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 person taking a selfie in the snow

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.

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

a person standing next to a person in a graduation gown

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.

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  health as a top priority. Since then, interest and new student enrollment has increased as Jones and his team continue to put their best efforts forward to navigate through these consistently changing times in higher education. Their efforts have been so successful that new first-year student enrollment increased by 9 percent for the fall of 2022.


You can learn more about our Undergraduate Admissions here: Admissions & Aid – Minnesota State University, Mankato

a person standing next to a mascot

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.

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. 

a person in a suit and tie wearing a purple and yellow face mask

The sun is setting across the remnants of our first snow of the season outside my office window as I write this to you. It is truly hard to believe we have arrived in December yet again. While the journey has been different this fall, the impact of your support and giving has never been greater. Let me share with you some of the great ways you have made a difference this past year.

The sun is setting across the remnants of our first snow of the season outside my office window as I write this to you. It is truly hard to believe we have arrived in December yet again. While the journey has been different this fall, the impact of your support and giving has never been greater. Let me share with you some of the great ways you have made a difference this past year.

Your support for scholarships has made the difference for so many or our Minnesota State University, Mankato students. Fall 2021 marked the third year of the Student Affairs Retention Scholarship and with your support we awarded three $1,000 scholarships to students who are becoming a pilot, studying psychology while fighting a rare kidney disease, and preparing to be a computer engineer as a first-generation immigrant from Nigeria. These three students are tremendous examples of the promise and challenges that many of our students are facing. 

At a recent luncheon for our Presidential Scholars ($5,000 scholarship a year) I had the opportunity to join President Inch at a table with three upper-class students preparing for the end of their semester and for two of them, the beginning of life after college.  The first December graduate will be starting her career at Federated Insurance in Owatonna, where she will be focused on debugging software.  Our second December graduate will be working as an emergency department nurse at Mayo Clinic Health System’s Mankato Hospital. Our third Presidential Scholar is a junior with some time on his hands, but not much.  You see he is a mechanical engineering major who is interested in working at a company where he can apply his knowledge to solve their engineering needs and help people.  Of course, this sounds like every engineer I ever met.  He then followed it up by sharing that he continues to drive to Madelia, MN almost every night because the local pizza restaurant is shorthanded, and he thinks it is important to help keep them afloat to serve the locals. The pandemic has created some new challenges for all of us, and it is exciting to see three students responding in their own ways to help others. 

Throughout the fall, I am lucky to have the opportunity to spend time with many of you who stop by to visit at Homecoming, sporting events, or just traveling through.  A recent visit from a long-time supporter and former faculty member from Colorado, and sometimes Alabama, stopped by to meet his scholar and spend some time with me to learn how things are just going.  In the bustle of our daily work, home life, and concern for our own health, it was a welcome respite to share, learn, and laugh about our own challenges. I do not think we solved too many of the world’s problems, but the time together was an important reminder of what this University means to so many of us. 

I choose to work at Minnesota State Mankato because I believe in our mission, the passion of our faculty, and the dedication of our staff to serve students who want to make a difference. My wife, Dr. Jennifer Jones a 1992 Alum, and I choose to give to this University because of the many students who need that little extra bit of support to help keep them on track toward their goals. From our premier Presidential Scholars to our students struggling with the balancing act of school and part-time work, we both know our gift makes a difference.

Thank you for all your support this year and please consider reaching out to me to ask how you can help. My best wishes to you and yours this holiday season.  See you in 2022!        

David P. Jones, Ph.D.

a person and child taking a selfie

If there was one word Ben Pierce would use to describe the Veterans Resource Center at Minnesota State University, Mankato it would be “fantastic.”  

If there was one word Ben Pierce would use to describe the Veterans Resource Center at Minnesota State University, Mankato it would be “fantastic.”  

Located in room 167 of the Centennial Student Union, the Veterans Resource Center provides a safe space where students from all backgrounds can come together, make friends, share stories, and become a part of the Maverick community.

Pierce is not the same as many traditional students. He joined the United States Marine Corps right out of high school at the age of 19. After nine years of service, his plan was to move out of Minnesota with his wife and attend college in Arizona.

Unfortunately, five months before the beginning of fall semester, tragedy struck. Pierce’s six-month-old son Aiden (pictured above with Pierce) was diagnosed with cancer. In need of some extra support from his friends and family, Pierce and his wife decided to move back to Minnesota. “Thankfully, we caught the tumor super early, the surgery went well, and he’s been cancer free now for two and a half years,” he said.  

With a happy and healthy three-year-old and the support of his friends and family, 27-year-old Pierce decided it was time to take his career to the next step by earning his bachelor’s degree in law enforcement at Minnesota State University, Mankato.  

“I remember when I first got here, the Social and Behavioral Science departments were doing a little luncheon where students could go meet the faculty and get to know other students. I decided to go and was approached by the dean of SBS, Matthew Loayza, and Paul Mackie, who is a professor of Social Work,” said Pierce. “After having a conversation with them and them realizing that I was a veteran, Paul Mackie took me down to the Vet Center right away, and it’s just been a place I’ve spent time at ever since.”

“A lot of veteran students are in some way struggling with their identities when they leave the military and transition into being a civilian,” Pierce adds. “For nine years, all I knew was the Marine Corps and how to be a Marine.”

Pierce acknowledges that coming back to school has been challenging—but the Veterans Resource Center has been critical in helping him succeed.

“Having that community helps you bridge that gap and helps you understand like yes, it’s okay,” he says. “To be a veteran is not weird, nor is it scary. There are people who will help you out, and there are a lot of opportunities to build that community with other veterans and to get the support that is needed.”

One of his favorite things is that the Veterans Resource Center works to incorporate nonmilitary-affiliated students into activities.

“Which is great, because it is important to bridge that gap between military and civilian,” Pierce stated.  

The Veterans Resource Center offers a wide variety of activities that are available for all students, such as the co-ed veterans softball team and movie nights twice a month. “It’s just a wonderful time getting to play and compete but also show that we are just like everybody else,” says Pierce.  

The Veterans Resource Center understands that this transition can be challenging for most if not all students. Having a safe space for veterans like Pierce to be vulnerable and allowing them to engage in each other's experiences promote diversity, inclusion, and academic success in the Maverick community.

This year, Pierce led the co-ed veteran's softball team to the championship game, organized movie night and brought his son to march in the homecoming parade with other veteran students. With the support of his friends, family and the Veterans Center, Pierce will graduate from Minnesota State University, Mankato this fall with his bachelor’s in law enforcement.

“My time here as a student would have been a lot more challenging without the veterans center,” he says. “You need some sort of social life and some sort of community to help balance out the demands of being a student.”