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.

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.

Faical Rayani

Faical Rayani has never been a typical student. From starting his own registered student organization to becoming President of the Minnesota State Student Association (MSSA) he has impacted both people and policies at Minnesota State Mankato. Now as state chair of Students United, he continues to use his leadership and passion to bring positive change to the Minnesota State system.

Before starting his journey at Minnesota State University, Mankato, Rayani was born and raised in Saudi Arabia. He came to Mankato to continue his education in Information Technology and will graduate this May. He was welcomed as an international student and immediately felt a sense of community on campus despite being in a new culture.

Soon after arriving, his first opportunity for involvement opened up in the residential halls, where he became a floor representative for the Residence Hall Association. Later, he would be elected vice president. That position provided his first public speaking opportunities, which helped him gain confidence in his abilities to be a leader and courage to address important student issues.

Rayani also contributed three years as a member of MSSA before being elected president. In one of his proudest positions, Rayani was the face for Minnesota State Mankato students. He tirelessly worked to raise awareness, affected change for issues on campus, and advocated for inclusion, equality and success.

Although he believes he has always been a natural leader, Minnesota State Mankato has taught Rayani its true definition. “Leadership is not telling people what to do and how to do it,” he says. “Leadership is about listening to people, empowering them, figuring out their strengths and giving them the right opportunities. That is what I have learned from student government–you are serving them, they are not serving you.”

Rayani’s involvement in student government has led to his current role of state chair for Students United. Students United is a non-profit, student-led organization serving 65,000 students across the seven Minnesota State Universities. Here, Rayani is able to affect powerful policy change and bring new ideas to Minnesota State Mankato and the rest of the Minnesota State system. In his role, Rayani has been working on a “Carbon Commitment;” the goal is to have every university president sign a promise to become carbon neutral. He’s also working to draft a textbook-affordability master plan that will be presented to each university to alleviate student concerns about the rising costs of textbook. His most successful project has been seeing affirmative consent get passed by the Minnesota State Board of Trustees after three years of work. With this policy change, every public higher education institution in Minnesota will practice affirmative consent. Rayani says, “This is huge, we are setting a precedent for the nation, the country.”

Rayani’s numerous successes on campus and across the state can be attributed to his passion for the Minnesota State Mankato community. In Mankato, Rayani has always felt that he belonged and that his opinion mattered. He found the encouragement to grow, develop and thrive. He believes that to be successful you have to love the people and the organization you represent.

“Here at Minnesota State Mankato, people want to be here,” he says. “They grind every day. They are making a difference and contributing to this country’s wealth of information and talented workforce development.” Rayani’s legacy continues as his powerful influence to impact change spreads across the University, the state and the nation.

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

Bretta Gonzales

Bretta Gonzales was born and raised in San Antonio, Texas. She took a chance coming to Minnesota State University, Mankato four years ago when she began her undergraduate studies in Exercise Science here. Having a passion for fitness, Gonzales chose to continue her education in Minnesota State Mankato’s Exercise Physiology program. Now as a first-year Graduate Assistant in Campus Recreation, she continues to help others on campus and in the community find passion in health and wellness.

As a Graduate Assistant in the Fitness and Wellness area of Campus Recreation, Gonzales works with members of the University and Mankato communities in a variety of ways. She works on fitness assessments for her clients, teaches fitness group classes and helps to organize and promote large community fitness events.

Recently, she has seen an increase of both students and staff on campus using her services and Campus Recreation facilities. Gonzales believes this is due to a recent $109,000 investment in weight room equipment in the Otto Recreation Center.

The recent weight room upgrades include user-friendly equipment that provides pictures of the areas the exercise is targeting. The new machines are helping educate users at all stages of their fitness journey and encourage a healthy lifestyle. Gonzales has been able to work with a larger variety of students and staff who are coming because of the new investment. She says, ”The whole space in Otto feels completely new. It is drawing new students in every day. It is encouraging new users to try things and get a taste for equipment they like, and they start to build a day-to-day mindset of wellness.“

With the increase of new areas to the center, Gonzales has the opportunity to strengthen her skills in her graduate assistant role. She is able to work on her communication skills with students from a larger variety of cultural backgrounds.

”I have always appreciated how diverse our campus is with students from all over the world,“ she says. ”It has been such a great experience working with diverse cultures that are here for the same reason—to be healthier individuals. The new equipment is bringing our campus community closer and to a common purpose of investment in our physical and mental health.“

The new equipment is also helping Gonzales get the one-on-one exposure to clients that she believes will help her toward her future goals in worksite wellness. With over 1,000 entries to the Otto Recreation Center each day, the continuation of both regular and new users of the facilities and new equipment is beneficial for all. Graduate assistants and staff continue to help individuals find the balance of convenience and efficiency with health and fitness.

Gonzales says, ”Health is every day. We want our students, staff, and community to create a healthy mindset. Part of that starts here and with this new equipment. It is a win-win situation when students feel comfortable and excited to use our machines, and I can help them be more successful with their progress using them“.

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