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New semester begins at M State Wadena

Spring semester classes started Monday at M State Wadena.

Nearly 800 students are enrolled in a range of programs, including construction electrician, nursing, cosmetology and electrical lineworker. Many start their college career at M State, then transfer to four-year universities.

Senior Dean Monty Johnson sat down with the Pioneer Journal to discuss what makes the college special and what to expect at M State in 2014.

PJ: As the new semester begins, what are some things that you'd point to as campus success stories, reasons for students to choose M State Wadena?

MJ: The success our students have overall, whether it's in a career in tech fields or whether it's in a transfer, we've got fantastic reports from our industry partners from the graduates that come out of our programs. They get fantastic jobs and rave reviews on the skills they come out with. We get reports back from the students that have gone on to four-year schools when they transfer out of here that they were glad they went here. The rigor is fantastic and they were prepared for the next step in their academic life.

PJ: How successful are graduates at securing jobs after attending M State?

MJ: As far as placement of certain programs, our electrical lineworker program, which is one of our biggest - between them and nursing are our biggest two career and tech programs. The electrical lineworker program, we will graduate about 90 to 100 students and in the past we've had mid-to-upper 90 percent placement in that one. We look for that to continue this year. Seventy to 80 percent is common across most of our trades programs ... One thing that keeps us from an even higher percent is that they might have to travel. That's one thing we've been advising is that for some of these trades, you might have to travel to get that initial job and then you can move back into the area. I don't think any of our programs are too much lower than a 75 percent placement rate overall, though.

PJ: For students looking to eventually get a four-year degree, how easy is it to transfer?

MJ: It's very easy. They work with our advising staff here, start out with the the student development director Christian Breczinski and he'll sit down with you and put out a plan. They'll ask what's the school - or the couple of schools - that you wish to go to, make sure things transfer, look at the programs the student might be going into. They set out a plan of attack, per se, on how to hit all the classes that will transfer in, so they know for sure. They know what works and what doesn't work, what transfers to these schools and what doesn't transfer.

PJ: You mention advising. Tell me a little bit about the campus's vbot advising operation.

MJ: Basically, it's a mobile robot, mobile device really that has a screen and a couple of cameras so you can interact real time with somebody on our other campuses. And what we've done is, we know this campus is very lean, times have hit the campus fairly hard over the last 8, 10 years and we've really had to adjust to make it happen. So our financial aid person isn't on campus on a regular basis. We have a resource specialist up front that does answer 75 percent of the questions, but the other 25 percent need to be answered by a financial aid specialist. So basically, they get on the vbot and they get that face to face interaction instead of talking on the phone or over the computer and it helps that situation. The other way we use the vbots is let's say we have two advisors on campus here and both of them are busy. Say we're getting close to the start of the school year and we have a line of students waiting to be advised to get into classes. Well we don't want to discourage them by having to wait in a long line, so with our two adviser here and say, over in Moorhead, someone has a free moment, then we basically bring that adviser on to campus via vbot and sit down with (the student) and advise 100 miles apart.

PJ: I was looking at a list of MnSCU construction requests and there was a project listed for renovations of up to five classrooms, labs and some library space at M State Wadena. Is that something that you see as likely for the state to grant and how would it improve things?

MJ: Construction, you know, is scary, because we plan for it several years in advance and then we hope there's money for it. Money's tight in the state system. It would modernize what we're doing. Do what we're doing, just more efficiently. Part of our building is 51 years old; the infrastructure here is 51 years old in those situations. Each time we've added on it was an add on to the original system. The biggest thing we're hoping for out of it is the electrical and mechanical system remodel, because that's something that we probably need more than anything, right now. As far as any other projects, what it does is it just gives a different flavor for the campus and what it does too, is that there are a lot of students that window shop. If the campus is looking older than another site, that sometimes has some weight to it. We've been very fortunate - and I'm blessed with the faculty we have here - with the credibility of the programs. That's why the students come here. It would just be icing on the cake to get different classrooms redone.

PJ: The mechanical work is not very flashy, but necessary.

MJ: You're exactly right. It's not flashy. Nobody realizes until it's 11-below outside or 90-plus degrees. Or you're in the middle of a test and a breaker blows. Those type of things you don't notice until you need it. If it's cold in the classroom, it's not conducive to education. If it's too warm in the classroom, it's not conducive to education. This campus is a blue collar type of campus and we've made it work over the years. Now it's time to take a look at improving what we have.

PJ: I saw that MnSCU is also looking at a multi-million dollar project to "right-size" the Central Lakes Staples campus that would eliminate thousands of square feet of obsolete space while renovating much of the rest. I know there's some vacant space at the Wadena campus, is M State going to pursue similar "right-sizing?"

MJ: It just depends on what the system office asks us to do. We're in the middle of a master facility plan where all of our campus space, all of our buildings are looked at. Then we will start planning for what the future will look like. Anything is a possibility. And the system office, they have to take a look at the big picture with these campuses. As they age, as they are used, we worked off of a room utilization grid. All of our classrooms are to be used 32 hours a week, that's what the baseline is. If you go below that then it's not utilized appropriately. So those are the types of things that we deal with on a regular basis besides what we're famous for - teaching.

PJ: It's a new year, what kinds of things is M State going to do to improve or change things in 2014?

MJ: In 2014, we're looking at a couple new programs that haven't been approved by the state yet so I really can't officially say. But we're looking at one program very seriously and some modifications of some others. We're also looking at improving what we have with our foundation. We have a foundation person that is based on our campus five days a week whereas before I think it was a 30 hour a week job split on two campuses. The foundation allows us to offer more things, more scholarships to students, brings in more donations things like that. In 2014, one of the things we're working on in with our Baudette site, is we're having an ice fishing weekend up there ... One thing that we need to emphasize, is people ask, "Monty, that's Baudette, why do I care about that?" Well, what we have to understand is that all the students and all the training done up there benefits the campus here. That's why we stretched out our arms a little bit and made sure we are covering the state. It's the largest electrical lineworker program in the state and it's bigger than most of them in the majoring states. To do that we have to keep on the cutting edge. We have to recruit students and we have to battle with other schools that can offer bigger scholarships. That's why we're doing the things we're doing. You'll see more scholarship opportunities come up in different programs and throughout the system here, because of what the foundation is doing overall.