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.

Summer orientation is usually just the beginning of the excitement surrounding a new upcoming school year. Typically, students can sign up for a one- or two-day orientation to prepare for their first fall semester at Minnesota State University, Mankato. During their visit to campus, they register for classes, receive their MavCard, meet other students and talk to different departments on campus.

This year, however, the office of New Student and Family Programs had to think outside of the box and move programming completely online as a COVID-19 precaution. As a result, the Maverick Online Orientation and Registration (MOOR) programming was created on the University’s educational platform, Desire2Learn, or D2L, where students typically go for class-related items like viewing their syllabus, turning in assignments and checking their grades.

Jeremy Riesenberg, Assistant Director of Orientation and Transition Programs, spent the early summer months trying to figure out just how to use an educational platform to create an interactive and informational orientation.

 “My main goal for orientation is building excitement for [the students], that they’re looking forward to starting college,” Riesenberg says. “I hope that orientation is their first chance to see what they’re in for, the environment they’ll be in and the other fantastic students that they’ll meet. I hope that by the time everyone leaves orientation that they’re like ‘I can’t wait for this to all start again in the fall.’”

Riesenberg’s final product included weekly modules that were posted every Monday morning over a six-week period that provided students with information about campus resources, videos from current students, virtual resource fairs and fun activities for students to get to know the University better.

With the help of student Orientation Peer Assistants, known as OPAs, the office successfully implemented the new orientation style online. OPAs, like Lizzie Putnam, a junior Special Education major from Las Vegas, Nevada, were tasked with helping students transition to campus, while never actually getting to meet them physically.

“I feel like we’re the first face at the University that the students see and we’re also the student perspective, which I think is really important… There’s 16 of us and we help students with registration, we do the activities, and we perform a welcome dance right at the beginning which they always love on the two days,” Putnam says.

Although OPAs were bummed they didn’t get to perform their annually coordinated dance, they still sprang into action to help incoming students. Students were asked to fill out surveys throughout their orientation experience, which the Peer Assistants read through and responded to individually. Additionally, they held office hours for students to attend, hosted virtual labs for building relationships with other students and even hand packed “swag envelopes” with Maverick themed t-shirts, flags and lanyards to provide students with Maverick gear before they even moved to the Mankato area. Some days, they spent up to 12 hours on Zoom, providing resources for incoming students.

“The OPAs did a great job adapting, and I was very proud of them. They made the best of it, and I appreciated all of the work they did. They were the pulse of making it run, just like they are when they’re here in person,” says Riesenberg.

Overall, the online platform was a success. Students seemed to really engage in the process, despite the fact that it may not have been exactly what they expected, and participation was high throughout the summer.

 “I was happy to see that [the students] were still engaging,” Riesenberg says. “I was worried about that at first. But I also thought, ‘They had such a crazy end of their high school experience that maybe they’re looking for some normalcy and thinking about their next chapter.’”

With the uncertainty expected to continue over at least the next few months, orientation for students starting in the spring semester will also be done through the D2L online format. Fortunately, though, the orientation modules will continue to be used for this process and will stay open on D2L for the entirety of this next school year to provide students with a way to refer back to resources when they need it.

Over the last five months, COVID-19 has affected just about every aspect of life as we know it. One of the most severely impacted areas is the labor market. The United States economy has lost an unprecedented number of jobs, shattering all previous unemployment records—even those of the Great Depression.

One center on campus has been working diligently to help Minnesota State University, Mankato students and alumni with the tremendous job losses that have occurred: the Career Development Center (CDC).

When the CDC realized what was happening, it sprang into action to brainstorm what it could do to aid students and alumni during this time. The Center recognized that there are many unique challenges related to careers and job searching during a global pandemic. As a result, the CDC went to work and gathered lists of employers still hiring, pandemic specific career resources and job searching tips for students and alumni that has continuously been updated with new information.

The Center’s website provides information on scheduling individual appointments to go over resumes, cover letters and LinkedIn profiles. Students and new graduates can also sign up for practice interviews, graduate school planning and career assessments to guide them with their next career move.

The CDC has made a point to specifically reach out to all Maverick alumni through email communication, as well, to make sure they know that the office is available to help.

“We know that many of our Maverick alumni and their families have been impacted by job loss, and we thought it was important to remind our alumni that we are here to help and share some resources that are available through the University,” says Pamela Weller, the director of the Career Development Center.

Since then, the Center has been actively working to provide any information that could be beneficial, like which employers are still hiring and which are experiencing job freezes, how to get hired remotely and jobs skills needed to succeed in a post corona-virus world. The CDC wants to make sure that alumni know that even though they have graduated, they are still a part of the Maverick family and the University is still a resource for them.

“The mission of the Career Development Center is to ‘educate, equip and empower students and graduates to successfully explore, develop, and manage their career paths for a lifetime.’ We care about the well-being and success of our graduates,” says Weller.

As a result of COVID-19, the Center has transitioned the bulk of its resources, programs and services to an online delivery method. A huge benefit of this is that students and alumni can now access office resources 24/7 from wherever they are located. Many great career resources can be found on their website here to help during this unprecedented time.

This year’s Student Government election was unlike any other in recent Minnesota State University, Mankato history. Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, candidates had to tackle unforeseen obstacles, such as campaigning completely online, unlike their predecessors who were able to physically campaign on campus.

Although these unprecedented times called for creative solutions, it didn’t hinder the success of the winning party: Empowering Mavericks. Thanks to dozens of campaign volunteers, the party reached out to thousands of students to ensure that their message was heard through online candidate forums, social media postings and email communication.

Andrew Trenne, a junior Political Science major and History and Business Law minor, was elected as Minnesota State Mankato’s 88th Student Government president.

Trenne, who is originally from Chaska, decided to come to Minnesota State Mankato because he thinks the campus is the best in the state and he enjoys the size of the university—which he says allows him to meet new people while still having small and attentive class sizes.  

Although it’s hard to believe now after his victory, Trenne didn’t think that he’d ever become the president of the student body. He dreamed of it but says that he was shy and had little involvement in high school, so he never expected to be in the position that he is today.

“I always wanted to become president but never thought I would get to this point. My earliest memory of this was when I was a freshman; I went to the new student rally during Welcome Week. I saw the then Student Body President addressing my incoming class, and I remember whispering to my friend, ‘I want to be him,’ but I only considered it a dream and something I didn't think I could reach,” he says.

Despite his humble journey, Trenne’s work has not gone unnoticed. Mark Constantine, director of the Centennial Student Union and Student Activities, has had the pleasure of working with Trenne over the last three years in his positions in the Residence Hall Association, Student Union Board and Student Government. He says that Trenne is not the kind of person who looks for a pat on the back; rather, his involvement comes from his authentic love for the University.

“He [has] worked tirelessly for the students at Minnesota State Mankato. Talk about taking risks and stepping up, Andrew is doing that on a daily basis. Whether he is talking to President Davenport, Vice President Jones or a dean of a college, Andrew is at the forefront of most student movement on this campus,” says Constantine.

No matter how big or small of a decision the University makes, Trenne feels that students should be right there at the table with administration to provide input on issues that affect them daily.

“If we aren't a part of the decision-making process on things like tuition, student fees, University policies and even the COVID-19 conversations, then our issues as students won't be addressed or heard,” he says.

Trenne hopes to leave his legacy at Minnesota State Mankato by helping advance the student body and addressing ever-changing student needs. He hopes that he can make a difference at the University not only academically, but also in student life to create long-term accomplishments that set the University forward in addressing student needs.

Although he never expected to make it this far, Trenne is proud of himself for the accomplishments that he has made during his time as a Maverick and is excited to see what he can do as the 88th Student Government president.

“I truly want to show people that anyone can do it if you just put time into it and really work to grow yourself as a person. Minnesota State University, Mankato is a great place to do that, and I am super proud of our University,” Trenne says.

Over the past two months, many campus activities have been cancelled or altered due to the current conditions of COVID-19. Since many students have been secluded in their off-campus residence or at home, most registered student organizations have been reduced to meeting virtually or postponing all events until the fall.

But one group in particular is thriving: The Maverick Gaming Community.

The Maverick Gaming Community is a student organized hub for gamers to connect and compete in more than 35 online games. The community has a channel on Discord, a communication application, for Maverick gamers to connect across numerous platforms like PC, XBOX, PS4 and Switch. By joining, students are able to find other Maverick gamers to play with or against and stay up to date on gaming opportunities through student organized events and tournaments.

According to Andrew Weinzierl, a member of the community, gaming has grown immensely in popularity over the last few years. “Having Esports on campus is an amazing way to connect students who might normally not be as involved and serves as an opportunity to make connections and friends throughout the college experience,” Weinzierl says. This is especially true during this unprecedented time, when it is harder to stay involved in the campus community and meet other people.

With the ever-growing popularity of gaming, Esports formed as a sporting competition through organized, multiplayer gaming. Jacquie Lamm, another gamer in the community, explains that “Esports is a competitive video game competition that can be played at the high school, college, casual or professional level. Most games are two teams, comprised of five to six team members, competing against each other towards winning a match.”

Despite current conditions, Esports is still seeing great support from Maverick gamers. The MavLoL (League of Legends) and the CSGO (Counter-Strike: Global Offensive) student organizations even held a successful tournament this past month titled MavRivals. Although they would have liked to have hosted it in person, the community was still able to provide quality entertainment through Twitch, a live-streaming platform for gamers, which is exactly what students need right now.

“The COVID-19 pandemic has been stressful and unpredictable; playing video games provides a sense of relief for many people, including myself, who want to pause the real world temporarily and immerse themselves in a virtual experience,” Weinzierl says. “Playing games from the comfort of one's home is a safe way to promote social interaction during these unprecedented times.”

The Maverick Gaming Community is proud to give students a sense of community during a time when they need it most. Thanks to current technology, students are able to still find support and some sense of normalcy during this time. As gaming continues to grow and gamers learn new skills, the community is excited to see what’s next.

“We hope to have a good turn out this summer…and are excited to see what comes next for Minnesota State Mankato and Esports this fall,” says Lamm.

The outbreak of the novel coronavirus, or COVID-19, has brought about a lot of unexpected changes in the last month. With classes being moved online for the rest of the semester, there is a lot of uncertainty facing students and staff. Dealing with uncertain times can be difficult, and one office on campus is tackling those feelings of loneliness, grief, and ambiguity.

The Counseling Center at Minnesota State University, Mankato serves all currently enrolled undergraduate and graduate students. The office offers a large variety of services to students to meet their unique needs at no cost, such as individual counseling, group counseling, seminars, wellness workshops and referrals.

In response to recent events, the office has moved all services online for the remaining semester to meet the ever-changing needs of students. They are now offering appointments and individual counseling sessions, via Zoom, for students who are in Minnesota (out-of-state students will be provided with consultations and referral services).

In addition, they have adapted several of their seminars, workshops, and groups to be provided online. According to Kari Much, Department Chair of the Counseling Center, the office worked closely with IT Solutions to provide students with online access to resources to succeed during this difficult time.

“We have also added many new services to help students cope during this challenging time.  We are offering several drop-in ‘Coping with COVID’ programs that specifically assist students with current challenges such as managing social distancing, coping with anxiety, being an online student and more that are offered multiple times per week for the rest of the semester. We have recorded some ‘on-demand’ presentations that students can access from our website at any time, and we have also developed a web page of self-help resources devoted to dealing with the distress of living through a pandemic,” says Much.

These resources are essential during this unprecedented time. Now, more than ever, students need help from the University to complete a semester that they never imagined in their wildest dreams. With this in mind, the Counseling Center has worked hard to adapt to telemental health services while keeping all services free and readily available for students.

Much reiterates, “All of our services are still free! Our Coping with COVID programs do not require registration; students can simply pick a time and topic that fits for them and drop in” 

Students can learn more by visiting the Counseling Center's website here

We are doing our best to serve our students and want to recognize that we are in this together. Together, we stay Maverick strong.