Presidential Finalist Rassoul Dastmozd
Rassoul Dastmozd (pronounced RAHS-ool DAHS-most) immigrated from his hometown of Rahst, Iran (near Tehran) in 1979 during the early stages of the Islamic revolution. According to the Twin Cities Pioneer Press, Dastmozd enrolled in Redlands Community College in Oklahoma, later transferring to a four-year college in Minnesota. As Iranian financial assets had been frozen due to the hostage crisis at the U.S. Embassy, he was unable to get financial help from his family, and worked two jobs to keep himself in school. He worked as an enginneer for three years, but left that to go into education, teaching robotics, lasers and computer networking at Indian Hills Community College in Iowa.
He has been well-received as President of St. Paul College in Minnesota. The Minneapolis Star-Tribune, in a profile from October 2014, receiving praise from St. Paul’s mayor for his work in closing the achievement gap between white and minority students, and a “unlikely rock star” by the President of the Port Authority.
He is known for knowing everyone’s name (including students) and picking up trash as he walks around campus. In 2006 he took the job of VIce President for Instruction at Clark College, our sister Community College in Vancouver, Washington. According to the Star-Tribune, Clark President Bob Knight said “He built relations with the faculty, brought in innovative programs and shut down the ones that weren’t getting good jobs. He turned the climate around and got people feeling good.” The article quotes Dastmozd as saying “Every school in the Twin Cities has a purpose, and there’s a reason they’re in the business of educating people. Some of it has to do with church affiliation, some are research universities. But our job is to get somebody who is not college material and make them college material. That’s where the beauty of it is.”
In his bio on the Clark College website, Dastmozd says “I believe community colleges are the most dynamic, affordable, and accessible vehicles in responding to the needs of a changing population. This reflects my personal belief about community college philosophy; that is, community college mission is based on responsiveness, equitable quality programming initiatives, and access. As a premier comprehensive community college, Clark’s mission also mirrors these ideals.”
During his time as President, St Paul College was cited as the Nation’s Best Community College by Washington Monthly, and as the 9th by TheBestSchool.org based on student achievement, employment rate and value.
He is a frequent contributor to the Huffington Post, and serves on the Board of Directors for “District Energy St. Paul” He is on the Board of Directors of the American Association of Community Colleges, which has a brief biography.
The Bridge: Please describe a time you made a difference to a student.
Dastmozd: I firmly believe that I make a difference to our students each and every day by being present and engaged in our college community. And, by demonstrating a genuine care and compassion for their welfare and well-being. Given my background as a person who emigrated to U.S. nearly 40 years ago as a college student, I understand the challenges that our students encounter on daily basis, whether these challenges are monetary or non-monetary.
On the monetary front, I continue to support the funding of [the] Presidential Scholarships for students who transfer to four year colleges and universities upon their graduation from Saint Paul College. I have personally funded these scholarships since 2011 when I assumed the presidency. These scholarships make significant differences for our students because they are seed monies to fund their education beyond their two years at Saint Paul College. Note: Faculty and staff nominate the students, who must meet certain criteria. I simply provide the funding. Additionally, through my active engagement with our community, I have been able to garner support for funding of scholarships so our students can complete their education without an interruption.
On a non-monetary front, I have been able to network with several companies in the Twin Cities (Minneapolis and St. Paul) to provide our students the social connections they need to secure employment. Saint Paul College students, beyond obtaining a college degree, need social connections to transition to the workplace. The Saint Paul College student body is the most diverse in the Minnesota (61%). One such example is my advocacy and efforts to establish the Traveler’s Edge Scholars program by securing support from Traveler’s Insurance Company. Saint Paul College students majoring in Accounting, Business, Marketing, and Human Resources can secure one of 12-15 spots as Traveler’s Scholars. They are coached and mentored by a team of executives from the company and potentially secure employment with them.
Other initiatives that have made differences in the lives of our students include: (a) establishing an early college; (b) expanding free community college for both traditional (Power of You) and non-traditional students (Make it Count); (c) securing the TRIO Student Support Services federal grant to provide wrap around services for non-traditional students; (d) a Gateway to College program; and, (e) establishing Service Learning and Honors programs.
As a President/CEO who is present, engaged, and interacts with students at the College on a daily basis, I actively listen to the stories and challenges our students face. I try to connect them with the resources and services that they need, and to be a caring voice of encouragement and hope for them. Meeting and exceeding the academic and non-academic needs of our students is my number one priority at Saint Paul College. http://www.saintpaul.edu/aboutus/Pages/TheStudentIs.aspx. I often remind our staff, faculty, and administrators, after all, if we do not take care of our students and our community, who will?
The Bridge: What role do you see for a student newspaper?
Dastmozd: A student newspaper provides college students who aspire to be a journalist with a wonderful opportunity to examine their field of interest prior to graduation. It provides students with the real practical experiences of how journalism works. It is the voice of students. For example, a student newspaper can promote civic engagement and opportunities for civil discourse on critical issues such as racial equity, inclusion, diversity, legislative priorities, academic and non-academic issues, societal trends influencing higher education, or any other newsworthy topics at the College.
A student newspaper can also play an important role in examining critical issues at the College. It is a mode of communication for students on campus issues. Additionally, it serves as a forum for students to exercise their First Amendment right of freedom of the press. In doing so, a student newspaper must adhere to journalistic integrity, a code of ethics, and report the facts to the college community in an accurate manner. In my opinion, a student newspaper should not to decide what part of an event is news and what part is not. A student newspaper must do what is needed, by all means, not to become the news!
The Bridge: Please tell our students something about yourself as a person that isn’t in your official biography.
Dastmozd: I am a photographer, a long distance walker, and a good cook!