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.

In her final weeks before graduation, Rachel overheard some shocking statistics regarding homeless youth in the Mankato area and knew she had to do something about it.

Rachel, a Communications major at Minnesota State University, Mankato, was creating a poster for another event when she overheard Karen Anderson, assistant director for Community Engagement, talk about the more than 300 homeless children in the Mankato school district. Rachel wanted to make a difference, so she reached out to Karen regarding a campaign to help homeless youth. Karen suggested that she contact The REACH Youth Drop-In Center as a potential organization.

The REACH “provides a safe environment for youth where they can receive non-judgmental assistance from caring and trustworthy adults, who are knowledgeable in helping them overcome the barriers of homelessness.” The REACH serves teens and young adults up to the age of 21 by providing them with basic necessities such as meals, a place to shower, toiletries, clothing vouchers and transportation as well as emergency services like shelter and links to public housing services. After speaking with representatives from the Mankato school district and The REACH, Rachel launched a campaign to raise money for The REACH.

Rachel quickly set up a GoFundMe account and began using social media to spread the word. Within the first five days of the campaign, 95 percent of the total $1,530 was raised. “It was shocking,” Rachel says. “People sure are amazing.” She presented the donation to The REACH as well as some blankets and a few other items at the end of December. The staff was grateful for the donation and was impressed by how quickly the funds were raised.

Rachel contributes the success of the campaign to her experiences at Minnesota State Mankato. As the Homecoming Promotions and Partnerships Chair for the Student Events Team, she learned that “social media is a pivotal key in promoting the needs of an event – as it did for this one for The Reach.”  Rachel intends on continuing to donate to The REACH and volunteer in the community in any way possible.

This experience has impacted Rachel in a significant way. “Growing up in a middle-class family, I never really had to worry about finding my next meal or a place to sleep at night,” she says. “These are concerns that really only scratch the surface of what people are experiencing as homeless youth. This experience helped me to realize the important things in life–such as helping others and giving back. There is something bigger out there, for all of us.”

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

Maria Ruiz-Méndez

Maria Ruiz-Méndez was born and raised in Mexico before migrating with her family to Le Center, Minn., when she was in eighth grade.  Her parents moved her to Minnesota to provide a better education and more opportunities for Maria as well as her older sister and younger brother.  When she arrived in Le Center, Maria spoke no English and discovered there was no diversity in her small grade of just 32 people.  She began teaching herself English through movies, books and computer activities.  It was a challenge, but Maria faced it with drive and determination to make her parents proud because of their sacrifice to move far from their home for a better education for Maria and her siblings.

Throughout high school Maria felt that college wasn’t meant for her.  Her older sister decided to go back to Mexico for college, and Maria thought that if anything she would do the same.  Then she participated in a “Latino First Camp” at Minnesota State University, Mankato, where she discovered what the college experience was really like.  She also worked part-time during high school for the City of Montgomery City Council as a translator, which exposed her to government work. Before long, that experience would play a prominent role in her life.

Maria looked at several schools in the state, but ultimately decided to attend Minnesota State Mankato after a touring campus.  She liked its proximity to Le Center, which was neither too far from or too close to home.  What cemented her decision was the diversity she saw on campus and the individuals who spoke Spanish. “It felt like home,” she says.  Meeting Spanish speaking professionals with similar stories to her own at the University helped her transition and provided her resources to succeed.

Now in her senior year, Maria is pursuing dual degrees in International Relations and Spanish, as well as a Political Science minor.  She has been very active during her time on campus, serving as Student Ambassador for Institutional Diversity, President of the Latino Student Wellness Program, Community Advisor for Residential Life, Senator with Minnesota State Student Association (MSSA) and most recently the 84th Student Body Vice President with MSSA.

 As a senator, Maria learned about issues on campus from the students’ perspective, became aware of policies and wanted to help by becoming a resource for her peers.  After a conversation with now Student Body President Faical Rayani, a decision was made to run together.  It wasn’t about the title, Maria said, it was that “our advancement is for the advancement of others.”  She gathered friends and colleagues to form a party, which became a great support system. Even in times of doubt, they were there for one another, encouraging each other along this journey.  “This experience has been a well-rounded professional development opportunity and has given me practical experience,” Maria said.

There have been challenges along the way, including balancing being a student and being held accountable as a leader to make positive decisions, but there have also been many rewarding opportunities for Maria in her vice president role.  Maria feels she is able to help students and to be the platform to help others to learn by teaching and guiding them to develop, as well as being a resource for those students.  Maria said, “In a leadership position you don’t always hear the good things so when a student says thank you, it means a lot.”  It’s rewarding for Maria to give students a voice here on campus, especially when they don’t know who to talk to.

As her leadership role with MSSA comes to a close this spring, Maria looks to the future after she graduates in December 2017.  She hopes to work for the Mexican Consulate in Minneapolis after graduation.  Maria has been connecting with the Mexican Consulate this past year and has created a personal relationship with them.  Her dream position would be to serve as an ambassador to Mexico.  While she will continue her last semester here at Minnesota State Mankato without an active role in MSSA, she will miss the connections she has made and the opportunity to tackle issues as well as the busyness of filling her calendar with meetings, which has become “a part of life.”  Maria hope MSSA will continue reaching out to students by representing and serving the student population while adapting to new challenges for years to come.  She says MSSA is about serving students, having fun and supporting one another through it all.

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

Carolyn Nelson

Carolyn Nelson has always seen the value of working hard to accomplish her goals. She grew up in a small community on a multi-generational farm, and excelled in her high school work. Carolyn then chose Minnesota State University, Mankato to further her education because she received the prestigious Presidential Scholarship. After graduating and working as a paralegal for a few years, the opportunity opened up for her to return to Minnesota State Mankato as an admissions officer. She had a great experience at her alma mater and was passionate about giving back to the school that challenged her and provided her with continued growth as a person and a student.

As 10 years passed, Carolyn navigated through many positions in the department of Undergraduate Admissions, ultimately landing in the role of Assistant Director and Scholarship Coordinator. Carolyn’s work as Scholarship Coordinator would soon start to expand. Her new title as Director of Scholarships refines her focus on funding long-term grants to serve more students in need.

In the spring of 2017, Minnesota State Mankato received $420,000 in emergency grant funding from Great Lakes Higher Education Corporation. The grant application had University-wide input and was led by Dr. Matt Sewell, chair of the Reimagining the First Year- Micro Grants committee. The emergency grant funding will be used to help low-income students navigate the unexpected financial hardships that college students often encounter; for these students, an unexpected car repair or medical bill can spell the end of their college career.

Carolyn explains these very situations with which she has experienced working with students in need. “Sometimes the emergency is very apparent. I just received an email over the weekend from a student whose car died in the Twin Cities and now they have to get back here. That’s an obvious need. But what we’re finding through this process is that students’ financial needs tend to be a little more nuanced. Often times it’s not something that is happening immediately right now. It is something that happened a couple months ago and the student is really having a hard time recovering from that medical bill or something that they’re really trying to work towards, but they just haven’t quite gotten there. That’s where maybe that emergency grant can help out too.”

When students are looking for an emergency grant, they are often coming from faculty and staff, referrals, or the emergency grant website. No matter where they come from, they are ultimately looking for financial assistance due to an emergency happening in their lives.

The University already has more than 40 faculty and staff from around campus dedicated to being grant advisors. “That’s one of the most exciting things about this program. That not only is it going to help students, but I think that outreach and outpouring of support and interest in being involved in the grant advising process shows that faculty at the University also are really committed to student success”, Carolyn says. A student can select from a list of grant advisors and meet with them immediately due to the emergency of their situation. The advisors listen and take the time to understand each student’s story and need.

The emergency grant is only available for the 2017-2019 school years. The next step for Carolyn is to identify sources for long-term funding, whether that’s individual donations or one large endowment. She hopes to have fundraising for the grant as part of the Advancement team’s annual fundraising activities, as well as student scholarships. Carolyn is hopeful to have funding in place before the grant expires, but notes “there is a lot of work to be done to get to the point where we’re able to continue to award about $200,000 annually in emergency grants, which is what we are hoping to do here this year”. The continuation of an emergency grant fund would assist a variety of student at Minnesota State to stay enrolled and continue their education for years to come.

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

Monica Warner

Ever since elementary school in her hometown of Eagan, Minn., Monica Warner has known she wanted to be an educator. Warner has also been passionate about the environment and found Minnesota State Mankato to be the perfect opportunity to combine those passions. As an Elementary Education major in her junior year at the University, she cannot wait to start empowering the minds of children across the state. But before graduation comes in 2019, Warner has many things she hopes to accomplish as she continues to be a leader and an innovator on campus. As the College of Education Senator for the Minnesota State Student Association (MSSA), Student Affairs Committee coordinator, and president for the Environmental Sustainability Organization student group, Warner stays plenty busy. She enjoys giving back to the University and developing new initiatives and opportunities for students.

As a first-year member on MSSA, Warner and other members are continually proposing new ideas to better serve the University population. They have worked to keep the bussing system free for students with their MavCard with the green transportation fee. They are also working with the library on a textbook rental program that would allow students to rent general education textbooks for the semester instead of having to purchase them. Warner also works with off-campus student senators to provide nearby neighborhoods with volunteers for park cleanups.

Warner’s overall goals as the Student Affairs Committee coordinator within the senate is to help gather student-life concerns, discuss possible solutions and then bring the final decision to the larger Senate. She also continues to encourage students to start or join an Registered Student Organization (RSO) as a way to connect with others from the University and Mankato community. Her positions on MSSA allow for communication with current RSOs to find ways to continue funding student projects and ideas.

As the College of Education senator, one of Warner’s greatest achievements is the creation of “Dishin’ with the Dean.” Warner had felt that she didn’t have many opportunities to get to know Jean Haar, the Dean of the College of Education, and felt students in the major would benefit from getting advice, knowledge and learning real-life experiences from her. That is when she got the idea to create an event that would allow for informal discussion between her peers and the Dean to talk about a centralized topic related to the educational field. Dean Haar thought the idea was great, and the first “Dishin’ with the Dean.” took place at the beginning of fall semester on the topic of making connections in the University and community. Warner was delighted on the success of her first event and plans on having another one in the spring as well.

Finally, as president of the Environmental Sustainability Organization, Warner uses her passion to spread awareness of sustainability as an individual and community effort. The group’s most recent project was the Sibley Park Cleanup in September. They have workshops and speakers lined up for the year to learn how to positively impact the environment and what they can do on campus to make a difference.

Monica Warner is making contributions to students across the University everyday with her work as a MSSA member and RSO president. She continues to keep individuals connected to help better their education and overall campus experience. Although still early in the school year, Warner knows she will have many decisions to vote on that she hopes will positively impact students on a variety of levels. She looks forward to taking on the challenge of all her endeavors and feels pride in giving back to the community that has given her so much.

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

Jamie Waterbury

The University Dining Center completed in January has not only brought new food concepts, but also a large sense of community to the Minnesota State Campus. Jamie Waterbury, operations manager for Dining Services, has seen first-hand how the state-of-the-art space has positively impacted students and the employees who work there.

Waterbury has worked for Minnesota State Mankato since 2012, when he first began as a sous chef in the Centennial Student Union. He enjoyed the fast-moving environment and continued to advance in dining positions. Currently he’s the Operations Manager, which means that he oversees retail, catering and dining — but his main focus is the Dining Center. Waterbury continues to plan and promote the many innovative ideas of the Dining Center.

Food forward thinking has allowed students to see their food being prepared right in front of them. Students are able to ask chefs and staff questions, gaining knowledge about healthy and wholesome food options. Waterbury and the Dining Center staff also take pride in their efforts for energy conservation. Composting is a top priority; more than 95 percent of products used are compostable. The to-go service program for students uses compostable cups, which helps eliminate Styrofoam in landfills. The old Carkoski Dining Hall produced 25 garbage bags a day, but green efforts in the new Center have cut that down to two. The Dining Center also uses daylight harvesting, using the sun as natural lighting for the building to reduce energy.

Waterbury sees the new Dining Center as a welcoming gathering spot. More than 800 places to sit allow for more students, faculty and staff from across campus to congregate and enjoy company. “Students come and study with their friends and I can tell they are having a good time,” Waterbury explains. “They no longer just come in, eat and leave. It is great to see they are using the Dining Center for downtime and a relaxing space. You can see they truly enjoy the building in being in it.” The Dining Center has become experiential for students, allowing them to watch the cooking, interact with the chefs and then converse with friends.

One of the biggest changes Waterbury has seen is within his own employees. Chefs and staff are happier in the new center with brand new equipment as well as being able to hear positive feedback directly from the students they are serving. The staff enjoys the interaction with students. Hearing compliments first hand pushes them to continue to provide exceptional service.

The new Dining Center has become a great asset to Minnesota State Mankato. Parents and students who come through the building on admissions tours and open houses continue to be amazed by the space and all that it provides. Although each day in the Dining Center may have different people, food and activities, it always fosters creativity, learning and community for all of the individuals who walk through the doors.

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