MELBOURNE — While some people made resolutions to begin the new year, Dennis Rittle started with a new job title.
Jan. 1 marked his first day as provost and executive vice president of learning for Ozarka College in Melbourne.
“My role will be to oversee all of the activities and academic affairs,” Rittle said. “I’ll also oversee all activities and operations of student services, enrollment, pieces of advisement, student support and student groups.”
He’ll also supervise grant-funded programs that provide services to students, Rittle said.
Rittle has called Ozarka College home for a year and a half. Before beginning his new position, Rittle served as vice president of academic affairs at Ozarka.
“I think the most enjoyable dynamic [of working at Ozarka] has been seeing the first-generation college students,” he said. “That means the student’s mom and dad didn’t go or didn’t complete college. That’s two-thirds of our student body.”
As a first-generation college student himself, Rittle said, he is able to relate to these students on a personal level.
“When you’re a first-generation college student, you’re a pioneer. You’re cutting new turf, and it can be a hard road,” he said. “My biggest joy is being involved and watching these students. We make our college sensitive to the needs students have that are particularly first generation.”
Sometimes, first-generation college students can lack motivation and self-confidence, Rittle said.
“For these students, going to college isn’t an expectation. It’s a faraway dream,” he said. “These students say, ‘I hope I can go to college, and I hope I can make it.’ We have to build their confidence. My greatest joy has been seeing those students become successful.”
Before coming to Ozarka, Rittle was dean of academic affairs at Brown Mackie College in Salina, Kan.
Prior to his position at Brown Mackie College, Rittle was a technical-education administrator at Butler Community College in Kansas. He also served as a program director, instructor and curriculum writer for the Community College of the Air Force.
During his 1 1/2 years at Ozarka, Rittle said, he has seen the retention rate go up almost 10 percent because of interventions he initiated with faculty and student services.
“We know students are getting started, and finishing. That’s many changed lives,” he said. “Those students had a dream, and they’re now able to see that dream fulfilled.”
Rittle said he likes the fact that Ozarka has the tools necessary to keep students involved and help them ultimately get the degrees they work toward.
“Let’s say the students are on a boat, and they have to swim from the boat to the shoreline. We provide them with inflatable rafts to keep them afloat,” Rittle said. “We have to help them make it to the shore so they don’t sink.”
Rittle said he faced challenges when he came to college out of high school.
“I now hold five degrees, but that first one was the hardest,” he said. “It became easier as I gained confidence and knew I could do it.”
Rittle has some goals for his new position at Ozarka for the upcoming year.
“I’m going to help the new departments under my umbrella. I want to help them see a more holistic view of the college,” he said.
“Various departments see portions of the [students’] journey and don’t see how their part works. I’m going to work on bringing the pieces together and allow them to see the journey of the student and gain better prospective.”
New programs are also in the works for Rittle.
“I’m going to be working with our sister schools in making more connections with them and also looking to increase program accreditation,” he said.
With four Ozarka campuses, Rittle is looking to bring them together more and more.
“I want us to work as a unified group and enhance the unification of our college,” he said.
Staff writer Lisa Burnett can be reached at (501) 244-4307 or firstname.lastname@example.org.