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Bemidji State University marks 90th anniversary

Work continues on the addition to Sattgast Hall of Science at Bemidji State University. The Sattgast Hall project also includes renovations. Pioneer Photo/Monte Draper

With only one building, Bemidji State Normal School opened along Lake Bemidji in 1919.

Throughout the decades, the teacher's school has transformed into a comprehensive university with more than 65 undergraduate majors and pre-professional programs, as well as 14 graduate programs.

As Bemidji State University marks its 90th anniversary this year, it continues to evolve, from construction projects to new programs and resources for students.

Several projects are in progress or in the works, said Bill Maki, vice president for finance and administration at BSU.

The Sattgast Hall of Science addition and renovations project began last summer.

"We expect it to be ready for fall semester," Maki said.

The project, he said, will update the aquatic biology program areas that were housed in the Harold T. Peters Aquatics Laboratory and add new labs for chemistry and biology.

Initial funding for the project came in 2006 when BSU received $700,000 in state bonding to design the project. In 2008, BSU received $8.9 million in state bonding for the Sattgast Hall addition and renovations and the demolition of the Harold T. Peters Aquatics Laboratory. The demolition is scheduled for this summer. In January, BSU opened its Clinical Resource Center in the lower level of Memorial Hall.

"It was ready to go for spring," Maki said.

The center provides core laboratory experiences for students in BSU's four-year nursing track. The program began admitting freshmen in the fall of 2007 and accepting students in the fall of 2008.

The project, Maki said, was funded in 2008 with $525,000 in state bonding and private funds raised for the project.

Maki said BSU was able to use underutilized space in Memorial Hall to create an "innovative, forward-looking space" that will help the university train future nurses.

As BSU plans for the future, a new project is on the horizon.

Maki said the project would move the business program and other programs based in Decker Hall to the middle of campus. He said it also would make the student union more visible off Birchmont Drive Northeast. He said the goal is to start the project in 2012.He said the project would give the business program a predominant place on campus and ensure that the program's instructional facilities have more state-of-the-art technology. He noted that it also would help facilitate more collaboration with business and industry.

Maki said the project is estimated to cost about $18.5 million. Initially, BSU would request $1 million in state bonding in 2010 to plan and design the project, he said. If BSU secures planning and designing funds next year, it would then plan to request about $15 million in state bonding in 2012 as well as look to private funding and/or revenue bonding for about $3.5 million to do an addition and renovations to Memorial Hall and the student union, he said.

After the programs currently housed in Decker Hall move, the university would not use the building and would probably demolish it, Maki said.

Maki said BSU is still looking at demolishing Maple Hall and will ask the state Legislature in 2010 for funds for the demolition. He estimated it would cost more than $2 million to abate and demolish the residence hall. The university requested funding to demolish Maple Hall in 2008, but was not successful.

Meanwhile, BSU is still pursuing $2 million to purchase the old Bemidji High School property from the BSU Foundation and repay the foundation for abating and demolishing two buildings there, Maki said. The foundation bought the property in 2007 from the Bemidji School District.

Maki said BSU plans to use the property for future academic expansion.

Academics evolve

BSU plans to implement a new liberal education program in the fall of 2010.

The BSU Faculty Association Senate approved in January the implementation of a new liberal education program that was developed by BSU's Liberal Education Task Force, said Deb Peterson, interim director of liberal education at BSU. The task force was formed in 2005 to reform the liberal education program at BSU.

"We are essentially providing students with an outline that shows students how courses build on one another and are connected to one another," Peterson said of the new liberal education program.

Part of what prompted the revisions, she said, is the general sense that the current "cafeteria model" for liberal education doesn't work and students have difficulty seeing the importance of liberal education courses.

Peterson said the new program is competency based and has three structural divisions - foundation core, diversity of knowledge and integration.

The new program will include a one-semester, three-credit University Inquiry course, which will be a freshman seminar. In the course, students will demonstrate critical thinking, understand the various methods of disciplinary inquiry, demonstrate the various methods of communication, demonstrate responsibility for one's own learning and understand the nature and purpose of liberal education, the baccalaureate degree and lifelong learning.

Opportunities grow

Other new opportunities for BSU students are in the works.

As the university revises its master plan for Residential Life, it is exploring updating existing residence halls to make them more appealing to students, said Lisa Erwin, vice president for student development and enrollment.

At the start of the 2008 spring semester, BSU reopened Linden Hall, which the university had renovated into suites.

Erwin said there has been a great response to the suites.

"The suites have been very popular," she said.

Also, BSU will start two new living/learning communities on campus, Erwin said. Students in these communities share a particular interest and are housed together on a residence hall floor. New to BSU this fall will be nursing and honors living/learning communities.

Faculty members partner with Residential Life staff members in the programming for the communities, Erwin said. She noted that programming could range from tutoring to speakers to advising.

Also this fall, Erwin said, BSU plans to open a student leadership center in the lower Hobson Memorial Union. BSU received a $20,000 grant from Minnesota Campus Compact to help develop the center.

With some of the grant money, BSU surveyed the community, students, faculty and staff to narrow down the scope of the center, Erwin said. The grant also allowed the university to work with the Headwaters Regional Development Commission as a partner.

Erwin said she believes the center will be a place to connect students to leadership opportunities on campus and in the community, and provide mentoring, internships and community service experiences.

She said the center also will provide BSU an opportunity to connect students with its three signature themes: international/multicultural understanding, civic engagement and environmental stewardship.

Meanwhile, Erwin said, the Bemidji State University Advising Success Center just completed its first full year of operation.

During fall semester, she said, the center connected with 1,400 students. The services available at the center range from tutoring to help with test anxiety to picking a major.

"It's all about helping students succeed in the classroom," Erwin said.