Teacher, administrator, business owner — this dynamic Rockford leader has accomplished plenty in our region. Meet the new leader of Rock Valley College, and discover how he’s tapping his local connections.
Mike Mastroianni has had a long and successful career as a teacher, health care administrator, business owner and member of a college senior management team, but he never imagined any of it would lead him to becoming a college president.
“Never in my wildest dreams,” he says.
That is, until this year, when he was named the sixth president of Rock Valley College (RVC). Rockford’s community college has 8,000 full- and part-time students, programs for people age teenager to senior citizen, and a world-class theater.
“Everything in life is about timing,” says Mastroianni. “You have callings in life and you heed the call when it comes up. This wasn’t part of any plan.”
Mastroianni replaced Jack Becherer, who resigned in January with six months left on his contract. Mastroianni was named interim president until he officially became president in April.
“Mike’s the right guy for the right job at the right time,” says Frank Haney, chair of RVC’s board of trustees. “He has a lifetime of relationships in the community, and a nice balance, when it comes to his background. It helps to tie things together at a time when we need business and education to work together like never before.”
Mastroianni describes his role as one of servant leadership. “What that means to me is that you’re removing obstacles so people can do their jobs,” he says. “I support people who are necessary and vital for us to be successful. There are times we have to be diplomatic and participatory, and times we just let people do their own thing. But we work together to solve problems. One thing about Rockford is that it’s a wonderful community for getting people together to solve problems.”
Mastroianni has been with RVC since 1998, serving in the roles of director, dean and vice president of career and technical education. He was responsible for the development of manufacturing and career training partnerships with Woodward, Chrysler and other businesses in the region.
“I strongly believe in partnerships,” he says. “There’s a perception that an organization has to be driving the bus to be happy. I don’t have to be driving the bus. I just need to be on the bus. There’s plenty to go around. One raises the level of the others.”
Born and raised on the west side of Rockford, Mastroianni graduated from Boylan High School before earning his associate degree from RVC. From there, he went to Rockford University, where he received his bachelor’s and master’s degrees. Mastroianni is the first member of his family to earn a college degree as well as an advanced degree.
Mastroianni taught junior and high school English before moving into health care. He worked in senior leadership at Rockford Memorial Hospital and OSF Saint Anthony Medical Center, and he served as acting CEO at St. Joseph’s Hospital in Belvidere. Mastroianni owned a consulting business before joining RVC.
It’s difficult to find someone more passionate about RVC than its new leader. He speaks glowingly about the faculty, students, even the 13 national championships won by RVC’s athletic teams. “It’s hugely important,” he says of the athletics program. “It’s a character builder, recruitment tool, bragging opportunity and a matter of pride, not to mention the physical, mental and emotional needs that athletics serve. I’m happy to say the lion’s share of our athletes are local students. The icing on the cake is to have successful teams.”
Since taking over as president, Mastroianni has been off and running. His days start early and run late with meetings and special functions. He and the board of trustees have been holding community forums to gain feedback and spread the word about the college. He regularly meets with the presidents of Rockford University, Northern Illinois University and the University of Illinois College of Medicine at Rockford as part of a higher education alliance.
There’s more. He’s overseeing the renovation of the Stenstrom Center and construction of a multi-million-dollar health care building. He recently hired some key executives, and helped launch new classes such as physical therapy assistant, occupational therapy assistant and phlebotomy. And, he’s looking forward to RVC’s involvement in the Transform Rockford movement. “Stamina is the key to being a college president,” he says. “It’s a lot of days and nights.”
The biggest news came in July when the Greater Rockford Airport Authority and RVC broke ground on a new $5.1 million RVC Aviation Maintenance Technology Program facility that will be located at the Chicago Rockford International Airport. The 40,000-square-foot facility will house RVC courses for aeronautical maintenance and repair.
“Everyone understands the importance of this college. It’s the gem of the community,” Mastroianni says. “When you’re in a liberal arts track, you’re going to become a better citizen, a critical thinker and a problem solver in your own right. But whether you are in the liberal arts or on a career track, the goal of every student here is to get a job. We have an opportunity to make an impact in the region.”
RVC’s new president is praised for his team-building abilities, commitment and willingness to go the extra mile. “There’s not a harder-working executive in the region,” says Haney. “He’s been a great ambassador for the college and a great partner to our board of trustees. He’s done an incredible job, both in the interim role and now as our president going forward, in terms of communicating with our community. Mike’s a relationship guy who is good at getting groups together to focus on a goal.”
Mastroianni refuses to take all of the credit. “You’re only as good as the people who are working with you,” he says. “Rock Valley has a great reputation. We have faculty that are second to none. We have thousands of residents who are involved in community programs, classes and theater. We are a Right Skills Now college, which offers certifications that are combined with for-credit education programs in manufacturing. Whatever your path, there’s something here for you.”
There are, however, challenges to face. “Our community has some needs,” he says. “We have 46,000 out of 300,000 people in the region who don’t have a GED or high school education. Reading and math levels are not where they should be. We have enrollment issues. Access, affordability, and preparation are the keys to making sure students have the basic skills to take college courses.
“We have a great partnership with the Rockford Public Schools (RPS). We’re working on innovative programs to help prepare students for college. It’s up to us and RPS to help get them more coursework, so when they walk through our doors, they’re ready to take college classes.”
Away from work, Mastroianni enjoys spending time with his wife of 40 years, Crystal, and their two children and two grandchildren – a third is on the way. He has a second-degree black belt in karate and used to run 10Ks before injuries took a toll. He played keyboard for Clutch Cargo, a local band, for 13 years. A few years ago, Mastroianni teamed up with Starlight’s Mike Webb to write music for productions such as Jonah, King David and Lent. But those days are over, for now. “As much as I love music, there’s no time now,” he says. “My calling has taken a different direction.”
Haney says Mastroianni is up to the challenge. “The expectations at Rock Valley are very high,” he says. “We have a huge role to play in the transformation of our region over the next decade, and we believe that Mike is the right person to execute that plan.”