. I’ve worked with great leaders and enjoyed being able to work as part of a collegial team to put the best interests of the students forward and try to give the students the best education we can give them at really reasonable costs,” Straka said.

Straka said one of the struggles he faced during his career was the COVID pandemic.

“It was a struggle trying to figure out how we could focus our resources to make sure that students got the support they could get and how to access classes, but also making sure we kept people safe,” Straka said. “That was a really delicate balance in those couple of years.”

The 2008 Great Recession was another struggle Straka faced. 

“We had a budget plan of about $8 million and we had to make reductions in the university. We had to come together to make some difficult decisions, but we also made sure we were still investing in the university to set ourselves up for the next decade,” Straka said. 

Throughout his time at MSU, Straka said the campus community has become more prideful. 

“I think MavFam has become more than just a saying. It really is a culture,” Straka said. “It’s a much more close-knit community.”

Taking Straka’s role is Anne Gillespie. Gillespie was the Vice President for Business and Finance at Mount Mercy University in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. While he wasn’t involved in the search, Straka said he already sent Gillespie a warm welcome and his congratulations. 

“I’m looking forward to meeting her in January when she comes on board. We have a little transition time where we’ll both be on board and where I can hopefully help her transition a little bit into the uniqueness of the Minn State system and public higher ed in Minnesota,” Straka said.

Before Straka officially departs on Feb. 6, he said he wants to address some budgetary challenges and continue advocating for the Armstrong replacement to help with the transition.  

“There’s some reorganization taking place in the university as well as the transition from myself to our new Vice President and I just want to try to make that transition as smooth as possible,” Straka said.

The energy of the students is what Straka said he’d miss the most. 

“If I’m having a stressful day, I’ll get out and walk through the Student Union and be around the buzz and the activity. Being around 13,000 students every day who are excited and nervous about what they’re going through, but knowing we’re changing their lives through education is really rewarding,” Straka said.

Straka said his career has been rewarding and how gracious MSU has been to him and his family.

“I got my MBA and undergraduate from here. My daughter has two degrees and my son has a degree from here. It’s an important institution to our family and I just have fabulous memories here,” Straka said.

During his retirement, Straka said he plans to golf, fish and spend time with his friends and family. He also plans on entering his third year as a board member at Feeding Our Community Partners.

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