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Finding the right fit: State director of higher education hears from BSU students

MONTE DRAPER | BEMIDJIPIONEER Larry Pogemiller, director of the Minnesota Office of Higher Education, held a roundtable discussion Wednesday with Bemidji State University students, faculty and administrators.

BEMIDJI -- While on a campus tour as he considered attending Bemidji State University, a faculty member took the time to sit down with Tyler Brown and lay out all the offerings in the university's criminal justice program.

He then proceeded to do the same for all of the criminal justice programs offered throughout Minnesota.

"He told me, 'This might not be the best school for you, but here's what everybody has,'" Brown recalled.

That faculty member's effort contributed to the Elk River, Minn., native's decision to attend BSU.

"It was the right fit," said Brown, who wants to work in law enforcement.

He was among 13 BSU students Wednesday who met with Larry Pogemiller, director of the Minnesota Office of Higher Education, in a roundtable discussion about their decision to attend BSU and other higher-education issues.

Most said they chose to attend BSU after stepping on campus and liking the "feel" and size of the university and community. Many said staff and students were friendly and welcoming.

"I love being able to walk to class in 15 minutes without having to take a bus," said Devan Bierbrauer of Stillwater, Minn.

While students spent much of the hourlong conversation praising Bemidji State, its faculty and staff, it was not all rosy.

Christina Schultz of Buffalo, Minn., said she chose to attend Bemidji State because of the strength of its environmental studies program. She graduated in May with a degree in chemistry but remains on campus as a "super senior" as she works toward completing her environmental studies major this December. She plans to pursue graduate school in the future in hopes of working on infectious diseases.

As a few students discussed their successes in landing internships, Schultz said she had a "hell of time" finding an internship, which is a requirement for her degree.

Martin Tadlock, provost and vice president for academic affairs, said the university has partnered with the Bemidji Area Chamber of Commerce, the George W. Neilson Foundation and local businesses to help launch Intern Bemidji, a program that aims to partner local companies with college students.

BSU has hired a dedicated staff member committed to finding students internship opportunities, Tadlock noted.

Schultz said that was a good move. "It's very disheartening to see other students struggle with that," she said.

Kaneeshia Johnson of Rosemount, Minn., is a student-athlete -- she's a sprinter/jumper on the track team -- and said she would like to see the university take a look at its transfer program.

After attending the Minnesota School of Business in Richfield, Minn., Johnson transferred to BSU -- though her credits did not -- and she had to go through introductory classes and programs along with traditional freshmen.

"I think we could have a better ... transfer program," she said. "Most transfer students don't need babying. They just need a point in the right direction."

The students also discussed the cost of higher education, with several saying they will graduate with debt well into the five figures.

"You know, it sucks, but if you want to get a degree and I have these aspirations, I have to do this," said Jenna Long, co-president of the BSU Student Senate.