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M State - Wadena turns a corner with LifeSkills training

During a remarkably poignant campus forum on Dec. 14, I thought to myself, "We have turned a corner."

I was reflecting on the multitude of challenges the Wadena campus of Minnesota State Community and Technical College has faced during the past two years, including my assignment to the campus as provost, the difficult decisions made to ensure the future of the campus, the reduction of faculty positions, a horrific tornado event that personally affected many on campus, the physical and emotional recovery following the natural disaster, and the sudden new tenancy of the entire Wadena-Deer Creek High School. It's obvious that the Wadena campus has needed to process through many, many changes and, as a result, campus relationships were tested and morale tended to be low.

In part, we were able to turn the corner because of the willingness of the Wadena faculty, staff and students to participate in LifeSkills Leadership training. L1, as it is affectionately known by its many graduates, is a partnership I established with "Famous Dave" Anderson and Brandon Johnson. LifeSkills training focuses on individuals and empowers them to find, in themselves, the skills for success through multiple challenges, activities and processes over 24 hours in a two-day period.

In late 2008, Anderson was invited to M State - Wadena's sister campus in Detroit Lakes to provide an inspiring keynote address where he extolled the merits and outcomes of LifeSkills Leadership. With a crowd of approximately 300 hanging on every word, Anderson offered a one-time discount on the training. To date, we have trained more than 130 M State employees, community members and student leaders, and we are still going strong.

Although a good number of Wadena personnel have graduated from L1, all the trainings took place on the Detroit Lakes campus until this past fall. Several Wadena graduates, including students, decided it was time to bring the energy and empowerment witnessed in Detroit Lakes to Wadena. Our inaugural L1 training included eight Wadena faculty members, four college staff members, three students and one business professional.

Many on the Wadena campus could feel the excitement from these graduates and, during the Dec. 14 meeting, I asked the recent graduates to share their thoughts about the training, its effect on them and its potential impact on the campus.

One after another, employees stood to talk about the energy they felt and their commitment as L1 graduates to lead the campus forward. Faculty member Pat Ahlschlager even produced an e-mail she received from a student who observed changes in her commitment and mentorship. Many explained how this training changed them personally and professionally. Several encouraged their colleagues to take the training themselves so they could be a positive influence on others and on the campus.

I was impressed with the graduates' resolve and leadership, but I wasn't entirely surprised. Of the many people we have graduated from L1, more than 100 have personally shared with me that L1 was either the best training they have ever taken or that the training literally changed their lives, which is a testament to the power and empowerment people have experienced.

One of the last to comment on that December day was Bill Evans. Evans is a science instructor, L1 graduate and faculty union campus president. He talked about his commitment to students and the need for all of us to "give our all" to the students we serve. Evans ended by saying that, "If you aren't willing to give your students 100 percent, you are selling them short, and I am not willing to do that."

Since that December meeting, the attitudes and conversations are more positive, the hallways are filled with more energy, the employees are more willing to take on leadership roles and lights seem a bit brighter -- as does the future. M State will be hosting two LifeSkills Leadership training sessions in the spring. One, a student-only session in Detroit Lakes, is already full. Slots remain open for a training in Wadena in March. For more information or if you are interested in participating in L1, contact me at (218) 846-3778.

Dr. Cris Valdez is provost of the M State campuses in Detroit Lakes and Wadena.