New chancellor touches on several topics during interview at the Times
Asked to describe just how busy she is in her early days as the new chancellor of the University of Minnesota Crookston, and how many meetings she’s attending and how many people she’s being introduced to and how many directions she’s being pulled in, Dr. Mary Holz-Clause is quick with a characterization that properly sums up her world these days.
“You start any new job, and you have to keep the focus on the things you need to be focusing on,” she said during a recent visit to the Times. “But, yes, you’re drinking from the fire hose and you’re going to drown some days.”
Holz-Clause, who came to the Crookston campus from California but with a great deal of experience in Iowa and with Extension, said she and her husband, Reg, sort of feel like they’ve come home, and it’s clear in speaking with her that just as important as immersing herself in the UMC campus and its culture is getting to know the community and region as a whole.
“We’re very used to flat fields so it very much feels like home; it looks a lot like where I’m from,” she said. “But I need to learn about sugar beets. That’s a new one.”
A strategic planning effort currently underway on campus should have some clarity within a few months, Holz-Clause said, and that will be a driving force as various decisions are made and paths are forged. “We’ll have very specific objectives, goals and metrics, and we’ll hold ourselves accountable to those,” she said.
Student recruitment and retention is at the top of the priority list, or at least very close to the top, she said. It’s all about identifying students who not only want to attend the University of Minnesota’s campus in Crookston, but students who will be a good fit here.
“If it’s a good place for them, then you’re going to retain them,” Holz-Clause said. “We’re looking at best practices for recruitment so that we get them here, but then we have to do everything we can to keep them here. We’re doing so much already, but it’s about continuous improvement.”
The new chancellor said she hasn’t yet had a lot of in-depth discussions about Golden Eagle athletics, but she said athletics is a top priority, given that around a third of UMC students are on campus because of the sports they play. Golden Eagle student-athletes also contribute greatly to diversity on campus, Holz-Clause added.
“Our ratio of student-athletes, that’s higher than you’ll see at most universities, so it’s clear it’s a very important recruitment tool for us,” she said. “As we go forward, we need to be very cognizant of the fact that that’s one reason a lot of our students come here.”
Not lost on Holz-Clause are concerns about some of UMC’s athletic facilities. “Certainly that’s one of our needs, and as we go into that fundraising mode, it will be pretty high on our list to upgrade,” she said.
Obviously, international students add to diversity on campus as well, and Holz-Clause said one of her favorite things about being on a college campus is the almost constant exposure to cultures from around the country and world. “It’s a very powerful part of a university experience, to be exposed to people, their thoughts, and different ways to view the world,” she said. “We have 75 international students on campus; just think about what they can teach us and what we can teach them.”
Without about half of UMC’s enrollment being online students, Holz-Clause knows UMC’s widely known and respected online programs are and will continue to be a “lifeblood” for the campus. “You have so many people who maybe have some education but they haven’t completed their degree, but they’re at work, they have a family and they can’t stop their life to go to campus and work toward a degree,” she said. “You get that online degree and you reap the personal satisfaction, not to mention the financial rewards.”
Holz-Clause adds that she’s currently recruiting her daughter’s significant other to enroll in an online degree program at UMC. “He’s at a place where he’s not where he wants to be career-wise, and I told him, ‘You know you get a University of Minnesota degree from the Crookston campus.’ He hadn’t considered that fact, and I think a lot of people don’t make that connection. It’s very important for him to make the leap and finish his degree, and with our online programs here, it doesn’t matter if he’s 10 miles away or 1,000 miles.”
Considering her short tenure in Crookston so far, Holz-Clause is hearing a lot about efforts to make Crookston more of a “college town” and connect the campus to the community more, and vice versa. “We need more activity on this beautiful campus, we need more things like RYLA Camp and things that bring people to our campus,” she said. “Not only do these things create engagement, but you’re creating a pipeline for students who may want to study here.”
She’s encouraged by the C4 campus/community collaboration. “They’re really getting in-depth, to build on the good things that are happening,” Holz-Clause said. “There’s talk of a UMC presence downtown and what that could look like. Maybe an incubator of some kind with our business students.
“We need to make sure we’re really leveraging what each person does well, to make what we do as strong and powerful as possible,” she continued. “I absolutely love rural communities because there is so much we can do as a university to help with economic development. You envision something and then leverage it. But I don’t know what it’ll look like yet.”
She loves to live in rural communities, too.
“My husband and I are absolutely delighted to be here,” Holz-Clause said. “We’ve been on both coasts and they were great experiences, but we both felt a pull to come back; it’s a small town thing that you maybe don’t feel if you’ve never lived in one. It’s just a good place to be.”