Hopes and Dreams

May 29, 2013

Currents Magazine, Featured


What are President Scott Olson’s hopes and dreams for Winona State University?

Just a few months into his first year as president, he asked members of the university community – those “who have so much invested in this place” – to share their hopes and dreams to determine where Winona State goes in the next decade.

Hundreds participated in open forums, writing their ideas on multicolored note cards (that were later digitized and analyzed), and more than 800 alumni responded with suggestions. “I’m investing a lot of faith in this process,” says Olson. “That so many are willing to share so much tells me that this university is as vital and relevant as the day it was founded by the citizens of Winona.”

On the eve of his inauguration, Currents asked Olson about what he plans to do with the thousands of ideas generated through Hopes and Dreams, and where the university is headed under the leadership of its fifteenth president.

This totally inverts the usual “top down” process of strategic decision-making. There was some amount of risk in doing it this way, particularly as we emerge from difficult financial times and tough challenges for the university and higher education in general.

This isn’t really new for Winona State. During my first few weeks in office, I dug through the files and discovered that former president Darrell Krueger had used a similar process early in his presidency:  “Hopes and Dreams for 2000.”

That process generated transformational ideas that remained true to our identity: a focus on helping students, leadership in implementing technology, continuing to beautify our campus.

A word analysis of today’s hopes and dreams says a lot about us. Students are foremost. Community, our campus, the Winona State identity, and faculty were also frequently mentioned. While these aren’t ideas in and of themselves, they give us a real sense of what’s on our minds here at WSU.

One of my priorities will be better communication. This has emerged through Hopes and Dreams, and better communication between administration and employees was generated in the Krueger years. I believe strongly in shared governance at Winona State. The best ideas are out there, not in the president’s office.

What’s next in the process? A more sophisticated analysis of ideas is already underway. Then the task is to use shared governance and community conversations to decide on the best actionable ideas and priorities for our future.

I’m most pleased that our community continues to dare to dream. That we remain deeply passionate about the university, that we want to be part of the conversation about where to go next, that we’re able to imagine a better and stronger university than it is today. That’s the best litmus test of my first year as president.

“The community of Winona is central to our identity and our future. A strong Winona State is good for Winona,” says President Scott Olson when describing the university’s relationship to the city.

City of Winona Mayor Mark Peterson agrees, saying that it would be hard to imagine the community without the presence of Winona State University and its students. “The university is central to the economic, social, and cultural life of the city,” says Peterson, who this year began his first term as mayor.

“I’m aware of the recent study that estimated the university’s economic impact at $307 million and almost 4,000 jobs,” continues Peterson. “But it’s hard to measure the energy that Winona State students bring to the city, the cultural enrichment of events such as the Great River Shakespeare Festival, the entertainment of its sports events.”

“It’s a distinct advantage that the campus is located in Winona.”

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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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