Board Members

The State Board of Higher Education is the policy-setting and advocacy body for the North Dakota University System and the governing body for North Dakota’s 11 publicly supported colleges and universities. The SBHE also oversees the NDSU Extension Service and Agricultural Research Stations, Northern Crops Institute, State Forest Service and the Upper Great Plans Transportation Institute.
The SBHE is made up of seven citizen members appointed to four-year terms by the governor and one student appointed by the governor to serve a one-year term. The Council of College Faculties selects the board’s non-voting faculty advisor, and the NDUS Staff Senate selects the board’s non-voting staff advisor.

Don Morton


Term: 2012-2020


Subcommittees: Academic & Student Affairs


Don Morton was reappointed to the State Board of Higher Education for a second four-year term starting July 1, 2016.


Morton retired in late 2016 from Microsoft, where he had served as a senior director and a part of Microsoft Business Solutions (MBS), a group that develops the Microsoft Dynamics Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) and Customer Relationship Management (CRM) software solutions.


Morton had three major areas of responsibility: (1) Leading the global Microsoft Dynamics Academic Alliance team. (2) Leading a team responsible for the Executive Briefing Center (EBC) on the Microsoft campus in Fargo, ND, and working closely with the Microsoft sales teams with a focus on the Dynamics ERP and Dynamics CRM. (3)Site leader for the Microsoft campus in Fargo which has more than 1,700 employees.Prior to joining Microsoft, Don was the assistant to the president and director of university relations at North Dakota State University. He has a coaching background, serving as the head football coach at the University of Wisconsin, at the University of Tulsa and at North Dakota State University where he won four conference championships and one national championship. He also was named national coach of the year in 1983.


Morton is a native of Flint, Michigan. He earned a B.A. in Psychology at Augustana College in Rock Island, Ill. and a master’s in education from Western Illinois University.

Nick Hacker

Vice Chair

Term: 2015-2023


Subcommittees: Budget & Finance, Chair; Audit; Challenge Fund Grant Review


Nicholas P. Hacker began his term of service with the State Board of Higher Education July 1, 2015. He was reappointed for a second four-year term starting July 1, 2019.


Hacker has served as the president of the North Dakota Guaranty and Title Company in Bismarck, N.D., for three years. There he leads the state’s largest title insurance and real estate closing company with 100 employees across 10 locations.


Prior to his current role Hacker worked as the state government affairs manager for the American Land Title Association and the business development manager for Marcil Group, Inc. In 2004 he made history by being the youngest person elected to a state senate where he served North Dakota’s District 42 for four years.


A native of Bismarck, N.D., Hacker holds a Bachelor of Business Administration in managerial finance from the University of North Dakota. He holds a certificate in legislative leadership from Bowhay Institute. He has held membership in the Rotary Club of Williston (past secretary), American Land Title Association, N.D. Land Trust Association, Greater N.D. Chamber of Commerce, N.D. Association of Builders, N.D. Association of Realtors, N.D. Bankers Association, and Independent Community Banks of North Dakota.

Kathleen Neset

Term: 2012-2021


Subcommittees: Audit, Chair; Governance; Challenge Fund Grant Review

Kathleen Neset is President of Neset Consulting Service, Inc., which provides well site geologic/geosteering services to the oil industry since 1980. She received a B.A. in Geology from Brown University and then went to work as a seismologist in Michigan. Neset worked for Core Laboratories in Texas and Wyoming. In 1979 she moved to North Dakota pursuing work as an independent petroleum geologist. She is owner of Neset Farms and formerly worked as a Tioga High School science teacher, a Tioga school board member and a substitute business manager at Tioga High School. Currently she manages wellsite geology and mudlogging crews throughout the Bakken and Northern Rockies Region.


Neset is a member of the American Association of Petroleum Geologist, Williston API, Dickinson API, North Dakota Petroleum Council Board of Directors, Bush Foundation, BSC Petroleum Technology Advisory Committee, UND Petroleum Engineering Advisory Committee, Tioga Golf & Country Club board, and St. Thomas Parish Council Secretary.


Neset was first appointed to the board June 20, 2012 filling a vacancy and confirmed by the State Senate. She was reappointed for a second four-year term starting July 1, 2017.

Casey Ryan

Term: 2017-2021


Subcommittees: Governance, Chair; Budget & Finance


 Dr. Casey Ryan began his term of service with the State Board of Higher Education July 1, 2017.


Ryan practices endocrinology and internal medicine at Altru Health System in Grand Forks. He was president of Altru Health System from its inception in 1997 through 2014.


Ryan graduated from Grand Forks Central High School, then attended Colorado College where he played varsity hockey. After graduating from the University of Colorado Medical School he spent three years as an internal medicine resident at Mayo Graduate School of Medicine in Rochester, Minnesota. After finishing at Mayo he spent nine months as an endocrinology registrar at the University of Otago Medical School in Dunedin, New Zealand.
He and his wife, Bev, have lived in Grand Forks since 1979.

Dan Traynor

Term: 2018-2022


Subcommittee: Budget & Finance


Daniel Mack Traynor began his term of service with the State Board of Higher Education July 1, 2018. He is a shareholder in Traynor Law Firm. He is engaged in an active general litigation practice, with particular interest in insurance defense, personal injury, business litigation, election law and Indian law.


Traynor represents the North Dakota Bar Association in the ABA House of Delegates. He is former Chair of the Disciplinary Board of the North Dakota Supreme Court. He also served on the Board of the National Conference of Lawyer Disciplinary Boards. Traynor is past-Chair of the North Dakota Economic Development Foundation and the North Dakota Republican Party. He is an elected member of the American Law Institute.


Traynor is licensed to practice in the state and federal courts in North Dakota and Minnesota, in addition to a number of tribal courts in the area. He has achieved the highest rating (AV) from Martindale-Hubbell and has been consistently recognized as a Great Plains Super Lawyer.


Traynor graduated with distinction from the University of North Dakota School of Law in 1997. During law school, he served as an extern for United States District Judge Patrick A. Conmy. After graduating from law school, he worked as a law clerk for Chief Justice Gerald W. VandeWalle of the North Dakota Supreme Court.


Traynor is married to Patricia Traynor. They have three children and live in Devils Lake, North Dakota.

Jill Louters

Term: 2018-2022


Subcommittees: Academic & Student Affairs, Chair; Audit


Jill Louters began her term of service with the State Board of Higher Education July 1, 2018. Louters has served as the superintendent for the New Rockford-Sheyenne School District for seven years. Her district received the Governor’s System Innovation Award in 2018 and is engaged in a $3.2 million dollar building renovation.


A native of southern Minnesota, Louters worked as a social studies teacher, coach and principal prior to assuming a position on the faculty of Minnesota State University, Mankato, Minn.


Louters completed her undergraduate degree at Concordia College, Moorhead, Minn., and her masters degree in education administration at Minnesota State University, Mankato. In 2017, she was the first North Dakota superintendent to complete her National Superintendent Certificate through the American Association of School Administrators and is currently completing her doctoral dissertation through St. Mary’s University, Minneapolis.

Ashley Thornton

Student Member

Term: 2018-2019


Subcommittee: Academic & Student Affairs


Ashley Thornton is a student from Williston State College. She is pursuing two associate degrees currently with hopes of one day continuing her education for a degree in law.


While Thornton has lived in Williston for most of her life, her family is native to southern Idaho.


Thornton currently works at MedScan Lab Inc. where she has served many roles since March 2016. Currently she works as a medical billing clerk auditing new automated systems while the company is rapidly growing.


In her time at Williston State College, Ashley served as president of the student senate as well as head delegate representing Williston at North Dakota Student Association.

Board Member Tim Mihalick

Tim Mihalick

Term: 2019-2023


Subcommittees: Governance; Budget & Finance


Tim Mihalick was appointed to the State Board of Higher Education to fill the remainder of an open term vacated by a previous member. Mihalick was also appointed to a four year term (2019-2023) beginning July 2019.


Mihalick is employed at First Western Bank & Trust as a Senior Vice President responsible for Business Development and Facilities. Prior to that, he was part of IRET and its affiliated companies for over 36 years before his retirement. He served as the President and CEO during his last eight years at IRET. Throughout the years, he has been involved in numerous civic organizations dedicated to Minot’s betterment. He currently serves on the board of the Minot Family YMCA; current member and past chair of the MSU Board of Regents, and he is a past board member of Trinity Health.


Ohio native Mihalick attended Minot State University and obtained a Bachelor of Arts in Business Administration in 1981. During his college career, he played football for four years and participated in track for two. He was inducted into the MSU Athletic Hall of Fame in 1995 and received the MSU Alumni Golden Award in 2014.


He and his wife, Laura, have been married for 36 years and are partners in their conviction to civic engagement. Laura is a member of the Minot Public School Board. The Mihalicks have two adult children living in Minot, ND.

Andy Wakeford

Staff Adviser

Term: 2016-2019


Subcommittee: Budget & Finance (non-voting)


Andy Wakeford, Devils Lake, N.D., is the Online Coordinator and Advisor for Lake Region State College. He is past president of LRSC’s Staff Senate and has been employed at LRSC since 2002.


Wakeford received an Associate in Arts Degree from UND-Lake Region in 1996 and a Bachelor of Arts Degree from the University of North Dakota in 1999.


He was re-elected by the State Staff Senate to serve a third term beginning July 1, 2018. He serves as the Staff Advisor to the State Board of Higher Education.

Birgit Pruess

Faculty Adviser

Term: 2017-2019


Subcommittee: Academic & Student Affairs (non-voting)


Dr. Birgit Pruess is the faculty adviser to the State Board of Higher Education. She is a native of Germany who came to the U.S. with a Ph.D. in Biology in 1992. She has been a Microbiologist at NDSU since 2004, teaching Bacterial Physiology to undergraduate and graduate students.


Her research interest is in bacterial biofilm, in particular their prevention. Biofilm are communities of bacteria that form on surfaces and cause many problems in clinical and food processing settings. Pruess integrates students in her research at all educational levels. She has been Faculty Senate President at NDSU during the 2014/2015 academic year, President of the North Dakota Academy of Sciences in 2009, President of the North Central Branch of the American Society for Microbiology in 2012, and is currently serving as President for the NDSU Chapter of the Agricultural Honor Society Gamma Sigma Delta.

Serving on the State Board

Individuals who are interested in serving on the North Dakota State Board of Higher Education need to fill out an application and submit it to the State Superintendent, Department of Public Instruction, 600 E. Boulevard Ave., Dept. 201, Bismarck, N.D., 58505.