Don Strom, who moved to Sarasota in October 2018, brings 40 years of law enforcement and security leadership experience to his position as director of public safety for Ringling College of Art and Design.
Strom most recently served as a department leader in global security at Edward Jones, a financial services firm headquartered in Strom’s former hometown of St. Louis. Before that, he served as chief of police at Washington University in St. Louis, a campus of 20,000 students, faculty, and staff, where, among his other duties, he led the planning for two presidential debates and one vice presidential debate, all of which were held on the campus. He is a graduate of Southern Illinois University and of the FBI National Academy.
Strom’s wife, Chris, was a police officer for 15 years, which is how they met, before their move to Florida. They have four adult children.
The Strom family had vacationed in Sarasota for more than 30 years prior to moving here. “Chris and I had a goal of relocating to this area. When the opportunity at Ringling College came along, it fit nicely into our plans. I missed being in a university environment and the energy that you get from working around young people. The level of creativity is just amazing. I used to tell our officers to make sure to introduce themselves to all the students and to remember their names, because we would be reading about them one day as they went out into the world and did great things,” Strom said.
“My job at Ringling College is to provide leadership for my team and to work with all of our colleagues and partners on campus to keep everyone safe,” Strom said. “What we try to do is take the best technology available and match it with the human resource side, that quality person-to-person interaction that is so important. It takes both to provide the most comprehensive safety and security program possible,” he said.
In the last year, Strom has been busy making the campus even safer for the Ringling College community. “It has been a real team effort as we have put some new initiatives in place, including augmented crime-prevention materials; an on-line parking registration system; safety and security inspections of all campus-owned housing; training for our team; improved equipment and supplies, including a new radio system that links security to both the main and the Museum campuses; active assailant incidents trainings; classroom enhancements; and much more still to come,” he said.
The new Ringling College Museum Campus provides its own challenges and opportunities. “The campus houses not only an exciting new museum, but also the College’s Continuing Studies program,” Strom explained. “We have an opportunity to interact with non-traditional students and the broader regional community. We are building a new security infrastructure in a unique campus setting, adding and training additional security personnel, and installing enhanced electronic security systems. Additionally, our team is getting the opportunity to learn even more about art!” he said.
“Even with relatively simple on-campus events, if you plan everything right, the attendees will never know we were there. All they will know is that they came and had a good time,” Strom said. “On a much larger scale, hurricane season requires intensive planning. At orientation, we make sure students and their families become aware of the realities of where we live— including the possibility of hurricanes. We make sure that all students have a plan that includes knowing where they will go and how they will get there should the College have to close. We plan like all of these things are going to happen, and then we hope they never do,” he added.
Ultimately, Strom noted, he is there to protect and defend.
“I have always approached this job by reminding myself that families are sending the most important person in their lives to a campus that is sometimes thousands of miles away from where they are. I know how that feels. I’m not just a public safety director. I’m a dad, and I understand their concerns.”
By Gayle Guynup