Making connections with strategic partners for student success

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One of my many highlights in the past year was taking time to visit local high schools—our true partners. I had the opportunity to spend time at the following high schools in the region: Barnes County North, Valley City, Lisbon, Maple Valley, Oak Grove Lutheran, Sheyenne, Community, and West Fargo.I learned a lot, and the visits reinforced for me the notion that all the players—area PreK-12 schools, local communities, regional employers, and our university—must be strategically aligned if we are truly going to achieve our mission of “preparing students to succeed as educators, leaders, and engaged citizens in an increasingly complex and diverse society.”The conversations I had on those school visits also set the stage for our second annual Summit on Student Success, in which school superintendents and principals are invited to campus to talk about enhancing the high school to college transition process. The purpose of the event is to strengthen our partnerships, create synergy by actively sharing information and ideas, and ultimately to adapt practices that make a difference for our students. This year’s event was held June 22 in the VCSU Student Center.We were honored with the participation of Ned Clooten, Wahpeton High School principal; Brian Duchscherer, Carrington superintendent; Morgan Forness, Central Cass superintendent; Rick Jacobson, Wahpeton superintendent; Josh Johnson, Valley City superintendent; Steven Johnson, Lisbon superintendent; Michael Severson, Barnes County North superintendent; Cory Steiner, Northern Cass superintendent; and Brian Wolf, Maple Valley superintendent. We were also grateful to be joined by Mike Ness, a member of the North Dakota State Board of Higher Education who previously served more than 40 years as a K-12 teacher and administrator.Our conversations included vertical alignment of math and English curricula between K-12 and college, college retention initiatives and the use of data-driven strategies, and the vision of Superintendent Cory Steiner for a new model of education in Northern Cass.We also took time to highlight VCSU educational programs available to K-12 classes, including the Prairie Waters Education and Research Center, the VCSU Planetarium, and Medicine Wheel Park, along with the CSSE Roadshow in which computer systems and software engineering professors and students present on technology career awareness in K-12 classrooms.Other VCSU opportunities discussed included early-entry and dual-credit programs for high school students, as well as professional development and licensure for teachers, including STEM professional development, extended learning for continued teacher licensure, the Master of Education and Master of Arts in Teaching degree programs, and Transition to Teaching, which provides teaching licensure requirements for someone with a college degree who does not wish to complete an advanced degree.Joining me in the conversation and representing VCSU were students Stephanie McCann (Verona, N.D.), Mikayla Cramer (Amenia, N.D.), Paige Fettig (Bismarck, N.D.), and Tara Von Hagen (Arthur, N.D.), as well as faculty and staff members John Andrick (director of student academic services), David Bass (assistant professor of education), Jim Boe (director of graduate studies); Greg Carlson (director of institutional research and assessment), Margaret Dahlberg (vice president for academic affairs), Rhonda Fairfield (executive assistant to the president), Alan Olson (associate professor of education), Pete Smithhisler (vice president for student affairs), Charlene Stenson (director of enrollment services), Nate Stewart (athletic director), Greg Vanney (director for marketing and communication), Wesley Wintch (vice president for business affairs), and Jamie Wirth (director of the Great Plains STEM Education Center). The Summit on Student Success followed an exploratory conversation, directed by Morgan Keasler, chair of the VCSU Department of Business, with employers who hire our graduates. That conversation focused on gathering data from employers about VCSU student strengths and areas for improvement, encouraging networking between faculty and area businesses to strengthen partnerships, and raising awareness as well as generating potential opportunities for internships and other high-impact engagement practices.Employers stressed the need for graduates to prepare for the job-search process through early networking, résumé development, and interviewing skills. The development of soft skills is a critical need for employers, with some reporting this as a strength for VCSU graduates and some reporting it as an area for improvement.In her summary report, Morgan reported that employer comments centered around access to students and experiential-learning opportunities. Employers would like to be involved in the classroom as guest speakers, serve as field-trip destinations, help students build workplace skills through internship opportunities, incorporate real-world projects into the classroom, aid in soft-skill development, and provide guidance in helping students translate their experiences in the classroom into marketable skills for their résumés. These are areas in which VCSU has been diligently working and will further embrace as we move forward with our strategic plan.For me, these activities highlight our relentless focus on student-centered success and strong commitment to strategic partnerships with PreK-12 schools and employers. The conversations were genuine and helpful, and reminders of why it is great day to be a Viking!