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Faculty-Staff Photo

Dr. Shari L. Olson

College President


Shari L. Olson was appointed the president of South Mountain Community College (SMCC) in 2011. In this role, she is responsible for the overall leadership of the college — which serves more than 6,000 students each year, employs approximately 210 full-time and 400 part-time employees.

Dr. Olson has more than 20 years of community college administrative experience and 10 years of teaching experience. Throughout her career, she has remained committed to developing the best in her students and colleagues. Prior to her appointment as president, she served in several administrative roles in Minnesota and North Dakota, including interim president at Anoka Technical College (2010-2011); system director of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act for Minnesota State Colleges and Universities; and president at Eastern Wyoming College (2007-2008). She held several planning, administrative services, technology and outreach positions as vice president, dean, and director at Northland Community and Technical College (1995-2007); was assistant professor of graduate education at Bemidji State University; and served as director and faculty member in early childhood education at United Tribes Technical College (1991-1994).

In Dr. Olson’s prior roles, she has been responsible for the leadership of integrated planning and budgeting, business services, facilities and building maintenance, information technology services, and auxiliary services. She also established external partnerships and education programs with business and industry, implemented college-wide diversity initiatives, and developed an associate degree program in Early Childhood Education.

Over the past six years, under Dr. Olson’s leadership, SMCC continues to see results in student engagement and receive national recognition. In 2012, SMCC achieved a 13.4 percent increase in Fall-to-Fall Retention Rate (Governing Board Outcome Fall). In 2014, student engagement at South Mountain scored above the national benchmark in all five areas: active and collaborative learning, student effort, academic challenge, student-faculty interaction, and support for learners, with the largest increase in academic challenge and student-faculty interaction (prior CCSSE survey was done in 2011). The college also entered into a unique partnership with the Gila River Indian Community and offers courses on the Reservation that fill immediate job needs of the tribe. In 2014, Dr. Olson was invited to attend the White House Summit where she announced her continued commitment to increasing student success, and the college was a top 150 nominee for the Aspen Award. In 2015, the college was named a top 10 finalist for the Bellwether Award for our developmental education initiative. In 2016, the college was again a top 150 nominee for the Aspen Award and was named a top 10 finalist for the Bellwether Award for our Community Entrepreneurship Center/Initiative.

Dr. Olson is a first generation college student. She earned a doctoral degree from the University of North Dakota, a master’s degree from North Dakota State University, and a bachelor’s degree, with honors, from the same institution. She is a member of Phi Kappa Phi and Phi Upsilon Omicron, and an honorary member of Phi Theta Kappa International Honor Society.

Every summer, Dr. Olson coordinates a walk for cancer research in Minnesota. Over the past 23 years, she has donated all proceeds, totaling more than $30,000 to the University of Minnesota, Women’s Cancer Research fund. She has received numerous honors during her career, including being named the 2014 Entrepreneurial President of the Year by the National Association of Community College Entrepreneurship, the Minnesota State College Student Association 2011 President of the Year Award, 2008 Exemplary International Leader Award from The Chair Academy, induction into Phi Kappa Phi, and Phi Upsilon Omicron honor societies, honorary induction into Phi Theta Kappa in 2011, and graduation with honors from North Dakota State University.

Dr. Olson is married to Richard H. Nikunen Jr.


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