Dr. Clifford Coppersmith

City College Dean
Billings, MT


December 11, 2015

By Cassie Winter, University Relations and Communications


Cliff CoppersmithHow has your first semester as Dean of the City College?

“In higher education, the one thing you can always count on is change. My undergraduate degree is in political science—in particular public policy—so I was trained to work in government. My first job out of college was first the military then the C.I.A. It has been really interesting to see how government and state sponsored agencies work, and education is one of those kind of operations. In Montana, the system is spread over enormous terrain, so it’s big geographically, but small in the terms of institutions. I have not met the governor yet, but I have been in close proximity to him twice now and that’s certainly not the experience I had in Pennsylvania, which has been a very interesting and engaging part of the job. You don’t really know what you’re actually going to experience in a job until you are actually in it. Even when I went from an assistant dean position to the dean position, it was a completely new job. There are always new things you have to learn. I think Billings is very dynamic and it is a booming city. Billings has always been a place of change. It has a very dynamic and organic development as far as energy, agriculture, government and small businesses. Billings is really the center of the universe for about ten hours in terms of driving time. It’s an energetic situation to work in higher education where business community members look to the college to help out with the challenges of growth and expansion in an active economy. Growing up in the East, it has been a downward trend for thirty years, so coming to a place where the economy is red hot, there’s a low unemployment rate and really strong demands for leadership and innovation by education is new to me, but there are so many possibilities.”

What are some of the hopes you have for the future of City College?

“There has been a lot of change at MSUB with a new chancellor, new provost and a new dean. With all that change, I want to bring a strong sense of direction and purpose. I want to focus on our mission, which is educating students for meaningful and rewarding careers, a lifetime of learning and progress and preparing our students for transfer opportunities. I think we have made progress there. My primary interest is academics and programing so I’ve been trying to get new things started and completing ideas that were started when I got here. One of them is a new pharmacy technology program that we are hoping to get in place for next fall. I think one of our biggest challenges is publicizing City College—sometimes people don’t know we are here, even in the local community. I think there is a lot of potential for City College to develop that awareness of who we are and what we do and to continue serving our students as well as we have in the past.”

Starting out as a political science major, how did you realize that you wanted to work in higher education?

“By the last couple years of high school, I knew I loved education as a young adult. I had a great experience working outside of high school at a Boy Scout camp teaching. I was a Merit Badge counselor and a leader in the camp’s structure as a commissioner. It was my first real introduction into teaching. I taught young people merit badges, hiking, camping, and wilderness survival. At the Eastern College of Utah I directed an environmental studies program doing that same things I did as a Scout. When I was directing our wilderness studies program there I spent two weeks of the semester out backpacking, river running, taking students to Yellowstone in Wyoming and Coos Bay in Oregon. From there, I decided teaching was really where I wanted to go. At my first fulltime position at Eastern College of Utah, I got to teach a variety of classes like political science, history, anthropology, Native American studies, and of course directed a wilderness studies program. Getting into the administrative side was more of an accident. As a faculty member I was asked to do an interim stint as vice president of academic affairs and found that I could do the job and that is really how I ended up at the position here at MSUB City College.”

What do you think makes City College unique?

“I think the real unique element for City College is the role the local business community sees for us, which is very pronounced and I hear about it all the time. In terms of the Chamber of Commerce, Big Sky EDA, and all the organizations around that are both promoting Billings but are also trying to solve the labor problems and the challenges of the activities that are occurring here is that we are seen as an important element in that reality. Something that makes my job really interesting is that I interact with a lot of economic, business and political leaders here. It’s just a level of engagement and support that I have not seen in any other of my experiences. That is really great.”