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.

If it wasn’t for the chill outside you wouldn’t know that it is December 6, 2023 as I write this. I always forget the impact of El Niño or La Niña and what it means for winter in Mankato. So far, it means no snow and mild temperatures. This change in the weather isn’t the only change going on at Minnesota State University, Mankato. There are several key positions and reporting lines that are changing that I think you would like to know about.

Leadership changes are happening at Minnesota State Mankato. Our long-time serving Vice President for Finance and Administration, Rick Straka, is retiring in February 2024. Rick has been a tremendous champion of the student experience and Student Affairs. From new construction to creating new student scholarships, Rick has built a foundation that will serve the university for decades. Dr. Lynn Akey, who started her career at Minnesota State Mankato in Student Affairs and was serving as our Vice President for Student Success, Analytics, and Integrated Planning is becoming the new Chancellor at University of Wisconsin-Parkside. Lynn was also a great champion of the student experience and wonderful partner for Student Affairs. Our Director of Residential Life, Cindy Janney, is retiring in January 2024 after a tremendous career in Student Affairs. Under her leadership two new residence halls, an off-campus apartment complex, a new dining hall, and millions in renovations have kept our campus beautiful and serving the needs of our students. Searches are underway to fill these positions, so watch for announcements of the new leaders this spring. 

With all of these leadership changes, some reporting lines are changing as well. President Inch is focused on the university achieving our new strategic plan ( and has made structural changes to ensure our success. Beginning in December 2023, the Office of Registration and Academic Records now reports to me as the Vice President. In February 2024, the Office of Financial Aid will also report to the Division of Student Affairs. Later this summer, the Office of University Scheduling and Conference Services will report to the Division as we attempt to grow our summer camps and conferences activity. To assist with supervising these changes, we are creating a new Assistant Vice President for Enrollment Management. This new leadership role will report to me and supervise University Admissions, Financial Aid, and the Office of New Student & Family Programs. A search will be conducted to fill this position in spring 2024. Finally, the great work of the Career Development Center will be reassigned in 2024 to the new Vice President for Student Success and Engagement. This provides a heightened presence of their work and how we can connect students and employers through a central effort at the university. The Career Development Center will be missed, but we look forward to seeing them achieve new heights.  

As these changes are occurring, there is one other change we are making as a division. Since I arrived at Minnesota State Mankato, I have been the Vice President for Student Affairs and Enrollment Management while the division has been titled Student Affairs. Beginning immediately, we will be the Division of Student Affairs & Enrollment Management. This better reflects the scope and focus of our work. 

Thank you for all of your support in 2023. Whether through your direct giving of scholarships and emergency grant support to your willingness to share your ideas and passions to help our students, we appreciate all you do for Minnesota State Mankato. At this time of celebration and reflection, I invite you to include a visit to our campus in 2024. I would like to hear more about your ideas to support the university, as well as share the latest news and changes. Until then, I wish you and yours the best this holiday season.


Yours in Maverick Spirit,

David P. Jones, Ph.D.

Vice President for Student Affairs and Enrollment Management


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

Every year, Minnesota State University, Mankato welcomes students' families to a special event that has become a cherished tradition - Family Weekend. This event has been co-chaired by New Student and Family Programs and Campus Recreation for approximately 10 years after previously being run by Residential Life since 2004. Over the years, this annual event has grown in significance and scope, attracting hundreds of families eager to engage with the university and create lasting memories.

This year marked the second highest number of registrations with 650 families, comprising 2,342 individuals, a majority of which were first-year students’ families. Nikki Stock, co-chair of Family Weekend and director of New Student and Family Programs, shared “the fact that [students] want their families to come makes me think that Minnesota State Mankato is a place that they are proud of being.”

The success of Family Weekend is the result of a group effort, with a total of 20 individuals involved in the planning process. These individuals represent various university departments including Student Activities Team, Campus Recreation, New Student and Family Programs, Residential Life, Athletics, and more. Todd Pfingsten, co-chair of Family Weekend and director of Campus Recreation, said “it’s clockwork and people have just bought into this is the culture we are going to create, and we get the support.” This collaboration ensures a diverse and engaging lineup of activities and events. During Family Weekend, families had the opportunity to enjoy a wide array of activities, including the traditional football game. This year a total of 980 football tickets were sold; more than ever before, with previous ticket sales being less than 500. The event also featured fun and games in the campus dome, a visit to the Maverick Bullpen for bowling and billiards, and a new addition this year was an outdoor petting zoo. Pfingsten shared that at one point the staff helping in the dome looked at each other and said “look at the energy in this place.” One of the crowd favorites was "Stuff-a-Plush," an event that allowed families to create their own Maverick Bear. The "Price Is Right" game show is another tradition that adds an extra layer of excitement to the weekend.

When asked about the weekend, Stock said “it just seemed like one of the best years; people were engaged and there was high participation.” The event continues to grow and adapt to meet the evolving needs and expectations of both students and their families, but the principle of keeping the weekend free or low cost stays a priority. For those interested in supporting Family Weekend to ensure the event can stay nearly free of cost to families, please consider donating to New Student and Family Programs. 

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


Campus Dining Services play a pivotal role in shaping the daily lives of students, faculty, and staff on campus. With the fourth-largest incoming class in school history, the demand for food on campus is higher than ever. The operations behind serving over one million meals in a given school year, while simultaneously accommodating various dietary restrictions and preferences, involves intricate planning to run smoothly. It takes a village to serve such a large population, while also keeping quality and sustainability efforts in mind. 

Jamie Waterbury, Operations Manager for Dining Services, shared that regardless of the student body size, it is a challenge at the beginning of the year to get the staff prepared for an influx of students. Once all staff are trained and get in a routine, however, the fluctuation of enrollment from year to year does not impact how Dining Services runs. In the 2022-23 school year, Minnesota State University, Mankato Dining services provided approximately 25,000 meals in the dining center and 15,000 meals in retail areas weekly. He anticipates these numbers will be even higher for the 2023-24 school year with the large incoming class. 

A total of 360 staff members make up the Dining Services team in order to effectively serve such a large population. Of the 360 staff members, 250 of those are student workers. Students have the opportunity to work in all domains of the operation, including catering, dishes, serving and preparing and cooking food, to name a few. In addition to providing so many students with employment, students are prepped for life after graduation by gaining experience in interviewing with opportunities for promotions and leadership roles, including supervisor and student manager positions. Waterbury highlights that the student workers gain more from the experience than just having a job. “They are learning how to supervise people, they are learning what it takes to run an operation,” he says. University Dining Services accepts donations supporting the student employment and leadership development gained through working within the dining center.

Dining Services take the dietary restrictions and preferences of the community very seriously, taking necessary steps to make students feel safe and comfortable eating in the dining hall. In 2016, Minnesota State Mankato hired a full-time campus dietitian, Taylor Nixt, to work with all students with dietary restrictions or disordered eating behaviors. During orientation and at the beginning of every school year, Nixt has consultations with these students to create an individual plan. Through consultations, dietary needs are addressed on a case-by-case basis, and most are accommodated by the Simple Servings station in the Dining Center, which does not have any of the eight major allergens present and has fully separate cooking equipment and storage areas to minimize opportunities for cross contact. The goal of these consultations is for students to feel comfortable with their meal plan and understand what they should or shouldn’t eat. Waterbury shares that “depending on the level of severity that they have, we’ve gone as far as giving the chef a binder and saying these are the things they can eat. We will cook their mom’s recipes.” Being intentional and going through this process not only puts the students at ease, but also the parents. 

While serving such a large population, Dining Services has various sustainability initiatives to reduce food waste and promote recycling. Ninety percent of the paper goods used across the University Dining are compostable. In addition, an effective program called Waste Watch, powered by Leanpath, is used to track food waste, which allows for cooks to be more efficient, therefore resulting in less food waste and less carbon emission. Since turning more to compost, Dining Service’s food waste has reduced from a previous 50 trash bags per day to only two. 

Minnesota State Mankato’s Dining Services is not just about providing meals; it is a vital part of campus life, with a focus on diversity, sustainability, safety, and community engagement. As the University continues to grow and adapt, so too will its Dining Services, ensuring that it remains an essential and ever-improving part of campus life.


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

photo of Sam Hodgson

“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.

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.”

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

photo of Sam Hodgson


a group of people posing for a photo

Robb Murray, a 1995 Minnesota State University, Mankato alumnus, has become a prominent member of the Mankato community.

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.