Farewell to an Exceptional Leader

Dec 12th, 2005 @ 3:41 pm | Author: By Ellen-Earle Chaffee
North Dakota and Valley City State University are about to lose one of our most powerful forces for a positive future. These things happen, and our progress will continue. But a transition like this deserves special public acknowledgement.

You may never have heard of Curt Wolfe, the state's chief information officer since 1999. Curt just announced that he will retire this month. He is one of those unsung heroes who simply go about making miracles happen. I find it hard to believe that he has only been here six years. He went out of his way to get involved with grass roots action like ours, always in highly consultative and supportive ways.

Among the achievements since 1999 are a statewide information technology planning process, statewide high speed broadband access to every county and school, state support for EduTech to help teachers throughout the state become proficient with technology, and funding for and implementation of a massive PeopleSoft administrative software system (the ConnectND project). Under Curt's leadership, North Dakota jumped into the information age with both feet, and it did so in ways that kept the playing field level - rural and urban, east and west, small and large.

A side note here about ConnectND. Someone recently asked me for the "inside scoop." He was concerned after hearing serious complaints about the system. Since VCSU was among the first to get involved, he wanted my perspective. I told him it was absolute hell at the start, and it remains a serious concern. We have added staff and changed many procedures and job descriptions. We have lost students, and we have lost some functionality. But – and please note this! – ConnectND is also an essential forward step and it was done extremely well.

How can these evaluations co-exist? First, we had no choice. We could not continue past practice, and PeopleSoft was the best option in the market. Second, we had to implement the system in half the time with half the funding compared to industry standards. Yet the software is running, some functions are much better than before, and it continues to improve, thanks to on-going commitment from extraordinary local and state staff.

These and other achievements required massive participation, cooperation, and coordination. Many, many people deserve credit, certainly including the legislature and the governor. But if one is to be named, I am confident that the overwhelming vote would be for Curt Wolfe. He has sought input from people on the front lines, he has supported local initiatives, and he has brought diverse and sometimes contentious constituencies together for the greater good.