These stories highlight students, faculty, staff, and/or events from Student Affairs Offices fostering big ideas and real-world thinking on campus and in the community.
From Student to Staff: Navigating Transformation and Building Community at Minnesota State University, Mankato
“Being a student at Minnesota State Mankato was a really valuable experience for me. It opened my eyes to a lot of different ways of thinking. It gave me relationships that I never could have imagined, and friendships. Also opportunities, both as a student- learning opportunities, and professional employment opportunities that really changed my life,” says Sam Hodgson, Admissions Officer, as he reflects on his time at Minnesota State University, Mankato.Full Story + Show Less –
“Being a student at Minnesota State Mankato was a really valuable experience for me. It opened my eyes to a lot of different ways of thinking. It gave me relationships that I never could have imagined, and friendships. Also opportunities, both as a student- learning opportunities, and professional employment opportunities that really changed my life,” says Sam Hodgson '22, '23, Admissions Officer, as he reflects on his time at Minnesota State University, Mankato.
It didn’t take long for Hodgson to get involved on campus. In the fall of 2018, during his first semester at Minnesota State Mankato, he became a Student Ambassador in the Office of Admission after seeing a flier in Carkoski Commons on his way to the dining hall. In addition to being a Student Ambassador, Hodgson was heavily involved in campus ministry through Young Life and InterVarsity, as well as being a student tour guide.
Hodgson earned his undergraduate degree in Exercise Science in 2022 and immediately pursued a master’s degree in Exercise Physiology in an accelerated one-year track. He graduated this past spring. He is now employed through the Office of Admissions as an Admissions Officer. When the opportunity came up to apply for a role as an Admissions Officer at his alma mater, Hodgson knew it was the right position for him.
He never would have imagined when he came across the flier during his first semester the impact that Student Ambassadors and the Office of Admissions would have on his life, both personally and professionally.
For one thing, it’s how he met his wife, Ashlin. After a year of being student ambassadors together, yet never actually meeting each other, Hodgson met his now wife, Ashlin, at the Office of Admissions tour guide training the day before school started in 2021. Fast forward a year, and he proposed to Ashlin the weekend before the 2022 school year started; the two got married this past June. The couple has felt very supported from other students and staff members on campus, with some even standing up at their wedding.
Now, in his role as an admissions officer, Hodgson helps advise the current Student Ambassadors as well as the student tour guides. He enjoys having that shared lived experience and feels like he can relate to them and help them have a great experience as well. Another aspect he enjoys about his job is “being able to help students [and] families make educated decisions on their college search, and giving them a meaningful and valuable experience when they come to Minnesota State Mankato.”
As a student, Hodgson noted going to hockey games and Student Events Team programs as some of his highlights. His presence on campus and positive work through Student Ambassadors, Admissions, and campus ministry led him to become homecoming royalty as a senior. He emphasizes the importance of getting involved outside of the classroom by advising current and prospective students to “not be afraid to get involved in student groups or different activities on campus because you will most likely find a community that will benefit you in many ways and help create really good relationships.” He feels that Minnesota State Mankato does a great job at providing different services and organizations. Through Student Ambassadors, Hodgson developed a sense of community while learning social skills that taught him the professionalism that he now uses daily in his role as an admissions Officer. The Student Ambassador team accepts donations supporting the training and leadership development of students like Hodgson.
Hodgson has chosen to stay at Minnesota State Mankato, this time as a staff member, because he says, “the university’s environment does a really good job of making people feel welcomed as both students and staff/faculty through different on-campus events and different opportunities they provide for students of many different backgrounds. There are plenty of opportunities and spaces that Minnesota State Mankato provides for people to be able to foster those relationships here on campus and within the community, and that helps everyone connect-- whether it’s students, staff/faculty, or different offices on campus. I felt very welcomed as a staff member too.”
Robb Murray, a 1995 Minnesota State University, Mankato alumnus, has become a prominent member of the Mankato community.Full Story + Show Less –
Working as a reporter and editor for The Free Press for more than 20 years and Mankato Magazine for 10, Murray’s passion for storytelling has only gotten stronger since starting his career in journalism at The Reporter in 1992.
However, Murray didn’t always want to be a journalist. He actually wanted to be a pilot. “I went to the University of North Dakota to be a pilot my freshman year because I saw ‘Top Gun’ and thought I could be Tom Cruise,” states Murray. However, he quickly found out he suffers from motion sickness, which promptly ended his dream of flying.
After realizing being a pilot was not in the cards, Murray moved back home to St. Paul, Minnesota for a bit and started taking classes at Century College. He wrote a short story for their magazine, The MUSE. “That is when I decided I wanted to be a writer,” he said.
During that time, Murray met Amy, who would later become his wife. She was attending Minnesota State Mankato, so he made the decision to transfer from Century to be with her.
“My wife was the one who actually prompted me to get a job working for The Reporter," Murray says. "Within two weeks, I was absolutely hooked. Everything was so new and fresh and exciting. I fell in love with being able to tell other people’s stories and getting the opportunity to meet new people every day.”
After working as reporter and editor for The Reporter for three years – including two years as editor-in-chief – Murray graduated with a bachelor’s degree in Mass Communications and Political Science in 1995. However, he didn't go far.
“Not long after I graduated, I still wanted to be a part of The Reporter," he says. "It was the most fun I’ve ever had as a journalist.”
Murray remained part of The Reporter as an informal advisor on and off from 2000-2019. He was also on the Newspaper Board most years after graduation.
In 2020, Murray was given the opportunity to work at The Reporter as a consultant. For the past three years, he has been able to advise students and help them write their own stories.
Every Monday and Wednesday, which are knows as "production nights", Murray is in the newsroom helping students wrap up their next editions. He's also available for phone calls from student reporters regarding their work. “Sometimes I get calls at 10:30-11:00 at night and I absolutely love answering their questions,” he says.
Since 2020, Murray has been able to implement workshops for student writers at The Reporter regarding interview skills, headline and lead writing and improving their overall reporting and writing skills.
“Next year we have plans to schedule workshops where we bring in other journalists so they can hear from other voices instead of just mine,” Murray adds. “We also have plans to take a really good piece of writing and dissect it so students can learn what works and what doesn’t.”
Murray’s passion for journalism and working with students is evident through his continuous work at The Reporter and throughout his career at The Free Press and Mankato Magazine. He can best be described as the man who never left.
Carly Hopper, the Fitness and Wellness Coordinator at Minnesota State University, Mankato has been in the health, wellness, and fitness industry for over 25 years. Her passion for physical and mental health shines through her work in mindfulness and student success both on and off campus.Full Story + Show Less –
Not only is Hopper the fitness and wellness coordinator for Campus Recreation at MSU, she also owns a successful yoga studio in Mankato called Sun Moon Yoga. Both on and off campus, Hopper focuses on the wellbeing of not only herself, but others as well every single day.
A business owner, a teacher, a creator, and coach, Hopper has redefined the meaning of health and wellness with the embodiment of mindfulness. The definition of mindfulness is “paying attention on purpose without really trying to change anything” according to Hopper.
“Part of MSU’s mission is we want students to be successful and part of that is academics, but not all. A big part of what campus recreation offers is the ability to move. Whether that is climbing the rock wall, intramural sports, or taking yoga classes, students need that outlet to be successful as well.” Hopper explains.
Mindfulness is woven through Hoppers personal and professional curriculum whether that be teaching a yoga class or practicing meditation. According to Hopper “mindfulness practices give students tools to feel more in control with themselves.
She adds “so many times, we cannot control what happens around us, how others act, or events like the pandemic – but we can learn tools, like mindfulness and breathing techniques that help us control our response to situations out of our control.”
“So often, we automatically react to situations. If we look back at certain moments, we may wish we could change or have responded differently, and anxiety kicks in. If we can practice taking a few moments to breathe and pause - we tend to be more responsive in situations versus reactive” states Hopper.
When the pandemic took over our lives, a lot of changes needed to be made on the fly to continue offering students resources in campus recreation. One thing Hopper did in her program area of Fitness and Wellness was post yoga, meditation, breathing, and exercise videos on social media pages. Campus recreation also offered live online classes where both students and employees could attend.
“It was one thing during the pandemic that I could control. There was so much unknown, but I knew I could record a yoga or meditation practice and focus on mindfulness and share it with others. It gave me an outlet to reach students at home, in their dorms, or wherever they were” Hopper explained.
In addition, “several students shared with me later that my voice was familiar to them. At a time when there was so much uncertainty, they knew they could attend a live virtual class with me or watch a recording, and there would be no surprises. At a time when so much was going on for so many people on so many levels, yoga, mindfulness, and meditation were a constant and a way to relieve stress” stated Hopper.
“Being mindful is a form of self-care for me” states Hopper. “If I can share that with others so they can practice this too - that is my goal. It is a practice for sure, as I am not perfect and don’t expect others to be either” Hopper explained.
To learn more about Campus Rec and mindfulness visit https://www.mnsu.edu/university-life/campus-recreation/
Due to the Covid-19 pandemic, departments all over campus reimagined different ways to engage, interact, and keep students on the path to success. For the University Admissions office, the pandemic affected them in ways unimaginable prior to the pandemic.Full Story + Show Less –
Director Dr. Brian Jones and his team in Admissions had the almost impossible task of rethinking the ways in which they operate and how to convey their message to incoming students in a world full of uncertainty.
Jones shared that, “Students were more tuned into things that were so much more important than things they’ve ever had to be tuned into before. Everything from mental health, the importance of family, the challenges they were facing, life, death, the value of an education.” University Admissions pivoted with their messaging and support for prospective and admitted students to meet them where they were at. “The message we had to convey to students kept changing. It was nonstop trying to figure out what students needed to make the right decision about their future,” Jones states.
Even with all the attention to supporting these admitted students, the decision to attend Minnesota State Mankato declined. “In the fall of 2021 we had the biggest decline in first year students that I have ever experienced in my 20 years here in admissions just from all of the uncertainty…there was an existential crisis that students were experiencing,” says Jones. Like any learning organization, lessons were learned, new ideas generated, and innovative approaches to sharing more about Minnesota State Mankato’s impact. Amidst the uncertainty of the pandemic, Jones and his team were able to convey a message that ensured students safety and overall well-being at Minnesota State University, Mankato by emphasizing the topic of mental
You can learn more about our Undergraduate Admissions here: Admissions & Aid – Minnesota State University, Mankato
Beyond the experience in the classroom, students have an opportunity to grow into a leader through various campus leadership opportunities. Zahara Osman, a 2017 graduate of Mankato West High School, chose to stay in town to pursue her degree. What she found when she came to campus was way more than she ever expected.Full Story + Show Less –
Osman started her journey at Minnesota State University, Mankato in the spring of 2018 as an undecided freshman looking for ways to make friends and ways to get involved. Little did she know that her involvement with the student activities and organizations on campus would transform her into the student leader she is today.
“I thought, what better way to get involved than to start volunteering” says Osman.
She started volunteering at Campus Kitchen three and a half years ago. From making peanut butter and jelly sandwiches to collecting donations from Panera Bread every Thursday, Osman has grown not only in her role as a volunteer but also as a student leader.
Her compassion and love for helping others left her wanting more. Therefore, joining the Student Events Team was the next step for Osman. From team member to team lead, Osman continues to put her heart and soul into helping others through her time and dedication spent being a part of these organizations.
“We create events such as bingo, lip-sync, the homecoming parade, and everything in between” states Osman.
“It’s cool to help bring those events to life and seeing all of those students enjoy it made my college experience so much fun” she adds.
Unfortunately, the Covid-19 pandemic hit in March of 2020 which directly impacted her physical involvement on campus. However, an advocate by nature, she knew in her heart something had to be done to help students suffering from the consequences of the pandemic.
“I joined Student Government because I wanted to advocate for students and help them with any issues they were facing – during the pandemic we focused on student’s mental health issues” states Osman.
Osman’s strong passion for advocating, supporting, and encouraging students on campus has not gone unnoticed.
Director of the Centennial Student Union and Student Activities – Mark Constantine states “Zahara is all things to all people. She has a knack for connecting with so many different groups on campus. She is a doer. If someone needs assistance, she is always one of the first people to raise her hand. I find her to be a bright light for our campus.”
Over the past four years, Osman has shown great accomplishment in her ability to provide care for students through her volunteer work and involvement on campus. Her confidence and leadership skills have grown exponentially which not only made an impact on students but faculty as well.
Osman is currently finishing up her final year at Minnesota State University, Mankato. She is set to graduate in May with her bachelor’s in Aviation, minoring in both business administration and music industry and entertainment. After graduation she plans to go abroad to experience different cultures and continue her passion for learning, advocating, and connecting with others. Osman has successfully fulfilled her role as a student leader through her ability to make a difference.