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Witwer says goodbye to MSU after 29 years

The search for a stimulating career can be an elusive, lifelong journey. The risks frightening and real; yet the map people follow is often poorly navigated.

Keith Witwer, associate professor of business administration, defies such description. Upon the eve of his retirement, after 29 years teaching at Minot State University, he loves his job, but admits his path of discovery entailed a few switchbacks.

He graduated from Michigan State University with a Bachelor of Science in Mechanical Engineering in 1966. Witwer returned to Michigan State to obtain his Master in Business Administration with an emphasis in production management, which led to three years as a production manager at Corning Glassware.

He then worked for six years as a civilian engineer for the U.S. Army in Material Command. His responsibilities included design, development and contract oversight of a new squad automatic weapon to ultimately replace the M-60 machine gun.

"This was during Vietnam," Witwer remembers, "but I always viewed my contribution as doing the best thing for our American soldiers. I wanted to help them be as prepared as possible to protect our country."

Witwer was one of 15 employees selected by the Army to participate in an experimental program at the University of Michigan that introduced computer aided design into weapon development. As a result, he obtained a Masters of Engineering degree.

As America's involvement overseas wound down, so did Witwer's interest in the Army.

"My father was an engineer, so I always thought I'd enjoy engineering," Witwer said. "But I quickly realized I wanted more involvement in an organization."

He sought a career that offered more excitement and opportunity to impact the final outcome. So he purchased a Happy Joe's franchise and opened a pizza parlor in Grand Forks. As company president, he oversaw construction and managed the store, later adding additional Happy Joe's in Fargo and Alexandria, Minn.

Although a successful businessman, Witwer was drawn to the classroom and frequently attended classes at the University of North Dakota. In 1982, he sold his Happy Joe's shares, moved to Minot, and began teaching in MSU's Business Department.

"I was always interested in academia and come from a long line of educators; my mom, both grandmothers and a great aunt were all teachers," Witwer said. "I also learned running a business takes a great amount of time, where it becomes hard to remain creative when you're involved in the day-to-day operations. I thought teaching would allow me to be more influential with students."

In the early days of his MSU career, Witwer taught whatever needed teaching in BADM. His more recent interests lie in quantitative methods for business students and operations management.

"I think I've taught every course in the management area," he admitted.

His contributions to the MSU BADM extend beyond the classes he taught. As department chair from 1991 to 2003, he was instrumental in launching five new bachelor's degrees, a Master of Science in management graduate degree, the Job Corps Executive Management Program, the first online undergraduate program and the first accelerated program in MSM.

"I am particularly proud of the accelerated master's program we introduced," Witwer said. "The University of Mary had begun advertising their program in our market and we knew we would lose students to them. The new MSU program delivery was conceived and approved by the dean, vice president for academic affairs and the president in two weeks. UMary ended up not coming to Minot with their graduate program at that time."

Colleagues see Witwer's contributions on a larger scale. They concur that his participation in every BADM faculty search committee over the last three decades makes Witwer a chief architect in what the College of Business is today.

"Keith not only has a 29-year perspective on teaching and administration in the BADM and COB, he also sought to keep the BADM department and the COB current and relevant," said Andy Bertsch associate BADM professor. "After 29 years, I suppose it may be easy for some to be nostalgic or to be overly focused on the past. However, I believe that when Keith saw and interacted with students, he saw the future."

Witwer's future after December will negotiate another bend in the road: he is moving to Rochester, Minn.

"I enjoy my work and will miss my colleagues and students; MSU has been my life outside of home. But after four years apart, it is time to be with my family," Witwer said.

Although he enjoys antiquing and refurbishing classic cars, Witwer will continue online teaching at MSU and explore consulting opportunities within the state.

"I hope that I never want to stop learning and growing," he said. "As long as I have those opportunities, I am excited."