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  Saturday January 31st, 2015    

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Living in a CommUniversity (08/22/2007)
For a number of years now, I have been thinking about what happens when a university and a community become so closely connected that it is difficult to tell where the university ends and the community begins; in other words, a CommUniversity. Now that I am at Winona State, I see what such a close partnership can do. As we enter our Sesquicentennial Year, we will celebrate how our foundation was laid by the aspirations of the young town of Winona. The tale begins in 1857 when the governor of Minnesota said in a message to the Legislature: "To make a state requires more than the axe, the saw and the water-wheel; mind, knowledge and education are required"." The citizens of Winona raised a subscription of $7,000 to claim the first state Normal School in Minnesota. We have been partners and neighbors ever since. For 150 years, we have been drawing talented people to the community who become our neighbors, friends, coworkers, customers and volunteers.

Sense of Place. Our daily lives are shaped by the bluffs above us, the broad span of the Mississippi River beside us and the sense of place conveyed by this historic river town. All of these things are touched by our students, faculty and staff. Drive up to Garvin Heights and study the restoration of the unique prairie habitat you can see there. Our River Studies Program, in cooperation with Visit Winona, has expanded to provide summer river tours on the WSU River Explorer for visitors, tours so popular that we had to add two cruises to accommodate the people who wanted to come aboard. WSU's partnership with the United States Geological Survey helps to promote the study of this special ecosystem and to contribute to knowledge that will allow us to preserve the Upper Mississippi for generations to come.

Entrepreneurial Spirit. The innovators of Winona built a unique composite industry here after World War II and, because of this, WSU has the nation's only undergraduate Composite Engineering Program. Winona enjoys a range of enterprises that far outstrips most communities of our size. Imagine what it is like to be able to offer our faculty and students access to businesses that are helping to reshape the world order, companies that are global in expanse, engaged in reinventing how business is done. We are forming wonderful collaborations with companies that will help our students prepare themselves for life and work in the 21st century, while offering our partners access to a talented and energetic workforce.

Serving Youth. If we were all to wear WSU's colors on the same day, our students, faculty, staff, alumni and friends of WSU would turn the town purple. Consider a few numbers. More than 120 WSU students serve as Big Brothers and Big Sisters. Many of the summer Park and Recreation staff members who work with Winona area youth are WSU students. We offer more than 280 students a chance to study at College for Kids every summer and we draw more than 2,100 young people to our summer sports camps.

Building the Community. This community is on a roll. Four years ago, a group of visionary people started the Great River Shakespeare Festival. Two years ago, we started the Frozen River Film Festival, and just this summer we all enjoyed the first season of the Beethoven Festival. Each of these wonderful additions represents a collaboration of WSU with Saint Mary's University and with many community organizations and civic leaders. Matching these cultural programs, we have a growing focus on recreational and youth sports with plans for improvements in the softball fields, a regulation track, a boathouse on Lake Winona and an expansion of our Memorial Hall that will produce the first truly integrated Wellness and Fitness Program in the country.

On to the next 150 years. Each of these efforts blends WSU resources with those of our neighbors and partners. What is so wonderful about all this is that WSU in its 150th year has been shaped in every way by our relationships with Winona and with the communities throughout Southeast Minnesota. Winona, in turn, has enjoyed a quality of life that few cities of our size could imagine. We can expect even more in our next 150 years.

Judith Ramaley, Winona State University's 14th President, has lived in Winona for two years.



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