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MCC Provost Robin Lilienthal prepares for retirement

T-R PHOTO BY LANA BRADSTREAM After more than 20 years, Robin Lillienthal is preparing to say goodbye to Iowa Valley Community College District and Marshalltown Community College. Her last day is Friday.

After more than 20 years, the bulk of her career, Robin Lilienthal is retiring from Iowa Valley Community College District (IVCCD) and Marshalltown Community College (MCC). Her last day is June 28.

“Leaving a college and a job that I love has given me all the feels,” Lilienthal said. “It’s going to be difficult not seeing my work friends and the students everyday because so much of my life has been connected with them. On the other hand, I’m excited for this new chapter and career move. I’m sure that I will feel emotional on my last day, but I will be so excited to cheer on the success of MCC from the sidelines as it will always hold a special place in my heart.”

Her career in Marshalltown has been riddled with highs and lows, accomplishments and challenges.

One of the biggest hurdles Lilienthal faced when she became provost in 2010 was the State of Iowa’s reduction in funding for community colleges. She described it as a very difficult budget time.

“In 2011, there were layoffs we had to do. We had to close programs,” Lilienthal said. “Anything we could do to minimize the impact on students while still working within the budget. It was the most difficult and challenging time.”

Three programs that were closed were construction technician, which has since been brought back, computer drafting and design and men’s and women’s golf. Interest increased in construction, but has not risen in the other two. If more students express an interest in pursuing those, Lilienthal said they might return.

“It’s something to think about,” she said. “We did bring on women’s soccer and esports, which had potential for a bigger impact for student athletes. It has done exactly as we hoped.”

Another hard time was the 2020 COVID-19 pandemic and derecho, which she said was extremely challenging. The derecho delayed the start of the coming school year and caused $1 million worth of damage to MCC — the roof was torn off the 500 Hallway in the classroom building and the baseball and softball field was nearly flattened.

“That was difficult for everyone,” Lilienthal said. “There was so much damage on the MCC campus just as we were trying to get back after the pandemic.”

While there were some hard times, she also had some highlights. The biggest accomplishment Lilienthal said she did was improving the student experience at MCC.

“When I started, housing was not positive for the students, but I had a housing background,” she said. “I knew what it could be. I was not going to rest until we could have the opportunity for kids to live in campus housing.”

That meant more than making dormitories comfortable. Lilienthal also wanted to make sure high-quality meals were provided, along with positive social and learning experiences. Creating the positive student environment helped an increase in enrollment and retention — a point of pride for Lilienthal as this is an area in which colleges are very competitive.

Retaining students already attending MCC was the first step, she said. Staff wanted to show students the great facilities and give them a great experience. Lilienthal said now MCC has “phenomenal” retention and graduation rates.

“Our team worked diligently,” she said.

More focus was then placed on enrollment, and MCC is on the cusp of becoming a federally-recognized Hispanic-Serving Institution. Lilienthal said it is required for a postsecondary school to have Hispanic students comprise 25 percent of the student population at the end of the year.

“We are at 24.5 percent, and I am not surprised,” she said. “For the 2024 school year when the students come back, MCC could be the first Hispanic-Serving Institution in Iowa. This is a great place for diverse students to attend. Our international students are also a point of pride. We average 79 countries per year.”

The beginning

Lilienthal recalled the beginning of her time with IVCCD, and becoming the provost for MCC in 2010. Prior to that, she was the dean and vice provost for Grinnell Community College. Lilienthal left her job as an educational advisor with Des Moines Area Community College to work for IVCCD.

“I was looking for a great opportunity to advance my career in terms of advancement,” she said. “My husband and I live in northwest Jasper (County). I wanted to work someplace that I could commute to within a respectable distance. Grinnell was perfect.”

When Lilienthal heard about the opening at MCC, she seized the opportunity. The position would give her the opportunity to work in a variety of areas, such as community relations, overseeing athletics and student housing.

“I wanted to make a difference in a larger community and school,” she said.

The future

The soon-to-be-former MCC provost will not rest for long. Lilienthal has accepted a position with the Iowa Department of Education as an administration consultant.

“I am ready for new opportunities for myself and excited for the possibility,” she said. “I like a new challenge.”

In Lilienthal’s new position, she will work with non-credit programs, which she said is a new twist to her education career.

She will begin her new position in five weeks, which gives Lilienthal time to tour Europe — specifically Greece, Italy, France, the United Kingdom and Amsterdam — with her family.

“I have two adult kids,” she said. “The three of us will take a trip to Europe and do tourist stuff. My husband is going to stay home and take care of everything.”

Taking over Lilienthal’s duties at MCC is Matthew Schmit, who is moving into the position from serving as the dean of manufacturing & skilled trades and interim executive director of workforce development at Eastern Iowa Community College in Bettendorf. Schmit started working full-time at the Marshalltown campus on June 3, training with his predecessor.

“We’ve spent almost all day together as schedules allow,” Lilienthal said. “He is really prepared to take over when I am done on July 1.”

A farewell party for Lilienthal was already thrown. She said retirement parties at MCC occur shortly after graduation, and that suited her fine.

“I did not want a big shebang and I wanted to be with the rest of my colleagues,” Lilienthal said.

Contact Lana Bradstream at 641-753-6611 ext. 210 or lbradstream@timesrepublican.com.

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