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University of Minnesota Crookston chancellor: ‘It’s good to be in Crookston’

Reflections of Mary Holz-Clause, new chancellor of the University of Minnesota Crookston

In June, Mary Holz-Clause took office as the new chancellor of the University of Minnesota Crookston.

Holz-Clause grew up on an Iowa farm and then earned a B.S. in agriculture business, a Master of Public Administration and a Ph.D. in agriculture education and extension at Iowa State University.

She worked at ISU for 25 years, “helping ISU Extension become a dynamic engagement and outreach partner across Iowa, the U.S. and the world,” UMC reports.

“She led international trade missions for the Iowa Department of Economic Development and served as vice president for economic development at the University of Connecticut.

“She served as the dean of the Huntley College of Agriculture and as a tenured professor in the Department of Agricultural Business Management and Agriculture Science at California State Polytechnic (Cal Poly) University Pomona. … She also was appointed by California Governor Jerry Brown to serve on the California Department of Food and Agriculture Advisory Board, the primary advisory board for the $100 billion agriculture industry in California.”

Your education and career have taken you from coast to coast, with a special focus on rural America. What's your sense of how northwest Minnesota fits into that picture?

Northwest Minnesota is the essence of rural America – good, honest people with a strong entrepreneurial spirit. Many of the businesses in rural communities have an agricultural genesis.  Building upon that heritage, we are educating entrepreneurs with sound business skills and practices to put their ideas into reality. We are going to bring the community together to explore ways to nurture the great ideas and talents of our students and to bring the students together with mentors and individuals who have been successful in business.  

These partnerships can create a kind of synergy that leads to beneficial results.  

What points of pride do members of the University of Minnesota Crookston community mention most often?

We were an early leader in online education and continue to carry that tradition forward.  We will be launching one of the nation’s first online degrees in agricultural business within the next year, and we already offer 14 other online degrees.  

Our online education provides access for students anywhere and anytime, and it extends the reach of the University of Minnesota Crookston around the world.

While we have quite a number of online students from the Twin Cities metro area and other states, the flexibility that online education affords also works well for local and regional students. That includes our on-campus students as well, as student athletes, for example, can take courses online that may otherwise be offered only during times they have practice.

Another point of pride is the strong community and university partnership. Crookston High School and U of M Crookston share some athletic facilities and extend resources to each other. We also have a strong College in the High School program that delivers university courses, in collaboration with area high schools, to advanced high school students. It’s a win-win situation.

One program is especially gratifying: Meet Crookston Through Service. On the Saturday of Welcome Weekend, new students work together with a number of organizations in Crookston on volunteer projects that benefit the entire community. It’s a tradition that has led to a number of wonderful community connections over the more than 15 years we’ve been doing it.

Along those lines, what concerns do they share?

Well, you’d have to ask them, but we need to have enough affordable housing stock for our faculty and staff, as well as amenities that continue to make a community an attractive place to live.

Collectively, we need to ensure that we are using our public resources most effectively and are leveraging and partnering. There has always been a strong university and Crookston partnership. The Crookston Campus-Community Connection or “C4” planning group has developed a number of activities and projects. Programs like Maroon & Gold Fridays, where staff members of local businesses show their support by wearing maroon and gold on Fridays, have gone over well.

The group is also working on ways to showcase local businesses to students, faculty, and staff.

This group – comprised of UMC faculty, staff and students, along with civic leaders and businesspeople – has generated quite a bit of momentum, which we hope to continue to build upon in the next year.

Is there an area in which you think the university is ripe for growth

We’re always exploring new majors and options to provide our students with highly marketable skills in growth industries. Our feasibility analysis will explore options for degrees in needed areas such as health care and the use of technologies such as drones in fields like agriculture and natural resources.

I think there’s a great opportunity to leverage our resources and create an innovation ecosystem within the region and community.  We can create maker spaces for our students and community to interact for entrepreneurship. More to come on that topic as we further develop it with community members and our faculty and staff.

UMC won first place in a "Top 100 Best Online Colleges" listing recently. What makes the university's online education program stand out?

There’s a saying in marketing that to be successful, your product has to be “different than” or “better than.” We provide degrees in fields such as business, manufacturing and quality management, entrepreneurship, communication and health management. The “better than” is in all of our courses. Our online instructors are taught how to be engaging and bring interactive techniques to online education.  

Additionally, wherever possible we have the same faculty teaching both on-campus and online courses. That’s one of the ways we help ensure all students are getting the same quality level in their education.

I know from experience the importance of engagement with the online student. In the early 2000s, I took “distance” classes from another university. We’ve come a long way in the ability to offer online students something more than just the talking head of an instructor. Our professors know their subject matter and how to teach. They find ways to engage through online discussion and interactive groups.

A number of our online students set foot on our campus only for commencement, and when they do, they get to meet their online faculty members. It’s amazing how they pick right up as if they’ve interacted in person since they first met.

Please give us a few more of your first impressions of the campus and community.

The U of M Crookston is such a treasure.  The grounds are beautiful, and we encourage Prairie Business readers to come experience the beautiful park-like atmosphere, or better yet come to campus and sit and have coffee with our talented students.

We have students from more than 20 countries and 40 states, so there is great diversity of cultures, thoughts and ideas.  

The people of Minnesota have made significant investments in our campus. We encourage all to visit campus and tour our newly constructed 36,000-square-foot wellness center or cheer the Golden Eagles at our fall sports of football, volleyball and women’s soccer, as well as at men’s and women’s golf and women’s equestrian.

To my husband and me, being in Crookston is like coming home.  We’ve lived on both coasts but are from a small town in Iowa.  We know and love rural communities. We bought a house and are getting settled. It’s good to be in Crookston.