A Conversation with Bob Stine on His Retirement

Bob Stine headshot in front of tree

Bob Stine began his long and successful career at the University of Minnesota as director of the Minnesota Tree Improvement Cooperative. Later, he was appointed director of the Cloquet Forestry Center, and in 2003 he became an ​​Associate Dean in the College of Food, Agricultural and Natural Resource Sciences. He then became Associate Dean for the College of Continuing and Professional Studies (CCAPS) in 2007. In 2018 he was named Interim Dean for CCAPS when Mary Nichols retired and eventually Dean in 2022.

Bob will be retiring in the summer of 2024, after 17 years at CCAPS. He has been described by his peers as inclusive, collaborative, trustworthy, and creative. Those around him say he leads with a steady hand, openness, compassion, and resolve.*

“I won't say that I came into adulthood and my first jobs with that kind of approach,” he says. “But I learned over the years that being inclusive, getting people's opinions and feedback as part of decision-making in the end makes for better decisions and better acceptance of decisions. It's just how I approach many things, whether it's here at work or in my private life, but I don't feel like I was born with it. I learned it.”

We had the opportunity to ask him about what else he learned, and what he loved, about his journey through higher education.

From Cloquet to Coffey Hall

Bob earned an undergraduate degree in plant sciences from Indiana University and a master’s degree in forest genetics from Oregon State. After this he was hired at Michigan State University to work in a forest genetics lab. Shortly after starting, however, he heard about a position at the University of Minnesota. It kept coming up in conversation with colleagues near and far.

“I joke with people about it,” he says. ”It's like if I had written the position description based on my experience and skill set at the time, I could not have written it more aligned than it was. So I ended up getting interviewed for the position and got it, and that's what brought me to Minnesota. The first winter was interesting—several 40-below days and 60-below wind chills, and we weren’t smart enough to stay inside! We learned though.”

The new job was located at the Cloquet Forestry Center, where Bob began building connections with people within the University and around the state. Gradually, he started thinking about pursuing an MBA, and he enrolled in a business courses at the University of Minnesota Duluth. 

A faculty member in the Forest Resources Department at the time acted as a mentor and friend. “I was starting to work on the MBA,” Bob recalls, “and he just said, ‘If you like working in the university environment, and you want to hang around, I'd advise you to get a PhD. It gives you added credibility and will open some doors for you that will not be open otherwise’.”

That was the moment when he seriously began to consider a career in higher education. “I didn't decide right at that moment, but I started comparing the amount of work to get an MBA versus the amount of work to get a PhD, and it didn’t seem that much different. And I really did like working in a university environment, so I decided to get my PhD. And my mentor was right, it opened many doors for me.”

By that time, he and his wife had three children and were still living in Northern Minnesota. He attended school part-time and clocked a lot of miles driving back and forth to the Twin Cities.

“There's no way I could have predicted it beforehand,” he says, “but it was a series of steps I took, opportunities that people gave me, and doors that opened, that moved me through my career. I owe many people a lot of thanks.”

A Future of Possibilities

Bob is optimistic about the future of higher education. The value of a degree, he believes, will still hold. How that degree is packaged, however, may change. “I think there are new things coming along, like microcredentials, stackable degrees, and other ways that we can break higher education into smaller bites.”

Bob Stine with Regent Ruth E Johnson

The challenge, he continues, will be how to provide continuity from small credential to small credential. How do we make sure that a degree is not just an accumulation of 120 random credits? How can we build the stacks so they make sense? How can someone who earns a microcredential and then returns later not lose their momentum or their working knowledge?

He says, “CCAPS is perfectly designed to answer these questions. We’ve been administering individualized degrees for years, helping students who have a variety of experiences put together a cohesive major. Plus, our track record for developing new programs is evidence that the University recognizes our ability to be flexible and responsive to market needs.”

In addition, he adds, there may be room for a three-year degree program, credit for prior learning, and other innovations. “I think we are well positioned to help sort these ideas out,” Bob says. “In many respects our college and colleges like us have been on the cutting edge of higher education for a long, long time, going all the way back to correspondence courses. We demonstrate that what is at one point considered experimental often becomes the norm. We can figure out microcredentials and other educational innovations.”

“Whatever the credential and however it is earned, I would say we need to demonstrate that there is value in it. For some people, that will mean ‘What's the job I can get and how much does it pay?’ For other people it's going to be, ‘What am I going to learn and how can I apply that?’ or ‘How am I going to develop as an individual?’ For most people it’s probably a combination of those things, but I think the value proposition is going to be front and center in higher education.”

On Leaving CCAPS

Bob Stine being filmed for a video in his office

“I will miss the people, first and foremost,” Bob says. “When I sent out the announcement that I was retiring, the number of emails that came back from people—I mean way back from my time at the University, some from outside the University, some people I currently work with—was almost overwhelming. It was a great reminder of the fabulous people I've had the opportunity to work with.”

“I was in a meeting earlier this week, and somebody asked if I’m  going to miss this. And I said, yes, I'm going to miss the people and the friendships I’ve built, both personal and professional. I’ll also miss the joy and satisfaction of seeing ideas become reality.”

“If I look back at my time at the University, which will have been 43 years by this summer,” Bob said, “I've had the great fortune of being involved in a lot of activities and accomplishments, almost every one of which was the continuation of what someone else had started. For me, it's really been more about being able to build on what others have done, bringing some things to completion, starting others, and nurturing them along with the hope that I am leaving behind a set of ideas and programs that others can build on.” 

Pro Tips for Deans!

Spend time getting to know everyone in the college by name. We have wonderful and talented people who work in the college and around campus. Make sure you also get to  know, as quickly as possible, the other Twin Cities deans and chancellors of the other campuses. They are great partners.

Get involved in UPCEA, because that just extends the network of people who do similar work, and they are a great resource for advice. There's a smaller group of deans of large continuing ed units in large universities that meet once or twice a year. If somebody has a question, that's the group I go to and say, “Hey, here's something we're dealing with, how have you handled it?”

Keep trying new things. We live in a time of rapid change, and CCAPS gets to adapt to and often lead those changes. A mantra I've had throughout my time in CCAPS is to be willing to have a conversation with anyone about almost anything, because you never know when a really great idea is going to come along. Over the years I've gotten all kinds of calls and emails that ask if I would be willing to talk. And even if I'm not sure it's a good fit, I agree to do it. It’s amazing the number of programs we offer that are the result of those kinds of conversations.


* Read his colleagues' full comments.


Mia Boos is a writer and content strategist with the College of Continuing and Professional Studies, covering the College’s graduate programs and undergraduate individualized degree programs. She joined the CCAPS Marketing team in 2014 and has worked for Thomson Reuters and New York University. Connect with her via LinkedIn