By Chad Dull Minnesota State College Southeast
Recently, Minnesota State College Southeast was fortunate to host a visit from US Senator Tina Smith. She came to our Red Wing campus to tour our nursing lab space, which will soon be remodeled with federal funding she helped obtain. Two other community organizations that have federally funded projects in the works were also represented at a round table discussion. Sen. Smith asked great questions and listened to our concerns, but it was her last question that inspired this column.
As we were nearing the end of our time together, Sen. Smith said she knew the last couple of years had been difficult due to the pandemic. Wanting to operate from a place of optimism, she asked us what we had learned during the pandemic that would stay with us going forward. It wasn’t a complicated question, but it was an opportunity to reframe the last two plus years as we have navigated an extraordinary situation.
I was asked to respond from the college’s perspective. Immediately three lessons came to mind. First of all, I will never again claim that education can’t change and change quickly. In February of 2020, we had a very traditional model of serving students in offices, classrooms, and meeting spaces. In March of 2020, just one month later, we had to learn how to do everything through technology and distance learning.
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We didn’t get it done perfectly right away, but we got it done — and now, two years later, we provide more access in more ways to students than we ever have before. We have learned levels of flexibility we will keep going forward.
The second lesson was less optimistic but just as important. We learned how fine the line is between success and failure for our students and how often it has nothing to do with what is happening on campus. As students navigated childcare challenges, job reductions, and other challenges to meeting their basic needs, we saw how those things can prevent them from succeeding.
We learned once again that being committed to meeting students’ basic needs isn’t just nice, it is essential if we want them to succeed. MSC Southeast worked to support students every step of their journey and will continue to do so.
The third lesson came to me in the moment between the question being asked and the time it took to look around the room. I saw the senator and her staff. I saw our friends and partners from Red Wing Ignite and Goodhue County. And I saw staff members from all areas of the college. I thought of how both our Winona and Red Wing campuses have adult education partners and workforce agencies right on campus.
I realized at that moment, although we had always done good work together, the pandemic raised the stakes on those partnerships and made them better. So, the final lesson I thought of that day is that whatever we do to serve our students and our communities, we do it better together.
As we start to emerge from the challenges of the last two years, these lessons will shape who we are at MSC Southeast and who we will be. We are here for students in all their complexity. We can change and adapt as they need us to so we can help our communities thrive. And we will do all of this work better when we find partners and do it together. That’s who we want to be, your partner for a thriving and successful Southeastern Minnesota.
Chad Dull is Vice President of Student Success, Minnesota State College Southeast.