“Community colleges changed my life, and I hope we can change yours, too.”

-Jeffery Boyd, President, Rochester Community and Technical College

Jeffery Boyd is passionate about the value and importance of community colleges. A community college in California was the start of his perhaps unconventional track through higher education and a career that has culminated, most recently, in his becoming president of Rochester Community and Technical College in 2018.

To Boyd, community college is a foundation on which a lifetime of learning and experience can be built. It was the starting point for him as a first-generation college student, and it has been the starting point for each of his five sons.

Before beginning a career in higher education, Boyd found a calling in human services. He worked nine years in law enforcement, including patrol work, hostage negotiation, and sexual assault and child abuse investigation. As his career track changed, Boyd kept a core principle from his earlier work: Treat people as people.

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As he developed as an educator and leader, he held on to a philosophy that focuses on the people he serves.

“People don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care,” Boyd said, echoing an aphorism of U.S. President Theodore Roosevelt.

What was most important to you as a student? And what is most important to you as a leader?

I’m a first-generation student. So the first great experience I had was when I met with my academic advisor. They gave me a clear pathway for my future. For me, that was important. I had good, sound advice and a clear, coherent pathway. That’s what I valued as a student. And then, as an institution, they cared about me. My psychology class was the place where I came to know that learning was “cool,” that it was OK to be smart. So I think that’s my experience as a student.

As a leader, I want to be able to provide a clear, coherent pathway for the students that come in our doors, as well. This is where they get started, whether they want to go into a career field from a degree they get with us, to be a police officer, for example, or if they’re going to transfer to a four-year school. You give students what they need and help them discover what they want to do, and then help them get there.

What’s the atmosphere like at RCTC? And what do you hope students take away from their time there?

I think for us, for me, it’s always been the same—that we’re an atmosphere that gives hope. And then also with hope, a plan. They say “hope is not a strategy.” So I say hope with a strategy. We want them to believe in themselves, discover who they are and, with a strategy, be able to move forward to the next part of their lives once they leave us. That’s not only for the students, but also for the faculty and staff. We’ve really tried to build an atmosphere of compassion, an atmosphere where everyone’s opinion is heard and valued.

In the higher education environment in Rochester, where does RCTC fit in?

I really think we should be a family’s first choice. And I say that not only now in COVID-19 but, you know, I’m not convinced that every 18-year-old is ready to go off and live the world in a college dorm room and be solo and single. I have five sons and my sons all started at a community college. I tell you, once they’re gone, we really have appreciated that we got those extra two years to see them grow as individuals. And my boys, four of them have Master’s degrees. They all started with the community college, and now no one’s ever asked where they started. It’s not where you start. It’s how you finish.

So, really just to be the premier and first choice for families in Rochester. And then we’ll partner with Winona State and the University of Minnesota Rochester. But to give those first couple years, we think is great for most families.

What qualities do you have that make you a good fit as the leader of RCTC?

What I’ve heard from others is that I’ve been a positive presence, I’ve been collegial, I’ve instilled trust and calm, and I’ve built confidence. I think I have a pretty calm demeanor and I’m a compassionate person. With my background in police work, [I have] what they call “verbal Judo” and a high degree of emotional intelligence. I try to read the audience and try to get people what they need and get the most out of them.

In the years to come, what do you see for RCTC in the Rochester community?

[During COVID-19], you can see that folks that are under $40,000 a year have been severely impacted in unemployment. I think as we get on the other end of this, we would be the first choice to get an education or upgrade skills and prepare for a new career. And that the stigma of a community college being a junior college or second rate, that would be wiped away. We’d come out as a bright and shining light for people to start their education journey and then to complete it and move on to other places.

I’m sold on community colleges because of what they did for me and my family. But [I would like to see] that we would lose that second-rate citizen stigma, if you will, and continue to be seen as a powerful force in higher education in Rochester.

In your president’s welcome note, you wrote, “Community colleges changed my life, and I hope we can change yours, too.” How was it a changing point in your life?

As a first-generation student, what I always say is that the community college and that first psychology class … sparked in me what I call the spark of intellectual curiosity. I really found out that learning and stretching my mind was a good thing and that I enjoyed that—that I had a lot there. It changed my life, getting that education. And now four of my sons have gone on to get higher ed degrees … so it changed the dad’s life, but then you change generations, kids and hopefully grandkids, that will be pursuing higher education as well. It was a real eye-opener. I’ve been employed and had some good careers, and (have) been able to support my family simply because I started out at that community college. That’s what I mean by life-changing, especially for first-generation students and families.

What have we not covered?

My philosophy is that people don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care. That’s the atmosphere that I tried to build in my own life, but also in our college. Let them know how much you care, and then you can share or transfer your knowledge. That’s what we try to do at RCTC. That’s been my educational philosophy.

University of Minnesota Rochester Chancellor Lori Carrell Wednesday, July 15, 2020, in Rochester. (Joe Ahlquist / jahlquist@postbulletin.com)
University of Minnesota Rochester Chancellor Lori Carrell Wednesday, July 15, 2020, in Rochester. (Joe Ahlquist / jahlquist@postbulletin.com)

“Those who will make a difference will need to keep learning.”

-Lori Carrell, Ph.D., University of Minnesota Rochester

Chancellor Carrell previously served as UMR’s vice chancellor for academic affairs and student development, and as interim chancellor until her selection as chancellor in 2018.

As the Chancellor of the University of Minnesota Rochester, Lori Carrell feels a great sense of duty. It’s a duty to the founders who worked to make Rochester a startup public university campus, to a community of innovation and caring, and to her students who are driven to be the leaders of the future.

Carrell manages these expectations with the same mentality she expects from students—a mix of confidence and humility. In the earlier days of her career, Carrell taught in a remote Alaskan village. It was a formative experience that still guides her ethos today.

“It set me on a course to listen to students and to learn by doing so. … I could never have taught anything—and maybe didn’t—in that village until I listened very deeply,” Carrell says.

Under Carrell’s direction, the University of Minnesota Rochester listens deeply to students, and combines that listening with research that informs the curriculum and the campus experience.

“The goal is not to become a traditional campus, but instead to be the cutting-edge campus of the future,” she says.

You’ve said you feel a connection to the vision for the campus. What about that vision struck you?

The vision was to be hyper-focused on purpose, and that purpose is all about students and their learning. The research that faculty do here is all about student learning and development. They then take that work and apply it in real time. So (they’re) adapting what we teach, how we teach, how we do student life—all based on the evidence.

One of the outcomes is that we have a highly diverse campus. And—and I don’t like any of the terminology, particularly—but what is known as the “attainment gap” or the “achievement gap” that is so unfortunate in Minnesota, we don’t have it. The incoming class is 42% students of color and all of our students are graduating at the same kinds of rates, four years or fewer, and going on to graduate or professional school. For all the good outcomes, we have equity there.

What would you say the atmosphere at UMR is on a typical day?

A typical day is students studying together in groups. There’s a big, wide-open collaborative space. Faculty are not in offices or holding office hours. They’re out in that open space called the Just Ask Center. It’s highly supportive and inclusive. How some people think of a typical campus, it’s really, really different at UMR. There’s encouragement around wellbeing, peer support, everyone knows everyone’s name. And we’re keeping it that way as we grow, very strategically, having learning communities and dedicated faculty and success coaches … so that sense of belonging, which is so important, is there.

What do you hope students take away from their time at the campus?

I hope they have learned how to learn, because that’s what it’s going to be about for the rest of their lives. Those who will make a difference will need to keep learning. And I know that they already brought with them resilience, because that’s what we look for and the kind of students we want to serve. But I hope that resilience is strengthened while they are at UMR.

And, of course, there are some competencies that we work together across faculty and staff to strengthen within students while they’re with us. Intercultural competency, for example, and working in diverse teams. Overall, they’re the competencies that our graduates will need to … solve the grand health challenges of the 21st century.

I also expect our graduates—the majority are women—to bust through that leadership ceiling in healthcare. I fully expect when I’m an elderly woman to read about teams of UMR students discovering and changing things, and being leaders.

Rochester has a few options for higher education. What is UMR’s role in this community?

Well, we are about partnerships. It’s one of the ways that we’re doing higher ed differently. We see a magnificent ecosystem of higher ed within the Rochester region. We are a distinctive part of that, but we are also partners with other higher ed institutions in this region. And we, of course, are supplying graduates who are highly employable and meeting needs locally, nationally and globally, but certainly locally. The distinctiveness that we contribute is very much aligned with the general way of being for the city of Rochester, which is to be a community of care and innovation.

What makes UMR the right fit for you?

My motivation as a student was always, “how can I make a difference?” How can I change the world? As an adult, when you look back on that kind of childhood thought, it might seem to come from a place of naiveté. But it’s also a driving force. And in this community, I see that spirit, that way of being, as genuine. That genuine drive to use evidence to come up with new ideas, to show care to change things for the better, permeates this community. I feel incredibly privileged to be a part of that, and a part of the campus community as well. That same spirit is there.

“Our faculty are just so service-driven that it’s part of their DNA.”

-Jeanine Gangeness, Ph.D., Winona State University-Rochester

Gangeness is associate vice president for academic affairs–Rochester and dean for the School of Graduate Studies at Winona State University. She serves as the chief executive officer responsible for the WSU-Rochester campus.

Jeanine Gangeness sees education and community as two sides of the same coin. Academic institutions are an important part of Rochester and many other communities, but they can’t be isolated from the communities they serve. Students and educators must also be active and engaged in their communities.

That’s a quality that’s reflected in the students at Winona State University’s Rochester campus. They’re “community givers,” Gangeness says.

“I’m not sure if it’s us or the students that come to us, but they have a clear purpose for their life. They are very purposeful about what their education looks like, and purposeful about their volunteerism and their philanthropy. You see this overarching theme of community givers.”

The university’s programs are suited to the servant-minded. Winona State offers programs in nursing, education, social work, and other service-driven professions. The programs are a reflection of the professional needs in Rochester and nearby communities.

As the leader of the Rochester campus, Gangeness is fostering students’ engagement in the community while setting an example herself.

“I’m a ‘shower-upper,’ and Rochester values that,” she says.

What was important to you as student? And what is important to you now as a leader?

As a student, quality programming mattered, and engagement in the campus. I worked throughout my education in the library and those kinds of jobs. When I got to the University of North Dakota, I had the opportunity to work with the programming board, and I hired the speakers and the musicians. I think it was a great way to be a part of a whole different group of people.

As a leader, I would say that quality programming is still important. Quality programming and connecting students to our community through intentional work with clinicals, practicums, and internships. I do quite a bit of community service in Rochester and I think that serves not only our community, but our students well.

When you talk about quality programming, what goes into that?

It’s about looking at what the student experience is and what their feedback is. Do we continue to improve how we engage with our students and the content needed? And is it actually relevant to the work they’re doing after they complete? That’s an ongoing process because the world is changing. It’s also important to have students provide us feedback about their sense of belonging. That always comes out really strong, because our faculty are just so service-driven that it’s part of their DNA. We have a larger population of adult learners. So really looking at everything outside and inside the classroom, that’s what makes it the full quality.

Rochester has several options for higher education. Is there a particular role that you see WSU serving?

We don’t do the first two years in Rochester like they do in Winona. [The campus in] Winona is kind of that traditional experience. In Rochester, we have transfer students, most of them from Rochester Community and Technical College. So we’re working closely with our partner there and we’re able to transition students who are interested in completing their associate degree, and then coming to us for a bachelor’s degree and then their Master’s or doctorate.

Where we fit in this landscape is we’re the teachers, we’re the nurses, we’re the counselors, we’re the social workers, we’re the accountants, the marketing professionals, and really, I would say we’re the community engagers. If you think about all those things I just listed, they’re fundamental to the strong foundation of a community. Winona State has served that role for over 100 years. We’ve been in Rochester since 1917.

How do you approach that in your leadership role?

I love the work and I love the people. My role is that I show up, I go to events, I make the connections, identify resources, and create the space for looking at a big vision so deans, faculty, staff and students can do their very best work. That’s what brings me joy.

I have a talent-focused approach to leadership, which means that when I work with a team, I identify talents and strengths and I lean toward those. I would say overall it falls into a servant leadership approach, but being willing to adjust the way that I work with individuals to make sure they’re always in their zone of strength. I think that Winona State Rochester really believes in that approach too. … And my colleagues have a similar philosophy around how we grow and work together.

What do you see for WSU Rochester in the future?

We’re growing pretty rapidly in our graduate programming. I think that’s about Rochester seeking professionals to really serve a diversified market. That’s where we started quality programming to serve a growing community. I think we’re going to continue to be that strong, professional institution that provides workforce in more of a professional level occupation. We’re proud to be a provider of really great professionals here.

Robin Wisniewski, program director with Saint Mary's University - Rochester at Cascade Meadow, Friday, July 10, 2020, in Rochester. (Joe Ahlquist / jahlquist@postbulletin.com)
Robin Wisniewski, program director with Saint Mary's University - Rochester at Cascade Meadow, Friday, July 10, 2020, in Rochester. (Joe Ahlquist / jahlquist@postbulletin.com)

“We meet people where they are. I’m not looking for a student who fits within a certain box.”

Robin Wisniewski, Psy.D. Saint Mary’s University of Minnesota, Rochester campus

Wisniewski is the counseling and psychological services program adjunct associate professor, and program director of the M.A. in counseling and psychological services at Rochester Center

Robin Wisniewski is a people person. Throughout her roles as student, clinical psychologist, and educator, she has valued the personal interactions in each of those spaces, as well as the supportive environments and collaboration that have come with them.

At Saint Mary’s University of Minnesota, Rochester campus, Wisniewski is the program director for the M.A. in Counseling and Psychological Services. The program is one of several graduate-level programs offered at the campus, in addition to bachelor completion programs.

Wisniewski’s professional experience in the field of clinical psychology included work with adults and children, in community practices and in her own private practice. At St. Mary’s, she found a new calling in helping fill the vast need for mental health professionals by passing on her skills to future professionals.

This blend of professional experience and passion for education is a highlight of Saint Mary’s. Career-focused students, many of whom are working while pursuing their education, learn from experienced professionals.

“I see St. Mary’s as a central focal point of our community in providing education. We have a vibrant, intelligent and diverse community within Rochester,” Wisniewski says.

What was most important to you as a student? And what is most important to you as a leader?

When I was a student, the most important part of my education was my ability to be able to connect with my professors, to be able to receive guidance and mentorship, as well as to be able to have the field experience where I was able to apply my learning to practice.

In my current role, I think the most important things for me are to be in a collaborative environment where I have a supportive team around me and where I’ve been able to maintain quality relationships with students, staff, and community members.

As part of your current role, you advise all of the students in your program.

It’s probably one of my favorite parts of my job, being able to connect with students and get to know them—to learn where they’re at in their own personal journey in life as well as their educational path. To be able to make their goals come true and to be able to help them get that job that they’ve always wanted. Meeting with students, being a mentor, advising them, that’s definitely the best part of my job.

What’s the atmosphere like at Saint Mary’s University in Rochester?

The atmosphere at St. Mary’s is incredibly supportive and close-knit. I would say it has a family-like feel. It’s a smaller setting where students are able to get to know other students in their cohort, and where they’re able to develop relationships and mentorships with their professors. And our campus at Cascade Meadow … was originally designed as an environmental and wetland center. It is a very peaceful and serene place to work.

What do you hope students take away from their time there?

Certainly growing in their knowledge and skills, but also being able to secure a job post-graduation and be able to get a career in the fields that they’re wanting.

I get the sense that St. Mary’s programs here in Rochester tend to be career-oriented.

Absolutely. I think that most people who come to my program are seeking a specific career. And I would say that seems to be true across the board. It’s pretty profession-focused with the application of practical skills.

Does that focus change the nature of the students who are attracted to the program or the atmosphere of the school?

I would say both. Our graduate school and the Bachelor’s completion programs are focused on non-traditional students. Our classes are in the evenings to allow individuals to continue to work full-time during the day … while pursuing their education. I think most of our students are very driven, very dedicated. They want to be there.

In the graduate school, our model is to use adjunct faculty who are experts in the field. That is definitely one of the biggest assets that St. Mary’s has—it’s one of the things that the students in my program love most. Because while we do cover fundamentals and theory and application, the professors use their own field knowledge and expertise to elevate the content that they are explaining to the students in a practical way.

What have we not covered that you want readers to know about the university?

We meet people where they are. I’m not looking for a student who fits within a certain box. I am looking to meet students who are seeking educational resources and degrees. That’s one of the best parts of my job—that I don’t have to look for a person who is a perfect graduate school candidate. St. Mary’s is really about getting away from elitism and being able to meet people where they are, support all people, and walk alongside all people within our diverse community.