Shari Olson

Dr. Shari Olson is the fifth President of South Mountain Community College. She is known for her love of animals, deep commitment to student success, and employee wellbeing. She was first attracted to SMCC when she read the college’s vision statement.

Dr. Shari Olson, President of South Mountain Community College

Shari Olson grew up with five siblings on a dairy farm in Northwestern Minnesota. The closest town was Grand Forks, North Dakota. She took her responsibilities of caring for the animals very seriously from a young age and competed in the Minnesota State Fair with her prize registered Holstein, Katy. With her love of learning and support from her family, she went on to become the first person in her family to attend college. Though she initially planned to attend a university, she quickly decided that a two-year school closer to home was a better fit for her, at least at first. This was the start of Shari Olson’s longstanding respect for and commitment to community colleges.

Shari Olson on the family farm, 1976

She finished her bachelor’s and master’s degrees in education at North Dakota State University. A lifelong learner, Olson earned her PhD in Higher Education Leadership at University of North Dakota in 2004

In 2010, she was appointed interim president at Anoka Technical College, Anoka, MN. She found that leadership suited her well and began researching presidencies at other schools. When she first learned of South Mountain Community College in South Phoenix, Arizona, she was inspired. She read the school’s vision statement and felt called to serve.

Dr. Olson explains what brought her to SMCC.

Dr. Olson arrived for the first time as SMCC’s college president on a very hot July 1st Saturday. Though the heat was an adjustment, the location nonetheless provided a sense of home in a major metropolis. As she drove past the citrus groves and dairy farms still commonly found in South Phoenix, she felt the warmth of familiarity, and her love for the community deepened.

Dr. Olson shares how South Phoenix felt familiar to her.

In 2020, Dr. Olson will begin her tenth year in the presidency. In that time, she has been delighted to oversee the campus vision in action. During her tenure at SMCC, student graduation numbers increased exponentially. She has also overseen major remodeling and design projects. Among these achievements, Dr. Olson considers graduation day to be her favorite day of the year.

Dr. Olson discusses her favorite day of the year at SMCC.

Dr. Olson describes her leadership style as distributive. She values shared governance and wants faculty, staff, and students to participate in all aspects of campus decision-making. She works to establish a feeling of ownership among all people working at SMCC.

Dr. Olson shares her values and the importance of SMCC in her life.
Dr. Olson with SMCC Faculty and Staff

Dr. Olson’s love for students is palpable. Each student she comes across represents the impetus for social change. At every commencement, Dr. Olson celebrates each individual’s achievement as he or she walks across the stage. She shakes the hand of every single graduate as he or she accepts their diploma. Even if a student has not met the president until that night, he or she can be sure that Dr. Olson is applauding his or her achievements, as well as the story of that graduate’s life. 

Dr. Olson explains how each student can make a difference in the world.

Narrator Shari Olson
Place of OriginNorthwestern Minnesota
Place of Residence
OccupationFifth President of South Mountain Community College
Years Active in South Phoenix2011 –
Recording Duration28:22
LocationSouth Mountain Community Library
Interviewed ByStudent Researcher: Vanessa Jimenez
Story Written ByStudent Researcher: Vanessa Jimenez
Faculty Author: Summer Cherland