Travis Thul sees a dean as the grease in the wheels of academia.
If grease is roughly equivalent to dynamism, then Thul has more than enough to spare. As dean of Trade and Technology and Business and Transportation at Minnesota State College Southeast, Thul admits it’s the hardest he’s ever worked on anything in his life.
“Within a single month, I can work with an Ethiopian refugee to find employment while retooling his skills in one of our engineering technology programs,” Thul said. “I can drive a first-generation college student back to his home because he lacks transportation, and I can work with a single mother to ensure she has financial aid and a flexible academic schedule. Although these gestures, and my role, are only a small part in the collegiate orchestra which will be the backdrop of those students’ successes, I will always enjoy knowing that I played my small part in getting them there.”
That’s pretty impressive, especially when you consider Thul’s resume. Thul graduated cum laude with a Bachelor of Science in electrical engineering technology from the Milwaukee School of Engineering, also earning a Master of Science in electrical engineering at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.
Thul was also the engineering technology program coordinator at the Community College of Baltimore County in Catonsville, Md., but he didn’t stop there – he went on to become an electronics engineer at the Federal Communications Commission in Washington, D.C., in charge of research on wireless power transfer. And, he’s a Coast Guard veteran, where he serves as lieutenant commander in the reserves. His awards are voluminous.
“Travis Thul is an innovative leader who is driving positive change both in the college and in the district we serve. He has an impressive resume, a positive, can-do attitude and boundless energy,” said Dr. Leslie Bleskachek, Southeast’s vice president of Academic Affairs and Student Services, who nominated Thul for Rising Stars Under 40.
Within his first year at Minnesota State Southeast, Bleskachek said, Thul sourced more than $500,000 in equipment donations, built a state-of-the-art automation lab using only grant dollars, and led the renovation of a Maker Space and new welding lab. He developed a partnership with UL to bring custom regulatory training to southeast Minnesota.
He also launched a certificate in prototype engineering as a pathway for high school juniors to enter collegiate technical education, attracting nearly two dozen applicants from more than a half-dozen high schools for the pilot cohort.
He also developed formal articulation agreements with Milwaukee School of Engineering and Winona State University to create associate to BS degree transfer pathways. Inspired by his knowledge and enthusiasm, Southeast’s faculty worked closely with the partner universities to align curriculum for transferability. As a result, Southeast students who earn an Electrical Engineering Technology associate will now be able to transfer directly to an engineering bachelor’s degree at MSOE or WSU. This is Southeast’s first engineering transfer degree program.
Thul takes pride in his work as dean at Southeast, but that’s because every day he sees the enormous impact he’s able to have on so many lives.
“I am in a position to link students, including the most vulnerable, to educational and career opportunities which may initially appear out of reach,” Thul said. “This provides a conduit for students to achieve their potential, as well as serves our industrial partners by providing a pipeline to highly skilled personnel resources. It is truly a position which facilitates critical and career altering services to both our personal and industrial community members.”
He’s also an inventor and innovator (just ask him about his ramen noodle cooker, which is an entire story of its own). His undeniable passion and commitment to service isn’t something he takes lightly.
“I believe it a truism that our youth forever shapes our perspective on life, even throughout adulthood,” Thul said.
“Growing up in a, for lack of a better term, dynamically challenging environment, there were very few places to find mentorship and guidance on education and personal direction. In such cases, and in my case, it often falls to the educators to not only teach these students, but to help them understand the world beyond their view.
“Knowing the profound impact that those faculty and administrators had on my personal and professional growth during such a pivotal and uncertain time in my life, I take extreme pride knowing that I have an opportunity to pay their goodwill forward to the next generation.”