Posted: March 16, 2005

Contact: Doug Anderson,, 651-201-1426

St. Paul native Don Mercado started on his career path as an air traffic controller - his dream job. But only three years later, he lost his job when President Ronald Reagan fired thousands of striking air traffic controllers in 1981.

Mercado shifted career gears and spent the next two decades building expertise in administration, human resources and multicultural relations in both public- and private-sector positions.

He now serves as director of human resources for the Minnesota State Colleges and Universities system office and its 300-some employees. One of Mercado's first assignments is to lead a national search for an executive director for diversity and multiculturalism to help fulfill the system's diversity and Equal Opportunity goals and strategy. A 12-member committee including faculty, staff, students and community members is assisting in the search.

"We need a big-picture person who can pull together our efforts, build on the great work of our campuses across Minnesota and the work here in the system office, and strengthen our relationships with the communities we serve," Mercado said. "The person selected will have a huge opportunity to make a difference."

The system is the largest provider of public higher education in Minnesota, with 32 colleges and universities and 240,000 students enrolled annually in credit-based courses plus 130,000 in non-credit courses.

In a time of dwindling resources, Mercado said, the system must be prepared to show the Legislature and other state leaders the return on investment for all of its efforts, including diversity.

In his position, Mercado also plans to focus on leadership development and planning for succession as administrators and employees retire or move on. The plans include what he calls talent management and individual professional development.

"We have to have the building blocks in place for our staff to understand what is required of them and the processes to provide the highest quality learning opportunities to our citizens in Minnesota and around the world," he said. "Diversity is woven into all of this."

Before coming to Minnesota State Colleges and Universities, Mercado was involved in implementing a global multicultural relations strategy at Best Buy Company, where he started as a change implementation manager. Prior experience includes human resources director at St. Paul College, which is a member of the Minnesota State Colleges and Universities system, and employment manager at the University of St. Thomas. He also previously worked at HealthPartners.

He holds a bachelor's degree in health care administration with an emphasis in human resources management from Metropolitan State University in St. Paul, where he plans to finish his master's degree studies.

Mercado's roots are in St. Paul, although he and his wife, Sue, a personnel management specialist for the U.S. Postal Service, now live in Eagan. "We met in 10th grade homeroom," he said.

Their daughter, Anna, 22, is the marketing coordinator for the Minnesota Timberwolves and was a National Hispanic Scholar who graduated from the Carlson School of Management at the University of Minnesota.

Growing up, Mercado attended Linwood Park Elementary School and Ramsey Junior High School and in 1974 he graduated from Central High School, where he currently serves on the school's Athletic Board. He also is a board member of Hospice Minnesota and has served on a number of other community and educational boards.

Mercado's grandparents all were born in Mexico, while his mother was born in Texas and his father is from Kansas. Mercado has five sisters.

At age 48, Mercado reflected on his evolving perspective. "As you get older, you find your parents were right," he said. "Be proud of who you are, and you can be whoever you want to be."

Mercado joined Minnesota State Colleges and Universities in September 2004.

"I'm so happy I was selected for this position," he said. "I realized it was a tremendous opportunity to use my experience and talents to really make a difference for the learners and citizens of Minnesota. I can't think of a better way to give something back to my community."