Maverick Moments

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.

a group of men in uniforms posing for a photo

Minnesota State University, Mankato’s Men's Club Soccer team is a student-run organization that competes at the National Intramural and Recreational Sports Association (NIRSA) level in the Upper Midwest Collegiate Soccer League. The team had the most successful season in program history last fall, making it to regionals for the second consecutive year.

One memorable event from the season was playing against the University of Minnesota. Despite the tough competition, they managed to score first and hold a 3-2 lead until a late equalizing goal from University of Minnesota tied the game. This accomplishment was a source of pride for the team, highlighting their growth and potential, with it being their first time playing a close game against them. 

Adding talented players to the team was crucial to its success. Despite the challenge of a fall sport having to host tryouts within the first weeks of classes, the team had an impressive turnout at tryouts in fall 2023, with approximately 50-60 players vying for just a few open spots on the squad. By being more selective about who makes the team, the team was able to ensure it had a talented and dedicated roster.

Eric Keohane, the president of the club, shared his hope for getting the word out about tryouts taking place early in the school year and believes doing so would be important in improving the team. He shared that he often hears of talented students, particularly international students, who just don’t know about tryouts until the team has been selected. Keohane highlights the importance of diversity on the team, both for raw talent and for exposure to different cultures. “What I love about soccer and particularly our club team compared to other club teams…, it’s so diverse,” he says. “There are people from all different countries coming together. It’s cool to see people from different countries who have different philosophies and see it all mesh together and try to make a cohesive team. It’s just really cool. I think soccer in particular really does that and it’s awesome to see.”

The sense of community within the team was evident, with diverse backgrounds and perspectives coming together. As Keohane explained, "there's something about sports that really brings people together." This unity and shared passion for soccer played a significant role in the team’s success.

The addition of a volunteer coach has also contributed to the recent successes. This past year marks the first time that the team has had a coach. In past years, it was truly student-led, even when it came to coaching and decision making. This coach has been committed to the team and has helped support the change of culture with higher expectation for taking the commitment seriously. Having a coach who can help reiterate that culture contributes to the team’s success. Not only does having a coach help with developing strategy and plans for games, but also serves as a leader and person of authority for the team to look to. 

This team is fully player-led and funded by donations, which help cover expenses like referee and league fees, equipment and travel costs. It takes a lot to create a successful program, both by recruiting talented players to try out and to cover all of the various expenses to play and compete.

Although Keohane graduated in May, he expressed his hopes for the team, saying, “I just hope we keep getting better and better. Continuing to build the culture. I’m excited to see where it goes.”

To support this club or other extracurricular experiences, follow this link.


Big ideas, real-world thinking and inspired action on campus and in the community.


Minnesota State University, Mankato stays on the cutting edge of technology to enhance student services. In recent years, implementing a virtual chatbot, “Ask Stomper, marked a significant advancement. “Ask Stomper” is designed to provide 24/7 assistance to prospective and current students if they have questions about the university’s services. Some common departments that utilize this resource include Financial Aid, University Admissions and Residential Life.

Before “Ask Stomper,” the Financial Aid department used service called “Ask Purdy” for nearly 10 years. It was a relatively simple chatbot that was used to answer many federal aid questions. Shortly before the pandemic, the company that provided that service—Ocelot—expanded its services beyond financial aid. In March of 2020, the University was preparing to launch the “Ask Stomper” chatbot for five departments initially. With students moving out of the dorms and everything going virtual, the University expedited the process of getting the chatbot up and running. By April 15, 2020, “Ask Stomper” went live for University Admissions, Financial Aid, Registrar, Residential Life and University Advising. By October 2020, it was expanded to 26 departments on campus.

“Ask Stomper” is predominantly used by prospective students and families who are seeking information about attending the University or have questions regarding financial aid and housing. The chatbot offers users assistance in Spanish, Simplified Chinese and Vietnamese, which benefits some prospective students by providing information in their native language.

The chat has the highest traffic in the months of July and August, which is when incoming students are preparing to move to campus and transition into a new phase of life; their questions regarding move in, financial aid and other new student questions can to be answered by the chatbot.

Current students also benefit from the chatbot, and will soon even more, thanks to an upcoming advanced version expected in the next couple of months. The AI will be more advanced, which will allow for questions about timely matters, such as upcoming events, to be answered. The chatbot currently is comprised of pre-populated, frequently asked questions for which answers could be manually put in by departments; the new version will have a higher level of interpretation and be able to pull more detailed information from the website. IT Solutions Architect Chris Lienemann is excited about the advancements. “I think it will help our students quite a bit,” he says.

One challenge with the chatbot is that some people may assume there’s a person on the other end, rather than automated answers. There is a function that allows users to get through to a live chat or send an email to a specific department. Some departments, like the Campus Hub and Residential Life, have a live person connected during business hours more frequently; for other departments, “Ask Stomper” provides easy access by sending an email. “As AI continues to improve, that distinction may become less important,” says Lienemann.

Offering assistance 24/7 is a critical component of “Ask Stomper.” Research shows that 41% of all questions are asked outside of normal business hours for the University; the chatbot allows users to get answers immediately, enabling staff to focus on other projects, which increases efficiency. Lienemann confirms that the chatbot allows staff to “spend more time on difficult questions, on people who are physically in person, [and] they can work on other projects.” Residential Life, Campus Hub and Registrar’s office had a live chat option prior to “Ask Stomper”; since the transition, the number of live interactions has gone down significantly.

Within the last year over 79,000 questions have been asked through the “Ask Stomper” chatbot, highlighting the usefulness of this tool. It is anticipated that a more full, comprehensive service is coming in the future.


Big ideas and real-world thinking on campus and in the community.


a person smiling at the camera

With a career spanning three decades, Pam Weller stands as a standard of excellence in the field of student affairs. Weller is retiring this month after holding the title of Director of the Career Development Center at Minnesota State University, Mankato since 2005. Her journey is a testament to her unwavering dedication and passion for student success.

Weller graduated with a master’s degree from Minnesota State Mankato’s Counseling and Student Personnel: College Student Affairs program in 1992. After a year-long stint at the University of Minnesota Morris as a counselor, she returned to Minnesota State Mankato to work at her alma mater. She started working in health education and transitioned to Assistant Director at the Career Development Center (CDC) shortly thereafter—and then she never left. When reflecting on her tenure at Minnesota State Mankato, she states, “You don’t think about yourself being somewhere for 30 years, and when I think about all the changes I have seen during that time, it’s incredible.”

The technological advances alone have improved exponentially from what they were when she first started her career. Through these advances, staff now have the ability to reach students where they are more effectively. The simplicity of sharing job postings online, expediting communications with students, creating connectivity amongst students and hiring managers has created countless new opportunities for students to engage with career opportunities more effectively and easily. Weller adds that although “technology has definitely helped with [being more efficient and effective],” since they are an opt-in service, they primarily see only students who proactively seek out assistance from the CDC. Weller adds that in her experience, “a lot of times those students, their parents or a family member have given them a nudge, so what ends up happening is the students most needing assistance aren’t necessarily coming through the door, attending a career event, etc.” This led Weller and her colleagues in the CDC to take a look at how they can improve visibility and access to career guidance on campus amongst all students. They want to develop a philosophy of helping those who seek out their guidance and assistance, while also reaching out to those who may not be aware of the assistance and resources available to them. Weller notes that visibility did improve in the mid-2000s when they moved into their current space in Wigley Administration Center, which is big and bright. This move is one of her favorite memories in her time at the University.

Throughout Weller’s time at Minnesota State Mankato she is most proud of a few key initiatives and programs that have been developed. Outreach to various sub-groups on campus by creating partnerships with other departments and targeted programs and career-related communications are two improvements Weller highlights. Additionally, the faculty/staff Career Champions Program, now in its second year, provides an opportunity for faculty and staff to be trained to serve as a resource to the students they work closely with in order to aid in student career development. Since the faculty and staff work more frequently and closely with the students, the staff of the CDC developed this program with a “train the trainer” mentality. Around 200 faculty and staff have gone through the training to be considered a Career Champion. A goal of the Career Champion program is to increase career integration in the classroom, academic advising and in other areas of campus with Career Champions serving as career influencers.

Weller has learned a lot both about herself and how to best provide for students over her time at Minnesota State Mankato. She hopes that students know the CDC has programs, resources and tools that can be helpful for any major. Coming from someone who has worked closely in student success and career development, her advice for students is not to equate their major with their career. “Major doesn’t equal career, and I think sometimes people get caught up in that,” she says. “Approach your career path with your eyes open. Know what the opportunities and obstacles are for the field you want to go into, and invest in your own career development.” For professionals, she shares the advice that one must “take ownership of your career because no one else is going to.” She also suggests you “respect your individual style; don't necessarily strive to be like someone else. Incorporate your style into what you’re doing because that’s the way you are going to be successful.”

As she embarks on retirement, Weller looks forward to new adventures. While she wants to stay in the field in some capacity, she is unsure of what exactly that will look like at this time. What she does know for certain, though, is that she is looking forward to traveling and seeing the world. She also plans to spend more time with family, and is excited to see her adult daughter more. Her future in the field may remain uncertain, however, her impact on student affairs and career development at Minnesota State Mankato is undeniable—a testament to her enduring legacy of excellence and dedication.

a group of people in life vests posing for a photo

For the past few years, the Minnesota State University, Mankato campus has celebrated Earth Week. However, due to student feedback and demand, this year the celebration has expanded to Earth Month. The events showcased during April encourage the campus community to explore this annual cross-campus collaboration of sustainability, equity, education and wellness in the outdoors. Maverick Adventures, a program within Campus Recreation, has coordinated the calendar of events for Earth Week and is now managing the Earth Month schedule as well.

Madison Vandersee, the Assistant Program Coordinator for Maverick Adventures, has been working on the Earth Month schedule and has received strong positive feedback on the number and type of experiences offered. In April alone, Maverick Adventures has partnered with 21 different groups across the University and in the community to provide 17 different events related to Earth Month. These events include volunteer opportunities, workshops, discussions, craft activities and some excursions that “allow us to have a wide variety of programs and different ways for people to interact,” Vandersee shares. Students across campus from a wide variety of majors have been participating in the outdoor programming, with many events seeing quickly filled registrations.

One of Vandersee’s favorite memories with Maverick Adventures is the State Parks Road Trip that took place during Earth Week last year. Throughout the one-day event, 18 students and three staff members stopped at three state parks in southern Minnesota to explore and hike. Another highlight for Vandersee from prior Earth Week events has been volunteer campus cleanups, like the one last year that focused on tobacco waste, which also had an educational component and impacted campus beauty. Tobacco waste cleanup is again scheduled this year during Earth Month.

This year there are even more unique events for students, such as a bike trip involving volunteering at a community farm, a day trip to the Niagara Cave and making wildflower seed balls. Other events are also open to the public including an ethics and animal discussion with author Peter Singer, the screening of Green Fire: Aldo Leopold and a Land Ethic for Our Time and an evening exploring Indigenous astronomy at Jeffers Petroglyph.

Earth Month events are listed online at the following link. Students, staff and community members interested in participating can find a full list of events and activities, event-specific details and register for events directly on the website. Certain events are limited in size and require registration, while others are open to anyone interested in participating.

About Maverick Adventures

Beyond the Earth Month events, Maverick Adventures offers a variety of programming to both students and the surrounding community. Maverick Adventures has long offered team building and leadership development programming, both indoor and outdoor rock climbing on the climbing walls on campus and outdoor programs and equipment rentals to encourage people to explore southern Minnesota's natural resources and the wide variety of outdoor activities in our backyard.

Maverick Adventures has been working in recent years to expand offerings within outdoor programs, giving Minnesota State Mankato students opportunities that include canoeing, snowshoeing, ice fishing, hiking and caving trips. Maverick Adventures Program Coordinator Sam Steiger adds that “getting outside is a great way for our students to relieve stress, refresh their energy, make connections with other students and make connections with the natural world.” Maverick Adventures is focused on continuing to expand in the coming years by offering more programming and increasing the outdoor equipment rentals offered.

If you would like to support the work of Maverick Adventures through donations or sponsorship, please visit the following link or contact





“Big ideas. Real-world thinking.” is not just a slogan perfect for University branding and social media posts, it is something that is lived every day by students on our campus. You do not have to look too hard or for too long to find countless examples of students exploring real-world thinking and sharing their big, innovative ideas with our Minnesota State Mankato community and beyond. The Handball Club team and the student-led news platform, The Reporter, are two prime examples of student groups that have recently received accolades for their successes.

For the past 15 years, the Handball Club at Minnesota State University, Mankato has been finding remarkable success under the leadership of Coach Mike Wells. Within the team’s first three years, it rose to compete at the highest level, Division I, where it has achieved remarkable success since.

This year the team dominated at Nationals, finishing as champions in Men’s, Women’s, and Combined, with a total of 26 athletes competing at the National Championship competition. The women’s team made history by clinching its first national team title, breaking a streak of runner-up finishes in four previous seasons. The men secured their third consecutive team championship and their fourth overall. In addition, the Maverick Handball team won the combined team title for the third straight season.

Coach Wells is proud of the team’s accomplishments stating, "I think we have the best handball school in probably the world." The team draws handball athletes from all over the world, offering opportunities for international students—including several from Ireland—to compete at the highest levels, including professionally.

Despite the pressure that comes with developing talented athletes, Coach Wells emphasizes the inclusive nature of the team. "It doesn’t matter if you’re ranked on the pro tour or if you’ve been playing just a few weeks… there’s a division for you and you’re going to be competitive," he explains. The culture of this team has consistently been strong with good leaders. Generally, there is less of a focus on individual roles and titles and more emphasis on overall team success.

Academic excellence remains a top priority for Coach Wells and the team. Wells emphasized his passion for seeing the growth and development of college-aged students both on and off the court. The team only has one scheduled team practice a week, allowing students the flexibility to balance their academic commitments while practicing their skills on the court when it is most convenient for their individual needs and schedules. Additionally, the athletes are provided more one-on-one attention with coaches throughout the week.

Recruiting more female players remains a key challenge for the team, but the team recognizes that and is focused on addressing it to create a more diverse team. Wells highlights that the best recruiters are the student-athletes, who help build the team through word-of-mouth on campus. The coaches recruit international students by attending Junior Handball Nationals and the world championship every three years when they are held in the United States.

The team would like to continue to expand. One barrier, however, is the amount of scholarship dollars available as well as travel expenses. The team has corporate sponsors that help with travel expenses, but as a club sport the majority of financial help comes from private donors and sponsorships. Despite these challenges, the Handball Club at Minnesota State University, Mankato remains successful with a positive team culture and strong leadership from the coaching staff.

The other group that has won accolades and deserves recognition recently is the student-led news platform on campus. Last month the student newspaper, The Reporter, left the Minnesota Newspaper Association's Better Newspaper Contest awards ceremony with 15 awards, including three first-place individual finishes, a second-place finish in General Excellence, and third in Best Website. Students are eligible to submit their own stories, providing ownership on what they deem their best work.

Emma Johnson ’25, Editor in Chief, shares that “the entirety of The Reporter is fully student run, so our editors, writers, photographers and ad sales representatives, they are all students here, which makes it so unique.” They generally have between 15 and 20 student writers in different categories; currently, there are four writing in variety, four in sports, and seven in news.

The staff is made up of students from a large array of majors including Mass Communication, Film Studies, Sociology, Aviation, and Sport Management. Johnson believes having a diverse staff helps because “it brings different perspectives and stories.” Adding diversity has been a focus amongst the students at The Reporter for the past few years, and they can proudly say that the current staff comprises a diverse group of students.

 Luke Jackson ’25, a current staff member, says the best part of working at The Reporter is “the people... it’s kind of like a family here.” They are serious about their work, but also know how to have fun. This balance is key to success.

The Reporter takes pride in offering extensive onboarding and training to ensure all staff members are acting professional and following the Associated Press guidelines. A challenge for the operation of The Reporter is high turnover rate, with students graduating or having to step back due to academic commitments. The job is demanding with strict deadlines and long hours sometimes, which can be difficult to balance while in challenging academic programs.

The Reporter is considered a “hands-on learning laboratory” that provides the experience students need to stand out while applying for future jobs. The Reporter provides students the opportunity to create a portfolio of their stories which can be beneficial in the job search to show all the applied experience they gained while still in school. Recent graduates have received notable job placements, which is in part from the experiences and knowledge they gained through The Reporter.

Their social media presence has continued to grow the past few years, and plans to continue expanding in the multimedia realm of reporting are in the works. Currently, they are working on a sports podcast—so maybe there will be a future episode talking about the Handball team winning yet another national championship! In addition, they are adding the Reporter Radio, which is essentially audio storytelling. The Reporter is funded in large part by advertisements and support from the University through Student Government, but support and donations could help further their expansion and student success.

Both of these groups are shining examples of the incredible work our students are engaged with both inside and outside of the classroom. The hard work and dedication to their craft is something that cannot go unnoticed. Balancing rigorous academics while also meeting strict deadlines or training for a national competition, these students embody the characteristics of well-rounded, multi-faceted students. The longevity of their success is positively impacted by the support and continued funding from the greater Maverick community.


Big ideas and real-world thinking on campus and in the community.