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USM School of Education Alumnus Chosen to lead Michigan College

Thu, 10/31/2019 - 15:46pm | By: David Tisdale

Dr. Joe OdenwaldDr. Joe Odenwald knew he wanted to be a college president one day. And The University of Southern Mississippi (USM) helped him meet that goal.

A 2015 graduate of the USM School of Education’s doctoral program in Higher Education Administration, Dr. Odenwald was recently named president of Southwestern Michigan College (SMC), which has campuses in Dowagiac and Niles. He officially assumes the post Jan. 1, 2020.

Dr. Odenwald has served as SMC’s vice president of student services since 2017. Previously, he was assistant dean for academic affairs and student services at Louisiana State University’s College of Engineering, and held several positions at Mississippi College (MC), including associate dean of students and director of student life, while teaching graduate courses as a member of the MC adjunct faculty.

Prior to earning his doctorate at USM, Dr. Odenwald earned his Bachelor of Arts from Louisiana College, and a Master of Science from MC.

“The doctoral program in higher education at USM changed my life,” Odenwald said. “I commuted from Jackson, where I was working at Mississippi College, a few nights a week. It was difficult logistically, but I knew that my goal was to be a college president one day. And I had some great professors there, including (USM President Emeritus) Dr. (Aubrey) Lucas.”

After Dr. Odenwald completed his doctoral program, he and one his USM faculty mentors, Dr. Tom O’Brien, continued to collaborate on various research projects. In 2019 they published an article in Louisiana History entitled "Promoting 'the Kingdom of God': Louisiana College and G. Earl Guinn at Dawn of Culture Wars, 1951-1957.

“Joe is a problem solver. He has an eye for detail, and asks critical, important questions about institutional leadership, polices, and politics, both internal and external to colleges and universities,” said Dr. O’Brien. “He is committed to academic freedom and shared governance, and knows - intimately - how institutions of higher education can work effectively, how they sometimes fail to reach their goals, and how to get them back on track. 

Even though he is already quite accomplished, Joe is young, and thus has a bright future as a college and university leader and a scholar.”

USM, Dr. Odenwald believes, “is in my DNA.”

“I'm a first generation college student, and USM has a reputation for taking ordinary folks and opening extraordinary doors for us,” he said. “I proudly wear a leather USM belt to work every day because of it. Words cannot describe my appreciation for the university.”

For information about the USM School of Education and its graduate program in Higher Education Administration, visit