The enthusiasm is infectious.
The energy is undeniable.
The interview? Well, let’s just say you better come prepared with quick fingers and a good ear because Walters State Community College President Dr. Tony Miksa approaches conversation like he does almost everything else, exuding a positive passion.
“My mom always said I woke up with a smile. I’ve always had a smile on my face. I’m always upbeat,” he said. “Life is great. It’s awesome … There’s some wonderful things happening in life. I love being around people. I love engaging people. I love talking to them and hearing about their hopes and dreams. That’s what makes life fun.”
It’s that attitude that has served him well and he hopes to pass along to his students.
“I wasn’t the top student … I worked hard and there were people along the way that saw potential in me and encouraged me. That was something that helped me get to where I am today, I feel if I can bring that same attitude of encouragement and say, ‘Look, you can do it. You can get there. You can make this happen.’ I can’t think of a better thing to do in life.
“That’s what I think I love so much about the community college mission. We’re about openness. We’re about bringing people in. We’re about meeting people where they’re at and getting them to where they need to be. And that’s an exciting thing.”
That excitement is evident in multiple facets of Miksa’s life and includes his feelings toward the community in which he and his family, wife Deb, son Dalton and daughter Delaney, live.
Miksa, a native of tiny Big Rock, Illinois, outside Chicago, said he and his family love the Lakeway Area, especially the weather which caters to his love of the outdoors.
“This has been like a great playground where I can ride my bike and run, be outside, build trails, and the lake, those sort of things,” he said. “So it’s been fun.”
But there’s something positive going on beyond the natural wonders, he said.
“This area has got a lot of great things going on in terms of trying to build a strong sense of community,” he said. “Trying to build business and industry, grow business and industry. The people want to be engaged and they have a lot of ideas and they want to try a lot of things. Deb and I, from our perspective, we like to be engaged and we like to try a lot of things. We just kinda have been lucky and tried to catch on to a couple of things and be a part of that … the people have been so nice and just welcomed us.”
Walters State is Miksa’s fourth institution. He joined the college in 2016, an interesting time for education in Tennessee and the Lakeway Area as the level of focus on community and technical colleges has grown exponentially with initiatives like the Tennessee Promise program...
“When I was looking at different presidencies, there were certain things I was looking for,” Miksa said. “I wanted a college that was doing great things already. I wanted one that was already working and people were passionate about success and Walters State really checked off both of those things.
“One of the gems of coming here was the emphasis that the governor was putting on education with the promise program, not only with the scholarship dollars, but also with a culture that the previous governor, and the current governor is continuing on with, of funding education because they see the importance of helping the community achieve a higher education attainment level. More education typically means better lifestyle for people.
“It’s been a nexus of things coming together.”
Miksa said the first thing he did when he arrived on campus was to sit down with each employee. He asked them each what Walters State does well, what it could improve upon and why they liked working there.
“When it got down to why you like working at Walters State, almost all of them said we want to help our students be successful,” he said. “We want to help our students reach their educational goals. From the onset I realized there are people on this campus that are truly passionate about helping all types of students, it doesn’t matter where they come from.”
Miksa said one of the hearts of any campus is its faculty and he’s proud of WSCC’s educators.
“This is the fourth institution that I’ve been at and out of all four, I can’t think of another group of faculty that are more concerned about our students, that want our students to be successful, that will go out of their way in the class room to say ‘Ok, what is it I can do to help you be successful?’
“It truly is a special place where people want our students to succeed and that’s why I love coming to work every day.”
Miksa added that a lot of that attitude is carrying over to the community at large, building a culture of community support.
“They realize for us to be a great community, we need to educated,” Miksa said. “That means education helps us be a great part of a Democratic society. It helps us be a great thinker. It helps us to be aware of difference in people and understand how we can live together in a way that really makes this community rich and vibrant.”
Still any community has room for improvement and Miksa has already begun addressing some of the things he’d like to see more of. As a fitness buff, he’s spearheaded the effort to build hiking and biking trails on the college’s land across Highway 25E from the campus and he’d like to see that effort grow.
“We’d like to continue to promote a healthy lifestyle in the community,” he said. “You know, people’s health can really make an impact on the happiness of the community.”
He said he hopes Walters State will continue to grow its relationship with the K-12 programs in the area so students have a greater opportunity.
“We love for students to have associate degrees when they graduate high school,” he said. “That’s something we want to work on and grow.”
And Miksa said he hopes the Lakeway Area will continue to grow in population.
“With all the business and industry, we the incredible job that everyone has done to recruit business and industry, I think we need to bring people to this community,” he said. “Bringing people to this community help to grow the diverse environment, a rich diverse environment, and that’s what really helps to make a community strong.”