February 2019 newsletter
Discover how student-professor collaboration at our colleges enhances student research and how private college students advocate for continued investment in the Minnesota State Grant program. Then read up on how the private college experience prepared two alums to run for — and win — seats in the Minnesota House.
The collaboration between faculty and students is at the core of liberal arts education at Minnesota Private Colleges. With the support of Dr. Mary Stenson, College of Saint Benedict senior Rachel Nelson researched whether there are physiological changes to division three cross-country student athletes over a season. And although the research didn’t show significant changes in the athletes, there were changes in the researchers.
Before this year Nelson had to make a decision: take a capstone class, capstone internship or capstone research project. “Let’s just say the research capstone is the unlikely choice,” joked Stenson, Nelson’s advisor and associate professor of exercise science and sports studies. “The research capstone is difficult and takes a unique type of student.”
Nelson, who is also on the cross-country team, wanted to research the physiological changes to her teammates but knew she’d have to get started early. “I wanted to get pre- and post-season readings for my research and the cross-country season actually starts before the fall semester,” Nelson said. “So I had to start my research before classes started.”
“Nelson had to work over the summer to get institutional review board approval so she could start her research right away,” Stenson said.
To make her undergraduate research more complex, Nelson studied abroad spring semester of her junior year, complicating her preparation for collecting data in the fall. “The college has been really supportive of my research and research in general,” Nelson said. “They allowed me to get right into my project and treated it like a normal class even though it was independent study.”
“I was given the freedom to research what I wanted to and I picked a subject I was really interested in,” Nelson said. “The experience was very personalized. I enjoyed being able to focus on something I want to focus on.”
Stenson leads a three-course sequence that starts junior year and culminates with a final capstone course. “My philosophy is — if I really want the student to buy into the project and complete it, it has to be something they are really excited about,” Stenson said. “So we let them pick their own topic, within reason.”
Now that her research is finished, Nelson is focused on continuing onto graduate school in pursuit of becoming a physical therapist where she can implement and use the newest research and techniques to help people.
“I would 100 percent recommend doing the research capstone if there is something a student is really interested in,” Nelson said. “It depends on their goals and future but I’d totally recommend it.”
Nelson presented her research at the recent Scholars at the Capitol event, along with students from other private nonprofit colleges. Learn more about the event and read her findings in the event’s abstract booklet.
By Tom Lancaster
How Minnesota helps low- and middle-income college students is getting some attention. College students have been speaking up about the State Grant program at the Capitol, legislators have been calling for new investment and Gov. Tim Walz gave it his attention in his proposed budget. While the program’s name isn’t very catchy, the impact is attention getting: one in four Minnesota college students rely on this support.
“I know that support from the State Grant helps me stay in school and will help me graduate on time,” said Viridiana Martinez, a sophomore at the University of St. Thomas, at a hearing held by the Minnesota Senate’s higher education committee in late January. Martinez is a sophomore at the University of St. Thomas majoring in leadership and management.
“I want to thank you for funding the State Grant,” Martinez said. “I do not take it for granted. I am very dedicated to giving back to my community and I want you to know that I will pay it forward.”
At a House higher education committee meeting in February, Hamline University junior Aaisha Abdullahi was one of three students from private colleges who testified. A double major in psychology and exercise science, Abdullahi is active with several groups on campus as well as the Minnesota Association of Private College Students.
“As a first-generation student, attending college is an immense deal. Both my parents are immigrants from Ethiopia and did not get the chance to attend college, but worked hard every day to make sure I and my four brothers got the opportunity to receive the best education possible,” she said. “It is because of your investment in the Minnesota State Grant Program that I have the privilege to attend and afford an institution like Hamline University.”
Along with other students speaking up in testimony, by the end of February more than 100 students will have come to St. Paul to meet more with their legislators to talk about the State Grant program. And many more students are coming for these Days at the Capitol in March.
These conversations help legislators see the impact of the program and allow them to hear students’ stories. That was captured in a visit that a first-year Hamline University student had with State Sen. Carla Nelson in mid-February. As reported in The Oracle, the Hamline student newspaper, Sen. Nelson noted the importance of the program as well as how it encourages students to put down roots. “It’s our students that we plant, become the workers and leaders that drive our economies and our communities in the future.”
New investments proposed
In late February Gov. Tim Walz proposed a state budget that included a $54.2 million investment in new State Grant funding. The proposal for a 14 percent increase over the program’s base funding is welcome news for college students.
In a Twitter forum in February, Lt. Gov. Peggy Flanagan described the administration’s budget as focused “on investing in students, which is why we are investing . . . in the State Grant program, allowing students to choose the institution that best supports their needs and ambitions.” She also noted the program’s broad impact, including how under their proposal, State Grant awards combined with federal Pell grants cover the cost of tuition and fees for full-time students at Minnesota State colleges and universities for students from families making up to $45,000.
“Governor Walz is making college more affordable through his proposed investment in Minnesota college students,” said Mary Hinton, president, College of Saint Benedict, and chair, Minnesota Private College Council. “The positive impact will stretch across the state, benefitting middle- and lower-income students attending both public and private institutions, earning both bachelor’s and associate degrees.”
The administration’s State Grant proposal is important to addressing educational equity, said Paul Cerkvenik, Minnesota Private College Council president. Students of color, Native American students and lower-income students face greater barriers, he said, when it comes to earning college degrees. Cerkvenik noted that Minnesota can help make college more affordable for many who face the greatest financial barriers by increasing the size of State Grant awards and increasing the number of students receiving them. (Statements Hinton and Cerkvenik made after the budget proposal was released are available here.)
Legislation increasing State Grant funding has also been introduced in the Senate by Sen. Paul Anderson, chair of the Senate Higher Education and Policy committee — and a Concordia College graduate. Senate File 889 would make an even more sizable investment in the program than the administration’s proposal; introduction of the companion bill in the House is expected soon.
Background on the State Grant program and the Council’s proposed legislative request is available here.
By John Mannning
Last year, with all 134 seats in the Minnesota House of Representatives up for grabs, Democrats managed to upset the former Republican majority, winning 75 seats to their 59.
Among those Democrats were two young new legislators, both of whom attended Minnesota private colleges — Carlie Kotyza-Witthuhn of Eden Prairie and Dan Wolgamott of St. Cloud.
We caught up with the duo just as the legislative session was beginning in February, to find out a little about them and how their years in Minnesota private colleges influenced their current political careers.
Private college alums are well represented at the Capitol, and became even more so after the last election; here’s a list of legislators who are alums, with the new ones flagged.
Rep. Carlie Kotyza-Witthuhn, DFL, District 48B (Eden Prairie)
When Carlie Kotyza-Witthuhn graduated from the University of St. Thomas in 2009, she had no intention of entering politics. Graduating with a degree in Spanish and entrepreneurship during the great recession meant, she says, “a rocky start to my career.” She worked as a school aide in Wisconsin, managed a private tutoring business and then segued into managing the volunteer efforts of two nonprofits. Her final job before winning a seat in the legislature was working in operations and administration for an IT consulting company.
Despite never having run for office before, Kotyza-Witthuhn — like thousands of others across the nation—experienced a compelling call to action after the 2016 elections. “I felt we needed more diverse representation in our government, and that it was critical to have people from all walks of life—every age, gender, race, faith, professional background—in the legislature, where we’re making decisions that affect everyone.”
Her husband, Rory Witthuhn, whom she met at St. Thomas, encouraged her to run for Congress, but Kotyza-Witthuhn decided that was a little ambitious for a first foray into politics. Instead, she ran for the District 48B state representative seat, upsetting longtime incumbent Republican Jenifer Loon.
She did so on a platform that called for investing in early childhood and K-12 education, making health care more affordable and accessible, and passing gun violence prevention legislation.
Kotyza-Witthuhn took on this ambitious agenda and a challenging new job during the same year in which she and her husband started the process of adopting three siblings, ages five and under, through the Minnesota foster care system. “I guess you could say 2018 was a banner year,” she says, in a typically understated fashion.
The week before she was interviewed, Kotyza-Witthuhn had taken her two older children, ages 5 and 3, to the state capitol with her for two days when schools were closed during a cold snap. Unsurprisingly, she is now working with other parents to open an on-site daycare at the capitol for legislators, staff and lobbyists. “We want to make this a more family-friendly place,” she says.
Although Kotyza-Witthuhn didn’t get her political start at the University of St. Thomas, she does credit the school with giving a Sheboygan, Wisconsin, girl a great base for the future. Attending a smaller college allowed her to be involved in many activities, she says, such as the residence hall association, the tutoring mentorship group and the international education center. She also had the opportunity to study abroad twice, in Argentina and Australia. “I so appreciate the well-rounded basis of a liberal arts education and the relationships I was able to build with classmates and professors at St. Thomas,” she says. “I met my husband and my closest friends there, and that support system and network is still a big part of my life today.”
As for the life Kotyza-Witthuhn is living today, it is being played out on a far bigger stage than she ever imagined back in her days as a Tommy. And it isn’t easy balancing an instant family of three children with a demanding new job. Her strong drive to make a difference in Minnesota politics is what keeps her going. “We each have the power to change the community,” she says, “but only if we take the opportunity to stand up and advocate for that.”
Rep. Dan Wolgamott, DFL, District 14B (St. Cloud)
Unlike his fellow legislative freshmen, Rep. Dan Wolgamott has long known he wanted a career in politics. A high school football player from Elkhorn, Nebraska, he decided to attend Saint John’s University not just for its top-notch Division 3 football program but because when he toured the college, he learned that Barack Obama’s national security adviser was an alumnus. “I knew right then that Saint John’s would be a place I could make the kind of connections and have the sort of experiences I wanted to start my career,” he says.
Once at Saint John’s, Wolgamott wasted no time getting involved in politics, meeting St. Cloud Rep. Larry Hosch and Sen. Carol Clark within weeks of arriving on campus in the fall of 2009. He went on to manage Hosch’s 2010 campaign as a college sophomore. “That exposure and those connections led me to see that local legislative politics is exciting, hard work in which you can make a real difference,” he says.
Wolgamott made a fast impression on the faculty, too, says Matt Lindstrom, the Edward Henry Professor of Political Science and director of the Eugene J. McCarthy Center for Public Policy and Civic Engagement. As a first-semester freshman, Wolgamott was in Lindstrom’s Introduction to U.S. Politics class. Remembers Lindstrom, “He sat in the front row, and his positive enthusiasm for learning was contagious. He would frequently come to my office to discuss political leaders and headlines of the day. It was clear to me early on that his drive to learn and be civically involved came from his selfless desire to bring people together to get things done.”
Lindstrom took to calling his gung-ho student “Governor,” adding, “But now I am proud to call him Representative.” As for Wolgamott, he credits his college mentor with kick-starting his political career. “Matt Lindstrom left no stone unturned helping me build my network and career. He’s changed my life with his support and with the time he has invested in me.” Lindstrom says he was proud to attend Wolgamott’s swearing-in ceremony in January.
Both men agree the McCarthy Center that Lindstrom directs was a key part of Wolgamott’s Saint John’s experience. The center’s Jackson Fellows and Brandl Scholars programs allowed him to take unpaid summer internships in Senator Al Franken’s Minnesota office and in the Washington, D.C. office of U.S. Congressman Tim Walz.
Working with Walz, now Minnesota’s governor, was “a life-changing experience,” says Wolgamott. “A lot of interns didn’t get to know their Congressperson, but Congressman Walz took the time to talk with me every day, answer my questions and tell me how he was thinking about things,” he says. “After that summer, I knew I wanted to be a politician just like him: with common sense, a good work ethic, down to earth and passionate.”
Now that the two are working together again in the state capital, says Wolgamott, “I have to pinch myself every day. It feels like I’m living a dream.”
The new St. Cloud representative worked hard to get there. His win last fall was the third time he had run for office, after trying for state representative in 2014 (starting his campaign just six months after graduation) and losing a close race for state senate in 2016. “I was pretty heartbroken after losing that senate race,” says Wolgamott. “I don’t think I would have run again if it hadn’t been for the encouragement of the Saint John’s community.
Now that he is in office, the new representative is focusing on two main issues: obtaining state support for local school districts’ special education costs and getting the Northstar commuter rail line completed all the way to St. Cloud. In his off hours he works as a realtor and a high school football coach, and spends time with wife, Nicole (a Bennie whom he met while at Saint John’s) and their two daughters.
As for the future, the enthusiastic politician is happy right where he is today. “I aspire to getting re-elected to my district,” he says. “I really love working in the House. You can strike a good work-life balance while really making a difference.”
By Lynette Lamb
In Minnesota, our member institutions have the highest share of first-time, full-time Pell Grant recipients graduating in four years — and when compared to other states’ publics and nonprofits, we rank first nationally. Pell grants help low-income students pay for college; more than one in four students at Minnesota Private Colleges receive them.
Source: IPEDS 2009-10 cohort data
Is this the new era of classroom learning?
A new app created at Carleton College uses augmented reality to change the way biology students see one of the most important molecules in our body.
Bethel's Society of Physics Students receives national Blake Lilly Prize
Bethel University’s Society of Physics Students chapter was recognized by the national organization for exemplary science outreach efforts in the community.
MCAD alum to paint Governor Dayton's official portrait
Minneapolis College of Art and Design alum Paul Oxborough, an internationally recognized portrait artist, was selected to paint Governor Mark Dayton's official portrait.
Hendershot exhibit to feature work from Saint Ben’s/Saint John’s art professor
Many themes will be on display during exhibit celebrating nearly 50 years of teaching and making art at the College of Saint Benedict and Saint John’s University.
St. Thomas recognized as Military Friendly School
The University of St. Thomas has been recognized as a Military Friendly School for the second straight year by the Military Friendly survey.
St. Olaf researchers study snow for clues on climate change
Minnesotans know snow. At St. Olaf College, researchers are taking it one step further — by probing the physics of snow for clues on climate change.
Hamline students went around the world for J-Term
From Jamaica to Germany, Hamline University students traveled all over the world through the wonderful J-Term study abroad option.
Minnesota First Lady to support Augsburg government relations, public service
Gwen Walz has joined Augsburg University as an independent contractor, serving as Special Assistant to the President for Strategic Partnerships and as a Fellow in the Sabo Center for Democracy and Citizenship.
St. Kate's receives legacy grant from GHR Foundation
St. Catherine University received a $5 million grant from the GHR Foundation to fund a new and scalable clinical education model in the Henrietta Schmoll School of Health.
Spring enrollment growth continues at CSP
Concordia University, St. Paul’s spring enrollment grew nearly 4 percent compared to the same time last year, marking the 13th consecutive spring semester CSP has posted enrollment growth.
Macalester English professor’s new book creates lots of interest, including this profile in The New York Times
Macalester College professor Marlon James’ Black Leopard, Red Wolf is his first novel since winning the Man Booker Prize.
January class explores intersection of culture, the self, and agriculture
Students at Gustavus Adolphus College learned inside and outside the classroom in a unique January Interim Experience course taught by a local organic farmer.
Ancient bookmaking techniques come to life at St. Scholastica event
As part of its year hosting the Saint John's Bible, The College of St. Scholastica held a workshop featuring ancient bookmaking techniques, including calligraphy and gilding.
Saint Mary's student assists with social media for X Games
Seventeen Saint Mary’s University of Minnesota business students had the unique opportunity to be part of the 2019 Winter X Games Student Work Program.
Schedule of winter and spring campus visit events released
Students can get a jump-start on campus visits by attending visit events during the winter or spring. Follow the link to view the event schedule.
Explore summer enrichment programs at our colleges
To help busy parents, the Council had compiled a quick list of summer offerings hosted by our colleges for middle and high school students.
Private colleges’ commitment to STEM
STEM education has long been a cornerstone commitment at the institutions represented by the Minnesota Private College Council. These institutions are significant contributors of bachelor’s degree graduates, awarding 27 percent of STEM degrees in the state. Read a handout that includes many examples of our colleges’ STEM contributions.
Private College Scholars at the Capitol held
More than 30 students from our colleges presented their research on Jan. 23 with a poster session in the Minnesota State Capitol Rotunda for our annual Private College Scholars at the Capitol. A booklet with abstracts of their research is available at the above link.
How legislators can best help Minnesota college students
A new issue of the Legislative Update from the Advocates for Minnesota Student Aid covers recommended policy changes for 2019 that would have the biggest impact on students.
How higher education is evolving its thinking around controversial campus speakers
Pacific Standard, Jan. 16, 2019
Food insecurity on rise among college students
Minnesota Spokesman-Recorder, Jan. 29, 2019
Students at smaller colleges more likely to say faculty care
Gallup, Jan. 30, 2019
Trying anew to jump-start overhaul of higher ed law
Inside Higher Ed, Feb. 5, 2019
The two codes your kids need to know
The New York Times, Feb. 12, 2019
The economic gains (yes, gains) of a liberal arts education
Inside Higher Ed, Feb. 15, 2019