The challenges of creating one college seemed insurmountable back in 2003 when Fergus Falls Community College merged with three campuses of Northwest Technical College.

Now, nearly 20 years later, the challenges again seem overwhelming as we find ourselves in the middle of a pandemic, and the sentiment in our region mirrors our feelings in 2003. There are so many parallels between then and now: a lack of clarity about the future, a focus on the greater good, tired people moving forward one step at a time, an astronomical number of decisions to be made and a broad commitment in order to navigate successfully.

Leading through the pandemic has helped me see the unbelievable strength of the college, our region and our students. As a result, I have hopes for an even stronger future.

The things we learned as a college that help us successfully navigate in 2020:

  • We have fierce insight and know that, no matter how difficult things seem, we have all of the people, partners and support needed to thrive.

  • We can use situational tension to spur creativity and innovation. M State employees do not accept “good enough.” They not only answer the initial question(s), but they end up redesigning the whole darn system to show people how great things can be for our students.

  • We can move quickly when our students and communities need us to.

  • We are an interconnected college and region so decisions cannot be made in isolation.

  • We must balance input with tough decisions that need to be made, understanding there are times to discuss but also times when we need to make a decision and move forward.

  • We know we are stronger because of the unique differences of our campuses and our communities.

  • We never compromise our values or minimize our focus on student success.

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Cosmetology students at M State Wadena huddle up in the winter of 2019-2020.
Photo courtesy M State
Cosmetology students at M State Wadena huddle up in the winter of 2019-2020. Photo courtesy M State

The bottom line is, as a college, we have always leaned in to transformation, even when we wanted to preserve the traditions of the past. Today, M State is in a strong position as a college and, just like during the merger and every other transformational time in our history, we will emerge from this pandemic in a stronger, albeit different, way. We have continued plans for a strong M State future, and we have #MStateHope.

As the months have gone on, I find myself evolving from a high-energy person to a sustained- energy person because I have accepted we may be in this state of uncertainty for quite some time. Still, there are four things I know for sure:

Our mission, vision, values and insistence on quality still drive all that we do. We are figuring all of this out because we refuse to stop advocating for our students. Every M State student has a story and, if you heard their stories, you would be very proud.

Our employees are the heart of the college. Through the pandemic, I have witnessed employees double down on their commitment to student access and success, demand equitable outcomes, get wildly creative and refuse to take no for an answer when it was best for our students. We will get through this, and we will be an even better college because of our team.

Our commitment to student success and equitable outcomes needs to be at the forefront of everything we do. For many of our students, we are the safest place for them to be. Students deserve a college that understands that their needs extend far beyond the classroom, that assists without judgment, that celebrates their identity, and that has leaders who advocate for their needs, unapologetically, at tables where student voices are not represented. We can never underestimate how critical it is for M State to be the place where students belong because it can and often does change their lives.

Our partners are amazing. We continue to receive donations of equipment and scholarships, offers of support, feedback on our curriculum, guest lectures, and the list goes on and on. This fall, we awarded $502,350 in scholarships to 268 M State students. Our partners believe in our students and the work we do, and we are so grateful for their support.

I am hopeful about the future because I know, in the midst of it all, that we change the trajectory of the lives of our students. Knowing this keeps me grounded, continuing the grind and getting up with a hop in my step every morning because I am certain we make a difference.

I am incredibly proud to serve our communities and to be the president of M State.

Dr. Carrie Brimhall is the president of M State and is a first generation student and graduate of M State.