October 2016 newsletter
Learn how St. Kate student Mirna Serrano is using her experiences as a first-generation student to help other students navigate the culture of college, and see how students at the Minneapolis College of Art and Design teamed up with the city of Minneapolis to rethink Election Day signage. Then read quick Q&As with three recent additions to our private college community.
When Mirna Serrano started at St. Catherine University in 2014, she was overwhelmed with all the typical decisions and life choices that confront most first-year students. Not only did she need to learn how to manage her academic schedule, she also had to wade through the complexities of financial aid and find a job (or in her case, three) to help pay for tuition.
Unlike many of her classmates, Serrano faced an additional hurdle: While her parents were eager to provide the love and financial support their only child needed to make the transition to life after high school, neither of them had attended college.
“I really didn’t feel like I could navigate the system,” said Serrano, who is a junior majoring in legal studies with minors in communication studies and nonprofit strategies and operations. “I wanted my parents to physically help me with the paper work, but they couldn’t. I can’t count the number of times I cried and wanted to leave school.”
That difficult experience turned into a catalyst for Serrano to support other students like her. Launched last year, the First Generation Scholars League (FSGL) is a student club with the mission to raise social awareness, build community and improve the academic success of St. Kate students whose parents never went to college.
Founded on the idea that having peers who share and understand your experience can be a key to success in the world of higher education, the club provides anything from relaxed homework sessions to presentations on financing college. The hope is that the club offers the informal — and often invisible — help that many students get from family members who have attended college.
“Our parents really want us to do well,” said Serrano. “But when it comes to the academic support, other students are the ones who can validate you and give you that love.”
The idea of “providing that love” fits perfectly with the mission of St. Kate’s, where a third of the school’s traditional-age students are the first generation in their family to attend college. “Our first-generation students are a critical component of our commitment to diversity,” said Curt Galloway, the University’s dean of students, who adds that St. Kate’s provides options for many students who might not have access to an education at other schools.
The university encourages first-generation students through several initiatives, from a peer-mentoring program to the Emerging Scholars Community for students who may need additional academic support.
It is also committed to helping students’ parents understand the culture of higher education, according to Ellen Richter-Norgel, the university’s associate dean for students and retention. That can mean adding steps to increase the university’s inclusiveness, such as having interpreters as college events. There’s also an annual phone-a-thon to parents to not only get their perspective on the progress of their daughters’ educations but also to provide answers to any questions they may have about St. Kate’s.
Still, there was a need for the kind of been-there-done-that camaraderie that happens when students connect with one another, which is why Serrano and her FGSL co-president, Elizabeth Juarez Diaz, decided to establish a club. Today, the club has 60 members and is not only gaining a presence of campus but enjoying the successes of helping members move outside the gates of the university and secure internships. Serrano hopes the FGSL can serve as a model to other colleges throughout the region.
Sitting with Serrano in the Coeur de Catherine, the university’s student center, it’s hard to imagine that a woman who is so naturally enthusiastic and poised for success ever worried she could master the challenges of college. Serrano credits her work with FGSL for giving her the confidence to become active in other campus initiatives, including being the co-president of the Latina Student Association and leading “Pizza and Politics,” which uses a Catholic social teaching approach to engage students in productive political discussions.
“I see myself as a leader now,” said Serrano, who hopes to eventually do policy work for a government or nonprofit organization. In the meantime, she relishes the opportunity to help students who may need an extra hand when it comes to mastering the culture of college.
“When you come to college and are the first to do so in your family, it’s like stepping off a plane in a foreign country where you don’t speak the language and don’t have a map,” she said. “We are like the translators to help navigate this new place.”
By Elizabeth Foy Larsen
As our final election-related piece before the big day on Nov. 8, we wanted draw attention to the MCAD DesignWorks efforts to redesign the City of Minneapolis’ Election Day directional and informational signage. For those unfamiliar with MCAD DesignWorks, this in-house design studio provides students with real-world, hands-on experiences working on projects for both college and external clients. Below is an excerpt about the project.
MCAD DesignWorks refreshes Minneapolis voting signage
MCAD DesignWorks has teamed up with the City of Minneapolis to ensure everyone has a smooth experience while casting their ballots on Election Day.
Kate Mohn and Dylan Cole — two MCAD staff members who have been key players in the voting signage redesign project — describe the process and dedication that led to an impressive outcome.
What is the MCAD voting signage project about?
Kate Mohn: Design is a powerful tool for creating positive user experiences. However, many government agencies are either unfamiliar with design basics or lack the resources to integrate design thinking and concepts into their work. The MCAD voting signage project builds on the foundation of elections-related design work created by AIGA to create a flexible system of informational and directional signage to ensure that voters have the information they need to successfully cast a ballot on Election Day.
"…we had to work very closely with the Minneapolis elections team to make sure we're designing everything in compliance with all applicable rules, statutes, and laws.” - Kate Mohn
How did MCAD get involved with the project?
KM: Prior to working at MCAD, I worked in the Office of the Minnesota Secretary of State where I became very interested in how design shapes the voting experience. This was both through indirect experience — for example, reading AIGA's Design for Democracy — and as a direct result of the 2008 Senate recount between Norm Coleman and Al Franken. While the recount overall showed that Minnesota's election system worked remarkably well, one issue it uncovered was that the absentee balloting process was confusing to voters.
After the recount, our office began redesigning the absentee balloting system. We hired professional designers and conducted usability testing, leading to improved step-by-step illustrations, clear labeling of materials, stronger visual cues, and written instructions that were easier to understand. The redesign led to a 25% decrease in the rejection rate of absentee ballots between the 2008 to 2010 general elections.
In 2012, the City of Minneapolis asked if MCAD would be a polling place. Being a giant elections dork, I was really excited to make that happen, and MCAD hosted its first general election in 2012. But I noticed that day that the directional and informational signage could use improvement. So, in 2014 I pitched the redesign idea to MCAD DesignWorks. When people from the Minneapolis Elections and Voter Services office saw what we did for the 2014 election they were very impressed, so we started working with them to design better signage for all of the city's 125 polling places.
First-year students aren’t the only new faces on campus this fall. Our colleges also welcomed new staff and faculty. We reached out to some of our colleges to learn more about a few of the recent additions to their college community.
- Peter Kjeer, Professor, Physics and Engineering, Bethany Lutheran College
- Heather Wegwerth, Instructor, Business Administration, Concordia University, St. Paul
- Mindy Deardurff, Dean of the Career Development Center, Macalester College
Tell us a little about yourself.
My professional career began as a practicing mechanical engineer, designing electric generators and motors for Kato Engineering and later for Johnson Outdoors (Minn Kota Motors). I was blessed in 2000/2001 to be called to teach physics at Bethany Lutheran College where I continued on the faculty for 10 years. That would turn out to be a busy decade for me as I would continue to practice engineering for Johnson Outdoors and teach as an adjunct faculty member in the Mechanical Engineering department at Minnesota State University.
In 2011 my family and I moved to Vermont where I taught on the engineering faculty of Norwich University. 2012 would find us moving once more, this time to Massachusetts and Harvard University where I would teach physics and engineering and attend Harvard’s Graduate School of Arts and Sciences. In 2016 I was blessed to be able to return to our beloved Bethany to begin building our own engineering program.
What about Bethany Lutheran College most excites you?
Bethany, with its focus on the saving grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, is a priceless treasure. To be able to pursue a love of engineering and a passion for teaching, all while surrounded by a family of fellow believers, is truly a blessing beyond measure.
How do you bring your experience as an engineer into the classroom?
With over a dozen years of experience as a practicing engineer, there’s never a shortage of practical examples on which to draw for classroom activities. Each year our calculus-based physics course includes a semester-long design component. Past projects have included robots, musical instruments, boats and siege engines. We’re looking forward to incorporating additional examples of hands-on active learning in our own engineering program.
Tell us more about the Bachelor of Arts in Engineering Sciences program.
Bethany’s new program currently under proposal, a Bachelor of Arts in Engineering Sciences, is modeled very closely after a program of the same title at Harvard University’s John A. Paulson School of Engineering and Applied Sciences. Harvard has, quite successfully, built an engineering major within the framework of a liberal arts university. This concept is ideally suited to match the growing trend within the engineering community to seek and hire well-rounded candidates with the ability to interact on many levels with a diverse group of professionals.
Tell us a little about yourself.
I am a mother of seven and grandmother of five. I love the woods; we spend most weekends at our destination trailer in Wisconsin. We have an old boat, an old ATV and an old snowmobile that we like to play with — something for every season! Our two youngest children (seventh and ninth grade) attend St. Croix Lutheran High School and were fortunate to play on the C volleyball team this year; my husband and I love watching them play — especially when they play on the same team! Several years ago when our oldest son had orientation at his university, I was drawn back to school and determined at that moment that I needed to finish what I had started many years ago. It was my husband who suggested I finish my degree at Concordia St. Paul because he knew that I valued the Christian education and Concordia aligned with our Lutheran beliefs at home.
Where else have you instructed and what brought you to Concordia University, St. Paul?
I have been in education since 2010 when I started as an adjunct professor at a few different universities. I have taught in all modalities — online, blended and the traditional classroom. I never truly valued online education until I challenged myself to teach that way. I'm glad that I did because through that experience I've been able to help other professors see the value and realize new technology to help reach the goal of creating a personal touch in the online classroom.
How do you see business administration fitting into a liberal arts education?
You can teach the technical skills necessary on the job when needed, but it's more difficult to teach the leadership/people skills necessary to carry out those technical jobs. A liberal arts education and a business education are necessary to train the whole person. This leads to why I was drawn back to Concordia. The whole education is important to me.
Describe your favorite professors and how do they influence your teaching?
Dr. Phil Tesch found a special place in my heart. He was my first professor at Concordia and I still remember when I doubted my choice to enter the Information Technology Management program with no formal experience in technology. I was surrounded by cohorts who not only had experience but were acquiring their degrees to further their careers in technology. I asked him whether he thought I'd make it in this program and if this program was right for me. He assured me that I could do anything I desired to do and that I'd certainly be the one to learn the most; he was right.
Tell us a little about yourself.
For the past 13 years, I've worked at the University of Minnesota, both in career development and admissions. While there, I taught both career development and business communications courses. Prior to that, my career was in human resources, and I hold a master's degree in human resources and industrial relations from the University of Minnesota. I grew up in a small town in rural North Dakota and took a giant leap to attend college at the University of Minnesota. I live in Maple Grove, Minnesota, with my husband, our seven-year-old son and our not-so-miniature miniature schnauzer, Dash. When I'm not at work, I'm busy reading about food and cooking, cheering at soccer games, trying to convince myself that I love to hike and completing or dreaming about our next home remodeling project.
What experiences from the University of Minnesota will help you at Macalester?
During my time in the career center, we transformed the career center into an integrated part of the student experience vs. a standalone office. With a new focus on career development at Macalester, this experience will serve me well as we look to do the same here. My time in admissions and recruiting also gives me an understanding of how to best partner with admissions and how to leverage the career center as an important factor in a student's college selection process.
How does your classroom experience inform your work as dean of the career development center?
My classroom experience helps me to understand the key role that faculty play in student career development. Students see their faculty as mentors and may ask them for career advice before ever stepping foot in the career center. We need to be an accessible resource for faculty, by building strong relationships and easy pathways from the classroom to the career center.
What makes the Career Development Center at Macalester College unique?
The team! The staff in the Career Development Center (CDC) are one of a kind. They are dedicated professionals who are completely committed to Macalester students. They are warm, funny and kind and invite students to bring their whole selves to the career development process. There is no ego on the CDC team — people simply work hard to do the work that needs to get done, and then some.
Health care-focused bachelor’s degrees continue to be popular at our member institutions, ranking second at the bachelor’s level. What’s more, our institutions award 37% of all health-related degrees awarded in Minnesota. For nursing bachelor’s degrees, that number is even higher at 45%. And at the master’s level, our institutions award 38% of health-related degrees in the state.
For more information on how Minnesota’s private colleges are preparing students for the health care workforce, read our handy health care fact sheet.
Carleton celebrates sesquicentennial
Carleton College’s 150th birthday bash on Oct. 12-16 was highlighted by a convocation with Garrison Keillor and a community celebration, complete with birthday cake.
St. Thomas campus plan identifies two new academic buildings, more housing
The University of St. Thomas has identified 14 potential projects in a new 10-year, $300 million master plan unveiled recently for its St. Paul campus.
Olympic hopeful fulfills his dream as a volunteer
Saint John’s University senior Cody Hollerich met people from across the world while working at the Velodrome in Rio de Janeiro.
Best Buy CFO Corie Barry had professional foundation built at Saint Ben’s
Some helpful advice from a professor and a change of majors helped propel Barry, a College of Saint Benedict grad, to the boardroom of the retail electronics giant.
Bethel names leader for Center for Healthcare Excellence
Kristi Moline of Children’s Hospitals and Clinics of Minnesota has been selected to lead Bethel University’s new Center for Healthcare Excellence.
Hamline recognized by 2015 President’s Higher Education Community Service Honor Roll
The highest federal recognition an institution can receive for commitment to service-learning and civic engagement, Hamline University is the only Minnesota institution recognized in all four categories.
Augsburg student earns national poetry nod
The Academy of American Poets named Augsburg College student Donte Collins its "Most Promising Young Poet” for his piece, “what the dead know by heart,” which previously won Augsburg’s John R. Mitchell Prize.
Meeting society’s needs through Lasallian research
Educators, administrators, researchers, and students from throughout the world gathered at Saint Mary’s University of Minnesota for the fifth annual International Symposium on Lasallian Research, Sept. 25-27.
St. Scholastica conference to focus on culturally responsive health care
The College of St. Scholastica will host Culturally and Spiritually Responsive Healthcare: An Integrative Approach on Oct. 27-28; the conference will help health care providers work more effectively with people from diverse backgrounds.
CATIE Center awarded $6M for interpreter education
St. Catherine University’s CATIE Center was awarded two U.S. Department of Education Rehabilitation Services Administration grants totaling $6 million to advance interpreter education.
Gustavus education department expands global ties
The Gustavus Adolphus College Global Educators Program connects future Gustie teachers with international classroom experience.
St. Olaf launches $200 million comprehensive campaign
St. Olaf College has launched For the Hill and Beyond: The Campaign for St. Olaf, which aims to raise $200 million to advance key programs and opportunities that directly benefit students.
Macalester professor’s grandmother was one of the first African-American female “human computers” at NASA
Macalester College’s Professor Duchess Harris’s grandmother worked for NASA as an expert mathematician from the 1940s to the 1960s, using slide rules and pencils to calculate flights for John Glenn and Alan Shepherd.
MCAD exhibition features work of Twin Cities-based artists
The “New Americans” exhibition at the Minneapolis College of Art and Design showcases the work of four photographers, each of whom takes a different approach toward representing immigrant communities.
Enrollment record toppled for third straight year
Concordia University, St. Paul posted record enrollment for the third consecutive year with an overall headcount of 4,535 students at the fall 2016 census.
Schedule your own campus visits
Although the larger fall campus visit events are beginning to wrap up, families always have the option to schedule individual visits.
Order copies of the new College Guide
With a one-page profile for each college, our 2016-17 College Guide is now out and can be ordered or downloaded from the Council’s website. Also available are a poster and a PDF handout of our majors-minors grid.
Find colleges offering specific programs of study
Our online College Finder has been updated with majors, minors and concentrations offered during the 2016-17 academic year. Or search for athletic programs or clubs and activities in the arts.
Latest parent e-newsletter available
A new issue of the Council’s e-newsletter for parents of middle and high school students, The Bridge: Parent News, is now available. Past issues along with a sign up to receive the newsletter by email can be found at the above link.
Minnesota College Ballot Bowl
Minnesota’s private colleges participated in the Minnesota Secretary of State’s new voter registration initiative where campuses statewide compete against one another to register the most students. Some of our campuses are also providing general voting information as well as rides to polling locations (if not on campus).
Presidential candidate positions on higher education
A helpful synopsis of the higher education policy positions being advocated by the main presidential candidates can be found on the National Association of Student Financial Aid Administrators’ website.
Two new presidents inaugurated in October
On Oct. 11, St. Catherine University officially welcomed its 11th president, ReBecca Koenig Roloff, while The College of St. Scholastica welcomed its 12th president, Dr. Colette McCarrick Geary, on Oct. 14.
Creating a great college experience
Huffington Post, Sept. 8, 2016
Understanding the many crises of student loans
The Atlantic Magazine, Sept. 27, 2016
STEM education is vital—but not at the expense of the humanities
Scientific American, Oct. 2016
10 myths (and realities) of freshman year
Cincinnati Enquirer, Oct. 9, 2016
Why engaging more first gen students in higher education matters
Huffington Post, Oct. 10, 2016
8 questions about ‘free’ community college
The Chronicle of Higher Education, Oct. 17, 2016