Q&A: Cindy Bontrager discusses getting inspired by students

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Cindy Bontrager, vice president of administration and finance, speaks about how working with students has inspired her and helped her decide to stay at Kansas State.

Kaylie McLaughlin, assistant news editor: What does your day-to-day-job look like?

Bontrager: “It varies. I do spend a lot of time in meetings and the reason is that I am active on several boards and they meet quarterly…I also spend time with staff … I get contacted pretty regularly about issues happening on campus … It’s really a variety of different things. The other portion that my office is responsible for is on the governance portion with the Board of Regents. Making sure that we are complying with policies relating to the administration of the university and the facilities.”

McLaughlin: In 2012, you were named interim vice president of administration and finance. What made you decide to stay?

Bontrager: “Serving as the interim, I got a year’s experience. So I had some idea of responsibilities and what it takes to be the vice president and to be honest, it took me a long time to decide if I really wanted to commit the time that it really does take in order to do a good job. It was after a conversation with my husband, that he said ‘Most likely, you’re going to end up training someone to do this job anyway, you may as well apply for it.’ And part of the challenge was I don’t live in Manhattan. My husband farms and we live northeast of Holton and I had commuted for, at least since we were married, so for over 13 years … That’s an hour and 20 minutes one way … They did a national search and I decided to just go ahead and apply to see what happens. Surprisingly, I was offered the position and because of my commitment to K-State and because of the people here and how much people care about this university, that is truly the reason why I wanted to continue working in this position. I really did think that I could make a difference and I could make it better, not only for students, but also for our faculty and staff.”

McLaughlin: How would continued drops in enrollment affect the university in the long run?

Bontrager: “We are a state university, right, we are public, but the funding that we receive from the state has totally declined from when I first started working at K-State back in 1989. We were much better funded, a larger portion of our budget was funded from the state. What’s happened over the last few years is that the state funding has declined and students are picking up that portion of their education through tuition. So the university is much more dependent on that tuition revenue and so that’s why we will be paying attention to what happens with our enrollment … As a land grant institution, we have a very important mission to the state and I really truly believe that it is in the state’s best interest to educate our citizens… It’s important that people are educated and able to work and provide a good workforce.”

McLaughlin: You have a bachelor’s degree in political science. How does that pertain to your career?

Bontrager: “The political science has really helped me understand the legislative process; what happens not only at the state level, but also at the federal level because what happens at the federal level does impact the university also. And then there’s always political influences in how decisions are made. And I’ve always been fascinated by that, how our state policies are drive by the whole social aspect.”

McLaughlin: According to the K-State website, the mission of the Administration and Finance division is to “provide the supportive environments and services to effectively facilitate and enhance the instructional, research, and public service activities of the university.” How does the mission statement translate into what you do?

Bontrager: “We provide services to the instructional component, to the research component and to the service component either through the space that they’re housed in or through paying their bills. We really are the service component of the university; here to serve those staff and faculty that are within that so that they can do their job the best they can.”

McLaughlin: What do you wish students knew about you and your job?

Bontrager: “I want students to know that I am very open, transparent and accessible. Probably, my favorite part of my job is working with students, working with student government, working with students on our committees, listening to their perspectives about issues that we are trying to improve, enhance, make a difference with. I just want them to know that I was a student a very long time ago. I care a lot about them and this university and I want them to feel comfortable coming to me if they have ideas or things they would like to see changed.”

McLaughlin: What has been your favorite part about working at K-State in general?

Bontrager: “Working with the students has definitely been the fun part; it keeps me young at heart … You guys are an inspiration to me. I get emotional. I just wish that some of these legislator that we work with had the opportunity that we have to work with students so they can see how smart, how much they care, how much they take all of this serious and how they really want to make a difference in whatever they’re doing … I’m always so impressed when I’m sitting there in [Tuition Fees and Strategies Committee] listening to debates about some very serious things with the price of tuition and fees … That’s the part that gets me, that’s why I’m still here and I’ll stay as long as K-State will let me.”

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Kaylie Mclaughlin
My name is Kaylie McLaughlin and I'm the Editor in Chief of the Collegian. I grew up just outside of Kansas City in Shawnee, Kansas. I’m a junior in digital journalism with a minor in French and a secondary focus in international and area studies. As a third generation K-Stater, I bleed purple and my goal is to serve the Wildcat community with accurate coverage. I am fueled by a lot of coffee and I spend my (sparse) free time watching stand-up comedy.