YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio (WKBN) – In February, Youngstown State University President Jim Tressel will retire. He took over as president in 2014 and a lot has changed in those past eight years at YSU. This week, WKBN Community Affairs Director Dee Crawford goes In-Depth with Tressel.
Tressel began by discussing his first year at YSU — why Youngstown and why the university?
“Well, you know, God is so good that he tricks you a lot, and I never dreamed I would be a president, first of all. [I] never dreamed I’d have the opportunity to come back where we had had 15 wonderful years with great people. But as fate would have it, one thing led to another and I decided, you know, I want to look into this higher ed,” he said. “I’d coached for 38 years. I thought, well, that’s probably enough, and spent a couple of years there at the University of Akron as a vice president. Wouldn’t you know, the Youngstown State presidency opened up… I threw my hat in the ring very quickly and good things happened.”
“Leadership is leadership, and you came with the skills that Youngstown and this community needed,” Crawford said.
Tressel said that he believes leadership is about action you take to serve others.
“It has been such a joy serving our students, our faculty, the community. This Thanksgiving week, I thought often how blessed I’ve been and how grateful I’ve been to have these opportunities to serve others,” he said.
The goal when Tressel came to YSU was to create a campus to be proud of. As a board member and president of the board of trustees, Crawford said she remembers Tressel’s dedication to that goal.
“You remember the first thing I did when I came in was I got my group of presidential mentors and I asked them what do you think we could do to be better? And the first thing they said is we want to be proud of the place physically. So, let’s fix the streets. Let’s get some apartments that will be fun to live in. Let’s make it a community so that we can spend time together. Yes, in the classroom but out of the classroom. And it’s been fun watching it develop,” Tressel said.
Tressel now looks toward the future for YSU. As education is in transition, state schools are now faced with more and more requirements and demands upon administration in academia to graduate within specific times.
“Well, there’s no question. Everyone we run into talks about the need for workforce. We need talent so that our businesses are better, so that our organizations are better, and so forth. Our role in that is the four-year graduate. We do have one or two, two-year programs. We do have some certificates and credentials. But our main focus is on that four-year and making sure that we’re preparing them with their subject matter, but also preparing them to be the kind of citizens and the kind of people…” Tressel said. “Resources are scarce for everyone, whether it’s education or health care or the things that our city or our county need. So balancing that ability on scarce resources to be as efficient as we can be, to turn out the product we need to turn out. Everyone asks me along the way, ‘Gosh, you’re old. Why are you still doing this?’ And I always tell them, because it’s important. This university is so important for this region and that’s why it’s been so much fun.”
Workforce development is another key component of YSU’s relationship with the region, and Tressel says the opportunities are “plentiful.”
“Every time I run into account firms, they need more great accountants,” Tressel said. “We have Ultium, which is the LG Chem GM Group building the batteries. We need thousands of workers of all kinds.”
Tressle talked about Foxconn and the products it is manufacturing in Lordstown as well as the TJX warehouse the and technology that’s happening in the Valley.
“All of the supply chain for this Intel project that’s happening in Central Ohio about two or three hours away, so we are going to have so many opportunities,” Tressel said. “Here’s our challenge – we need more people willing to work, and we have to do a great job of training them along the degree paths.”
Tressel concluded by saying what an honor it has been to serve the university and the community and he is optimistic about the future.
“The pendulum (in the) history of civilization swings back and forth, and I think it’s swinging in a good direction toward the Valley.”