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Sunday, May 27, 2018

Mueller Looks Forward to Building New Business Partnerships

  • Michelle Mueller, WCC’s associate vice president for economic development and community and corporate alliances.

When you look at Michelle Mueller’s long list of business-related activities, you assume that she’s a successful businesswoman. But you would be wrong. WCC’s new associate vice president for economic development and community and corporate alliances is an experienced educator, administrator, and business collaborator.

Mueller will use her experience to expand the College’s partnerships and programs in the local and regional business sectors. She also will establish new alliances with educators, executives, and government agencies throughout southeast Michigan. It’s an assignment for which she’s well qualified.

As dean of workforce development at St. Clair County Community College, Mueller served on the leadership team and was the former chairperson of a consortium of nine southeast Michigan community colleges. WCC was one of the members. The consortium worked collaboratively on workforce development for the region.

“I am very happy to be at WCC,” Mueller said. “At St. Clair I worked on regional initiatives with MEDC [Michigan Economic Development Corp.] President Michael Finney when he was president of Ann Arbor SPARK. We also collaborated on regional strategic planning and developed the model for regional collaboration; it was a great experience for me.”

In addition to her work with the consortium, Mueller has served on Automation Alley, Detroit Regional Chamber, and Southeast Michigan Council of Governments committees. Automation Alley is Michigan’s largest nonprofit technology business association, which helps drive growth in southeast Michigan. 

Her experience with educational associations at the state level also gives her a unique understanding of the challenges and opportunities that face communities in and around Washtenaw County.

She served as vice chair of the Michigan Association of Continuing Education and Training. And she was a member of the Michigan Occupational Deans Administrative Council, as well as the Michigan Association of Collegiate Registrars and Admissions Officers.

Go Blue, Go Green

To say that Mueller is familiar with Ann Arbor and its surrounding communities is an understatement. As a U-M student, she spent hours and hours marching among the hash marks and yard lines of the Big House as a member of the Michigan Marching Band.

“I went to a private two-year liberal arts college in North Carolina before I transferred to Michigan,” Mueller said. “When I graduated, I was hired as a student recruiter for St. Clair County Community College.

“The community college environment felt very comfortable and very familiar to me. I really appreciated its small class sizes and affordable tuition. I worked in recruitment for five years before being promoted to director of admissions right after I finished my master’s degree at Michigan State.”

Mueller said she chose to pursue her master’s at MSU because she wanted more than one perspective. “It was a much more hands-on, practical degree,” she said. “And it was really focused on student services. I thought I’d end up as a dean of students. I never really considered other possibilities.”

Nonetheless, other opportunities arose. Her next position at St. Clair was director of enrollment services. This meant that she oversaw registration, recruitment, admissions, and academic records.

She Made Technology Work For Her

“We worked with the Datatel [higher education software] system and did all of the communications management for the college,” said Mueller. “I was the power user on campus with data and technology. I guess it was because of my music background that I naturally gravitated toward the computer.

“Anything I could learn I would learn. If there was an easier way to do something through technology, I was going to figure it out. We couldn’t hire more people because we didn’t have the budget. We had to use technology to free up staff so they could focus their time and effort on students.”

Mueller helped oversee the effort to convert St. Clair’s character-based environment in Datatel to a graphical user interface system. She wrote modules on how data was being moved and how it would be coded. She also was responsible for training the entire campus on the new system.

“I find myself in unique situations because I’m curious,” said Mueller. “I ask a lot of questions and I’m not afraid to try. I’m always looking for a better way of doing something. Not that I have to change, but if I see a way of saving time and money, I’m going to try it.”

Her Experience Created New Opportunities

It was as enrollment services director that her work with business and industry took root. “You will find adult learners in one of three places: at home, at work, or through an agency like Michigan Works. So we created a recruitment strategy around that,” said Mueller.

Her successes in reaching adult learners and converting data, among others, led then-St. Clair President Rose Bellanca to move her out of enrollment and into planning and development, and eventually workforce development.

“Rose is the kind of person who sees the potential in someone and guides them toward it,” said Mueller. “She allowed me to work with Gus Demas, who was provost at St. Clair, as an administrative mentor. Together, we worked on strategic planning and development projects, and we ran an international symposium on alternative energy with Robert Kennedy Jr. as our keynote speaker.”

Collaborations Opened Up New Partnerships

Mueller and Demas worked closely with the St. Clair Chamber of Commerce and Lambton College, a two-year institution across the St. Clair River in Sarnia with international campuses in China, India, and Saudi Arabia. After a stint as co-chair of the St. Clair Higher Learning Commission reaccreditation visit, Mueller was given the assignment of dean of workforce development.

There she had success with short-term programs, contract training, and professional development contracts. However, she says that one of her biggest successes was a $2 million U.S. Department of Labor grant to develop job training in the areas of transportation, distribution, and logistics.

The proposal was written in partnership with Mott Community College, which provided grant-writing support.  This successful outcome serves as an example of Mueller’s knowledge of community issues and opportunities, enthusiasm for collaboration, and ingenuity in securing resources.

“St. Clair is right on the I-69 corridor,” she said. “There is more commerce traffic across the Blue Water Bridge than Detroit has, in part from the double-stacking tunnel between Sarnia, Ontario, and Port Huron. A lot of cargo moves through that system to Halifax, Nova Scotia, and beyond. It’s truly a world trade route.

“You have to know what the plans are for the region in order to be a successful grant planner. You have to know where organizations like SEMCOG are going and what their challenges are in order to bring them on as partners. That’s where the opportunity is.

“If there’s anything that I do well, it’s connecting ideas with people and finding the resources to do it. It’s like a puzzle for me. I love finding where all of the pieces fit.”

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