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Cultivating connections: BSU looking to reach out to community

About a dozen K-12 educators and business leaders met Wednesday evening at Bemidji High School with Bemidji State University representatives to hear and react to BSU’s proposed 2013-2016 strategic plan. Bethany Wesley | Bemidji Pioneer

BEMIDJI – As the university here develops a new strategic plan, one of its focal points may be on connections to local communities.

“It’s extremely important,” said Bob Griggs, interim vice president for innovation and extended learning at Bemidji State University. “We’re all about having the university serve its communities.”

Griggs was one of three BSU employees who addressed about a dozen educators and business leaders Wednesday evening at Bemidji High School, seeking input on BSU’s 2013-2016 strategic plan.

The plan, now a five-page draft available through the BSU website (, includes an emphasis on improving connections between the university and communities, both by providing pathways for faculty and students to get involved outside of campus, and also by bringing community members onto campus.

Kate Pearson, a second-grade teacher at Horace May Elementary, said she used to have a steadier stream of BSU practicum students who would come into her classroom.

“That just seems like it’s gone,” said Pearson, herself a BSU graduate. “I feel a real loss at that.”

Jackie Lund, who teaches science at Bemidji High School, said the university needs to improve at selling itself to home residents.

Local high-performing students do not seem interested in attending BSU, she noted.

“I think part of it, of course, can be written off to, ‘Oh I don’t want to stay at home (and go to school),’ but I don’t think BSU does a real good job of being here and showing what programs they have,” she said.

Lund said she would like to see a kiosk at the high school celebrating new and/or successful ventures at BSU and Northwest Technical College.

“We have good programs in this state, too, but the kids don’t hear about them like they do those (other) programs,” she said.

Jan Wright, a BHS art teacher, agreed, saying a visiting recruiter recently spoke to her students and got them excited about the opportunities at that institution.

She suggested BSU representatives visit local classes to tout their course offerings.

“I think it would just be an excellent way to advertise,” she said.

As for bringing community members onto campus, educators suggested the university reconsider its cuts to the art and theater departments.

“Bemidji is a very arts-minded community,” Pearson said. “We have lots of theater, lots of arts going on.”

The university’s cuts, which eliminated BSU’s theater and arts history programs, were “disheartening,” she said.

“That was a way that people in the community went to BSU,” said Meredith Kehoe, a teacher at Bemidji Middle School. “They went to Bangsberg Hall, they went to the black-box theater.”