Guest Opinion: Committing to the fundamentals


by Chad Dull, VP, academic affairs, MSE SE


When I was growing up, my favorite sport was basketball. I was not very tall, nor was I very fast, but I loved to play. My high school coach emphasized a few things over and over again, and they have stuck with me ever since, for the more than 30 years since my playing days ended. His first aphorism was “team first, individual second.” It was a simple way to remind us that sports were about being part of something bigger, a shared mission to become the best we could be.

Our coach also reminded us that we needed to control the things which were within our control by sticking to the fundamentals. In basketball, fundamentals are about passing, dribbling, and shooting, but an emphasis on fundamentals applies across many parts of life. In these recent months, I have been thinking about how a focus on the fundamentals helps a college like Minnesota State College Southeast keep its promise to help students achieve their dreams. Let me explain.

In education, one of the fundamentals is to make sure your students have a safe learning environment. We are spending every day this summer at MSC Southeast learning how to create safe learning opportunities and making plans that will keep our students on track to their dreams. This involves not only world-class online learning, but also flexible learning environments we call HyFlex, so students can attend in person or virtually as needed.

We know that students who want learning that can only happen through hands-on experience need a safe environment as well. We are following the new fundamentals of safety we have all learned in the last months to make this possible. We have new terms in our lives like pandemic and physical distancing, but the fundamentals of safety for learning stay the same. We have always been committed to the safest possible learning environments — that is fundamental. How we must do it has changed, but the commitment has not.

Our focus on fundamentals means eliminating barriers for students whenever we can. This is always important, but even more so in our current times. This pandemic has robbed people of bandwidth as we have had to worry about things that were not on our radar before. When we listened to students this spring, we heard concerns about losing jobs, having access to childcare, and paying for rent and food. These are the additional barriers our students our facing, and we need to stick to the fundamentals of reducing barriers. So, we keep our food pantries stocked and open. We make our computer labs sanitary and accessible. And we continue to build financial resources to bridge the inevitable bumps in the road ahead.

I wish we could eliminate every hurdle, but like my coach said all those years ago, we have to focus on things we can control. Our students are remarkable and resilient. We remain fundamentally committed to supporting them inside and outside the classroom.

Like many of you, I am tired. I’m not complaining, I’m just stating a fact. These are challenging times, but these times will pass. So much of our lives have been put on hold, but the promise of education remains fundamental. When I think of fatigue, I think of those days in the gym when our coaches would wear us down and make us fight through fatigue so we could achieve our goals. Our best outcomes were always when we stuck to the basics, to the fundamentals.

That is exactly what we are doing now. We know that a post-secondary education can change the future story for individuals, families, and communities. We know students need a safe environment with support to achieve their goals. And we know that all of us need help at some point, so we remove the barriers that stop students every time we can. I believe to my core in college education as a tool for social mobility. It’s not a basketball game, but our key to winning will be a commitment to fundamentals.



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