Mission Accomplished

April 18, 2012

Currents Magazine

As a presidential era ends, a look at two students who embody Winona State’s “community of learners”

By Shari Kiple

A community of learners improving our world. You’ll see these words everywhere at Winona State University, from banners throughout campus to spiral notebooks on bookstore shelves.

Those seven words, the concluding statement in the university mission, are more than a motto or a bumper sticker tagline. They are a driving force for WSU students in their daily lives.

To see this mission at work, consider juniors Becca Olson and Kayla Gudmundson. WSU’s “community of learners” brought them together as freshmen in Sheehan Hall. 

“Kayla lived a floor below me,” Becca recalls. “She’s very outgoing, and so am I. We just hit it off.”

In no time, the girls planned to be roommates.

“We joke that we’ve never lived more than a few feet from each other at Winona State,” says Kayla. “First we were just a floor apart in Sheehan. These last two years we’ve shared a house. And so many memories.”

Any favorites? “Probably just the way we’re always pulling silly pranks on each other,” begins Kayla. “Like the time Kayla filled my shower with balloons,” Becca adds with a smile.

At first glance, they may seem unlikely friends. “She’s a planner,” describes Becca. “I go with the flow. She loves to cook; I would rather throw in the pizza rolls. Kayla is also very smart and doesn’t have to study a lot. And me? I’m a study-aholic!”

They also have unique majors – nursing for Kayla, recreation, tourism, and therapeutic recreation for Becca – and various commitments beyond classes. While Becca balances two jobs with her course load, Kayla is busy with clinical rotations and cross country, along with work at a nursing care facility in her hometown on breaks.

What’s more, their backgrounds are distinct.

Becca is from Kiester, Minnesota (population 500), a tiny town near the Iowa border. Since age 5, she’s been raised by her mom, who is a receptionist and bookkeeper at a grain elevator. “She’s the best woman I know,” says Becca. “She’s done the job of a mom and a dad better than most parents combined.” Becca has a 16-year-old brother and an older sister who also went to Winona State.

Kayla is from Becker, Minnesota, a suburb of St. Cloud, where her dad is a county deputy and her mom works at the high school. “They inspire me to be the best I can be. I hope to turn out just like them!” notes Kayla, who has an older sister and brother, along with a sister who will attend WSU next year.

But despite their differences, they share much in common, both with one another and the larger Winona State student body.

Keeping busy
Both are definitely on the go. Becca works about 20 hours a week at the Winona YMCA and the campus computer lab. She’s not alone: most WSU students work 10-plus hours a week to help pay for their education. Kayla is a nursing major with up to 20 required classroom and clinical hours each week. Also a varsity athlete, she must allow time for regular practices and team travel.

Choosing WSU first
“I didn’t look at many other schools besides Winona State,” admits Kayla. “I knew it was a good school and especially strong in nursing.” And since Becca knew of WSU through her sister, it was on her short list, too. Fact is, Winona State was the first-choice school for 75 percent of this year’s incoming class.

Savoring the scenery
“I absolutely love the campus, the bluffs all around and the trees,” Becca says. “It’s just beautiful.” Kayla agrees. “Winona is an amazing location, and it’s a great distance from home, not too far, not too close.” Many students appreciate that balance, it seems. More than half of WSU’s students are from 76 to 145 miles away; about two-thirds are from Minnesota.

Getting involved
Both friends are active on campus, as most Winona State students are. Becca and Kayla play intramural sports and are active in Fellowship of Christian Athletes and InterVarsity, a non-denominational Christian club. Kayla also runs varsity track and cross country, where she qualified for the national championship meet last fall. Becca had plans for intercollegiate softball was sidelined with an elbow injury.

Taking time for fun
“One of our favorite things to do is have ‘game night’ and play different games,” says Kayla. Becca adds, “Kayla is a game queen. She knows every game imaginable and would have ‘game night’ every night if we could!”

Learning by doing
Different majors aside, Kayla and Becca have each engaged in hands-on learning experiences.

“It’s been incredible to really use what I’ve been learning,” Kayla says of her clinical rotations. She worked in a medical surgical unit at Winona Health last semester and now pulls a weekly eight-hour shift in a neurosurgical rotation at the Mayo Clinic. “It’s all relevant.”

For Becca, volunteer work at the YMCA led to a full-time summer practicum planning a full slate of activities for a dozen busy five- and six-year-old girls. As the summer ended, she was offered a part-time job coordinating afternoon activities for elementary-age children during the school year.

Serving the greater good
Like the majority of their WSU peers, Kayla and Becca participate in service projects. WSU students completed more than 180,000 hours of community service last year alone.

“Every department stresses volunteer hours,” notes Becca. “My first service opportunity was working with kids at the YMCA, where I still have ties. I’ve also spent time at Sauer Memorial (a nursing home in Winona) playing bingo, doing manicures, and just talking with residents.”

“As a student, you learn a lot of things you need to know to do your job, but service teaches you about what kind of person you want to be, how to care about others,” explains Kayla, who has done everything from raking leaves to reading in local schools. “Volunteering is something I plan to do the rest of my life.”

“I just have this feeling come over me,” says Becca of her service experiences. “It’s like I’m being ‘filled’ even though I’m the one giving my time.”

“Something happens here that taps into our students’ interest to give back,” says Dr. Connie Gores, vice president of Student Life and Development. “Our students are the ones who will take action and make a difference.”

Director of Admissions Carl Stange agrees. “President Ramalay has really helped us become more aware, to think about how we can use our campus and human resources to teach students valuable life skills they will use in life. In a way, they’re learning to pay it forward.”

“She has brought that notion of engagement,” shares Gores of President Ramaley. “Not just serving and volunteering, but integrating different parts of your life for the right reasons. It’s not just about checking requirements off a list or building a resume; it’s about being a good citizen. We are preparing involved citizens for the 21st century.”

And that’s exactly how Becca and Kayla, along with so many students like them, will perpetuate the mission of Winona State University.

In this way, Gores says, “the legacies of each of our presidents lives on.”

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About Winona State University

Founded in 1858, Winona State University is a comprehensive public university with more than 8,500 students. The oldest member of the Minnesota State Colleges and Universities System, Winona State offers 80 undergraduate, pre-professional, licensure, graduate, and doctorate programs on its three campuses: the original Main Campus in Winona, the West Campus in Winona, and Winona State University-Rochester.

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