Rochester is blessed in many ways, and one of them is its wealth of higher education providers.

Winona State University-Rochester is proud to be a leader among them.

Many Rochester residents may not realize that WSU-Rochester has been in Rochester for nearly 100 years or that it offers bachelor's, master's and doctoral degrees, or that it is closely partnered and co-located with Rochester Community and Technical College. More than 5,000 WSU graduates live and work in the Rochester area, and more than more than 2,000 of them earned their degrees at WSU-Rochester.

When you consider everything WSU-Rochester does for the community, I hope you will agree with me that the blessing is mutual. WSU-Rochester already offers numerous programs that greatly benefit the community and contribute to the vitality of the region by graduating nurses, teachers, social workers, business professionals and entrepreneurs. We are the second-largest higher education institution in Rochester, with more than 1,000 students enrolled each semester.

Mayo Clinic employs more nurses educated at WSU than from any other institution, and we have intentionally grown our RN to BSN program to support the regional demand for baccalaureate-prepared nurses. We also work closely with the Rochester Public Schools, IBM, Rochester Area Chamber of Commerce, Diversity Council, Intercultural Mutual Assistance Association and others to identify and respond to community and workforce needs.

Building on this rich history, we know we can do more to serve Rochester, and we are committed to doing so. Since coming to WSU last summer, I've met with many Rochester leaders and worked closely with the president of RCTC and the chancellor of University of Minnesota-Rochester to learn the needs of the community. These discussions will continue with our partners as we seek to determine how WSU-Rochester can deliver the most relevant and responsive education options for the greater Rochester region.

Being responsive to Rochester is consistent with our commitment to all of southeast Minnesota, so we are turning what we have heard into action, and we are implementing new programs to better serve greater Rochester's needs.

Two examples are our Doctor of Nursing Practice degree and the acute care nursing practitioner program, in partnership with our clinical affiliates. In the fall, we will launch a new online Healthcare Leadership and Administration baccalaureate degree, the first of its kind in our system. This program was designed for Rochester-area health-care professionals seeking a way to grow professionally and complete their undergraduate degree without having to leave the workforce.

But programs in health care are just the beginning. Another project we're particularly excited about is the science, technology, engineering and mathematics initiative at the Career and Technical Center in the Heintz Center. CTECH and STEM Village are significant because they emerge from a vote of confidence the community took last November, sponsored by Greater Rochester Advocates for Universities and Colleges and in support of Rochester's public institutions of higher education. Planning is underway now to create this state-of-the-art community resource to meet growing demand for K-16 STEM education. Working with RCTC, school systems in Rochester and the surrounding area and the Rochester Area Math Science Partnership, we will open this new learning center in fall 2015.

In another joint project with the Rochester Public Schools, we recently established an immersion classroom at Riverside Elementary. WSU-Rochester teacher candidates are embedded at Riverside Elementary, learning their profession with the faculty and pupils at the school. In this new model for a professional learning community, Riverside's students benefit by learning from both aspiring and experienced teachers.

Over the past few months, I've been conducting "hopes and dreams" sessions in both Winona and Rochester. Our goal is to gather ideas about what our brightest future might be and from these to derive a common vision of what steps we need to take to get there. We already have more than 2,000 such ideas, and they continue to appear. We have started analyzing the data while forming the necessary structures to develop our plan.

Rochester will be integral to our planning. I am interested in hearing from you about your hopes and dreams for the community and your ideas of how WSU-Rochester might serve you better. Please contact me at president@winona.edu to share your ideas on how we can become a stronger partner in your community.

WSU-Rochester is here to stay. We proudly and resolutely serve Rochester with a distinctive curriculum, and we will continue to develop new educational programs in response to the region's ever-changing professional and community environment.

Rochester is a critical part of the future and success of WSU, and we are committed to the future and success of Rochester. While Rochester is blessed in so many ways, WSU feels blessed to serve Rochester.