University Relations and Communications


May 3, 2017

 Dr. Powell


MSU Billings announces commencement keynote

Former MSUB Professor, Dean and STEP Founder Dr. Powell to provide pivotal address during University’s 90th annual commencement



University Relations, 657-2266


MSU BILLINGS NEWS SERVICES — The keynote speaker for Montana State University Billings 90th Annual Commencement has been announced as Dr. Thomas Powell.  The commencement will be livestreamed


Powell has a rich history with MSU Billings.


Not only did he graduate from the school, then Eastern Montana College, in 1976 and 1979 with a Bachelor’s and Master’s Degree in special education, he has a lasting legacy with a professional career including multiple positions.


Powell served as Dean of the College of Education and Human Services at MSU Billings and was also the Director of the Institute for Habilitative Services, which provided programs for community outreach and the hiring of persons with disabilities on the university campus.


Powell’s platitudes will likely include tales about his time on campus, like being a representative on the Academic Council. During his time in university, Powell’s passion for aiding the special needs community was evident. During this period, he ran one of the first group homes for adults with disabilities in the Billings area.


After completing his Bachelor’s degree, Powell worked for several programs for adults with special needs including the YWCA and Yellowstone County Special Education Cooperative Services.


Powell and his wife Irene were responsible for creating Support and Techniques for Empowering People (STEP). STEP is a community-based program that helps families to maintain their child with developmental disabilities in their home.


He also served as a professor at the University of Connecticut, and dean of the College of Education at Winthrop University. In 1998, he was appointed president of Glenville State College in West Virginia. He then became the 24th President at Mount Saint Mary’s University and upon his retirement was appointed President Emeritus.


Now in retirement, Powell is serving as the President of Saint John’s Catholic Prep School in Maryland.


Powell is a published author and has written many books on special education. He also has published numerous journal articles and book chapters.


In addition to his professional career, Powell has been very involved in organizations that serve and mentor those in the higher education field.


Powell has been involved with the Association of American Colleges of Teacher Education, ARC- United States, TASH International, Phi Delta Kappa, and Special Olympics. He has earned many honors throughout his professional career, including Billings Public Schools Distinguished Service Award (1994), McRae Award for Service to Humanity (2003) and the Distinguished Alumni Award from MSU Billings. Pope Benedict XVI made him a Papal Knight of St. Gregory and Pope Francis presented him with the Pro Ecclesia et Pontifice award.


Powell and his wife Irene (also a graduate of MSU Billings) have 7 children and 3 granddaughters. They make their home in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania.