February 2017 newsletter
Learn how Ali Carlson is paying for her education at Concordia College and how access to research opportunities influenced the undergrad and career trajectory of Hamline's Fathima Mohamed. Then explore why the emphasis on undergrad-faculty interaction matters — through senior Ellie Fuqua's experience with the Macalester econ department.
After her first year of college studying in Iowa, Ali Carlson knew she wanted to make a change. She had previously looked at Concordia College in Moorhead and felt like that’s where she belonged. Carlson, who grew up in Farmington, wanted to choose a college closer to home — one that would provide a high value for the investment. She transferred her sophomore year to Concordia College and has never looked back.
When Carlson was first looking at schools she noticed a major difference in the size of classes between private nonprofit colleges and public universities. She was drawn to the smaller class size and concerns about cost didn’t need to be a barrier. “For me, because of financial aid, it was more affordable to go to a liberal arts college than a state school,” Carlson said.
Now a senior at Concordia, Carlson is a communications major; she is on the Campus Entertainment Commission and sings in the choir. She works on campus at the information desk as well as off campus at a community theater. Carlson receives a Minnesota State Grant award, which is based on financial need, and has an academic scholarship. She also has taken out student loans.
Carlson credits the financial aid office for helping make Concordia possible. “The financial aid people were great,” said Carlson. “They did everything they could to help me go to school here.” Carlson’s mom, Nancee Erickson, agrees. “The financial aid people at Concordia are wonderful,” Erickson said. “They helped us a lot with the FAFSA and helped us make it work.”
Carlson’s whole family is helping support her college experience. Erickson and Carlson’s father help with her daily expenses. “We help make sure she can focus on her school,” Erickson said. “We help her with her car, her phone — the day-to-day things.” But it’s not just Carlson’s parents pitching in. “I’m in the choir and the music lessons aren’t included in tuition. Another family member helps me pay for these lessons,” Carlson explained. “I also have some family members who will send me money if there’s something I need.”
Her mother has some advice for families looking at college: “Don’t be discouraged by the higher price tags of some of private colleges — if it’s the right fit for the student they’ll make it work.”
by Tom Lancaster
Other paying for college profiles:
- Sam Figueroa, University of St. Thomas
- Chazz Robinson, Saint Mary's University of Minnesota
- Tiana Danforth, St. Catherine University
- Haley Coller, Gustavus Adolphus College
- Delissa Hernandez, Augsburg University
In high school Fathima Mohamed knew she wanted to go into medicine. She grew up in Minneapolis and focused her college search to the Twin Cities, knowing she might not have the chance to be close to home when in medical school. Mohamed decided on Hamline University — she felt at home during her campus visit and was encouraged by the support Hamline offered her. In her first year, Mohamed was already doing research.
“By allowing a first-year the opportunity to do collaborative research, Hamline introduced me to a whole new world of scientific inquiry,” Mohamed said. “I was able to learn from alumni panels, department lunches and poster workshops.”
Now a senior, Mohamed spent the last two summers doing research at Harvard University. She was paired with a post-doctoral fellow and they focused on understanding neonatal mammalian feeding. The research was designed to figure out ways the brain triggers the feeding behavior. The importance of this kind of project, she explained, is that if this relationship were better understood it could potentially be applied to more complicated behaviors. In her first summer they focused on identifying areas of the brain that help drive the behavior and then focused on how hunger and feeding-related peptides influence those regions of the brain in her second summer.
After helping with the research, Mohamed has worked to synthesize it and report out on their project. She presented the findings at Hamline’s summer research symposium and Minnesota Private College Scholars Showcase, the Feb. 15 showcase held in the state Capitol rotunda.
Her access to research opportunities has been extremely influential for Mohamed. She knew she wanted to go into medicine, but now she is looking to incorporate research into her future career and is looking at combined M.D./Ph.D. programs. She also thinks research can help all students, whether they are going to focus on doing more of it after earning their baccalaureates or not. “With research you learn patience, creativity and problem solving skills,” Mohamed said. “These skills are skills everyone can use in their everyday life. Research can open doors to multiple things you can do with your major.”
By Tom Lancaster
Walk into the economics department at Macalester College and you’ll find plenty of students stopping by. Senior Ellie Fuqua is one of them; she describes how professors keep their doors open and students are always coming in to talk. “Sometimes I take it for granted and I need to pull back and realize the fact I can go into my professor’s office and talk with her for an hour is not normal, or it wouldn’t be at a big school.”
“There’s a community here,” agrees Pete Federer, faculty member and department chair. “We really push these kids hard, at Mac and in our department in particular, and the personal interaction we have with them as professors helps them and supports them emotionally, at a human level.”
Experienced faculty members making time to talk to undergrads — that’s what private colleges in Minnesota want to see happen. There are several ways private colleges work on this, from a focus on hiring Ph.D. faculty to keeping classes small. But beyond the data points, what is the experience really like at a private college? And more importantly, why does it matter? We turned to the economics department at Macalester College to hear more.
The answers are not just academic for high school students choosing a college. And they may not realize that the focus on undergrad-faculty interaction is rarer at large research institutions. This has come up in past alumni research. And it was demonstrated recently by a survey of economics undergraduates at the University of Minnesota: For 46 percent of the students, none of their classes had been taught by a Ph.D. faculty member. A recent Minnesota Daily article notes that last semester, grad students and teaching assistants taught 19 of 26 regular courses in the U of M’s department. And the majority of the survey respondents said they were probably or definitely unaware of the reliance on grad students as teachers when they enrolled.
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The introductory course in economics at Macalester is capped at 25 or so students. You can imagine that with economists involved, they’ve evaluated whether there could be greater efficiency and savings by changing that ratio. But Federer said the department’s faculty “keep coming back to the point that this is where we first start to meet these students and get to know them. You really get to know these kids and who are serious about going on in the department and you start to build a relationship.”
That happened for Fuqua. She credits the professor who taught her introductory course for changing her trajectory at Macalester and in some ways her life. “When I realized I could excel at this, she was interested in mentoring me through. That was really important for me, to get that personal push.” Fuqua. “She has continued to be my advisor and key to my growth.”
That kind of contact with faculty with Ph.D.s in economics is the norm for the department’s students. The only exceptions are intentional, with one professor having a Ph.D. in accounting and another, a retired investment banker, having an MBA from Harvard University. There are eight tenure-track positions for Ph.D. economists. (There are no grad students at Macalester to consider enlisting into teaching; undergrads can work as preceptors, which involves grading homework and being available to help with questions, but not teaching.)
“Being taught by Ph.D. economists with serious experience means that what you’re getting in the classroom is likely of higher quality, because of the existing teaching experience. That really shines through in our department, we have incredible lecturers, and that is because they’ve practiced,” Fuqua said. “They instill this enthusiasm for the field and they have such a deep background in economics.”
A recent faculty hiring process was another reminder of the emphasis placed on teaching. Yes, the final candidates for the position needed to have scholarly ambition, but Ferderer said they also needed to be good teachers and have a strong inclination to work with the students. The candidate who won out — after plenty of chances to meet with students when visiting campus — was the one who engendered the strongest student responses. For Fuqua, who was a student representative on the search committee, the finalist won them over because “he clearly had an enthusiasm for students that really came through; he really seemed genuine about wanting to be in this kind of small environment and have an impact on individual students.”
Economics vies each year for being the most popular major on campus, with 65 economics majors expected to go through commencement this spring. For all those new grads, the contact they had with their faculty will have helped them get through a challenging major, one where some personal support can make a difference. It is almost like being a life coach at times, Ferderer said. Fuqua agreed with the impact of these close relationships, especially when times are stressful: “A lot of professors acknowledge the stress they’ve gone through and times when they’ve failed — that is very beneficial. The more you get to know professors, the more you realize how human they are.”
And many of the new grads will have had additional chances to dig in, such as Fuqua’s work last summer doing research with her mentor and helping with a paper. The plan is for it to be submitted to an academic journal.
The contact in and outside the classroom adds up, with professors able to help students consider career options and speak up for the students. An MIT economist had just reached out to Ferderer to ask about a recent graduate’s fit for a research assistant position, for example. “I can tell him a lot, because I’ve been working very closely with the student for years,” Ferderer said. “That’s an example of where that close relationship comes in. I can address how the student has a lot of raw intelligence and a lot of creativity and character — that’s what you can see up close.”
For Fuqua, her plans after college involve moving to Boston to work at a firm doing research work, bringing her skills and interests to a more corporate environment. And yes, her faculty mentor was supportive in this job search too, as well as in encouraging her to think about grad school and other options.
“In many ways it is a calling,” Ferderer said, reflecting on the unique role that the faculty play at Macalester. “You develop these life-long relationships with these kids, whom you may not see for years. I feel very fortunate to have this in my life.”
By John Manning
Students of color account for 21 percent of all undergraduate students enrolled at our colleges. This year’s incoming first-year students were even more diverse, with 24 percent being students of color. That’s up from 11 percent a decade ago. (For context, students of color graduating from Minnesota high schools accounted for 20 percent of graduates last spring.)
Source: MPCC survey of member institution data
Note: Percentages exclude international students and students of unknown race/ethnicity
Two graduates earn five ‘Under 40 Awards’ from Times Media
College of Saint Benedict alumnae Emily Coborn ’08 and Hudda Ibrahim ’13 were selected for their work in the local community.
Students tackle Skid Row in L.A. with giveaway
The Cause team of five from Saint John’s University helps distribute clothes, bags, food, health kits and haircuts in one of Los Angeles’ most impoverished neighborhoods.
Research reveals new insights about the experience of professionals of color living in the Twin Cities
University of St. Thomas research is part of the Make It. MSP. project, a partnership of more than 150 companies, nonprofits, local governments, higher education and other organizations.
Macalester president gives advice to the secretary of education
Betsy DeVos hasn’t asked Macalester College President Brian Rosenberg for advice. But it could happen, he said, and shared his ideas with The Chronicle of Higher Education.
Saint Mary’s offers graduate credits for concurrent enrollment instructors
Saint Mary’s University of Minnesota is offering 18 graduate-level content credits in English for concurrent enrollment instructors — which can count toward a master’s degree.
Panelists discuss College’s Benedictine values
As part of The College of St. Scholastica’s annual Feast Day celebration, the College hosted a panel discussion featuring three alumni who shared their thoughts on the meaning of the Benedictine Values.
New York Times profiles St. Olaf hockey coach
The paper highlights what drew Mike Eaves, a former NHL player and Division I coach, to St. Olaf College.
Hamline receives $1.4M gift for endowed professorship in computational science
Hamline University alumnus Robert Green’s ‘57, MALS ‘96, generous $1.4 million estate gift will establish the Robert E. Green Distinguished Professorship in Computational Science Fund.
Bethel’s elementary education program ranked no. 1 in the state
Bethel University's elementary education program earned national recognition with high rankings in an assessment from the National Council on Teacher Quality.
Explore summer enrichment programs at our colleges
Our colleges host many programs for middle and high school students during the summer, with several offered every year. From athletic to academic, there’s something to appeal to almost any student. View the 2017 offerings at the link above.
Minnesota Private College Week scheduled for June 26-30
Registration will open April 1 for Minnesota Private College Week, which runs from June 26 to June 30 this year. These visits are a great chance for sophomores, juniors and seniors (as well as their parents) to be introduced to our colleges and to discover what they are looking for in a college.
Enrollment report released
The annual enrollment report for fall 2016 is now available online. Total undergraduate enrollment for Council members has growing more diverse with students of color now accounting for more than 21 percent of students.
2017 Fact Card now available
The Council has compiled a number of facts about our 17 member institutions to demonstrate our collective impact. The fact card can be downloaded from our website.
Dayton pitches $62 million expansion of college grant program
Star Tribune, Feb. 11, 2017
Tech leaders’ love letter to the liberal arts
CIO, Feb. 14, 2017
MN private colleges emphasize undergrad research
Duluth News Tribune, Feb. 15, 2017
Don’t forget private, non-profit colleges
The Brookings Institution, Feb. 16, 2017
Grants help explore ways to get more ‘near completers’ across the college finish line
MinnPost, Feb. 16, 2017