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COMMENTARY: Setting the course for Bemidji State's future

Faith C. Hensrud

Bemidji State University set a course for the future on Jan. 1 by undertaking a five-year strategy to ensure that we and our students continue to thrive in our second century.

The university's Strategic Plan for 2018-2023, titled "Inspired by Place, Enriched by Diversity," will sharpen our distinction as a welcoming campus blessed with a remarkable north woods location.

By reaching out to American Indian communities and better reflecting the people of Minnesota, by providing a transformational student experience, and by thoughtfully serving the region and state, Bemidji State can and will uphold its traditions of academic excellence and innovation.

We are launching this effort while we also prepare to celebrate the centennial of our founding in 1919. During my first 18 months as BSU's president, I have heard and seen how proud the people of greater Bemidji are of that history. We continue to value your enthusiastic support.

A committee of students, staff, faculty and administrators received extensive input on campus and around the Bemidji area as they developed BSU's new strategic plan over the past year. Last winter, we held listening sessions with American Indian advocates and other local leaders in business, industry, education, the arts, health care and natural resources. We also gathered ideas and feedback from our students and employees through town hall meetings and online surveys.

Our priorities are shaped by BSU's core values and in keeping with the priorities of the Minnesota State Colleges and Universities: student success; diversity, equity and inclusion; and financial stability.

The strategic plan's five priorities, which are not ranked by importance, can be summarized in this way:

• Priority 1: Take full advantage of BSU's lakeside location, its connections with American Indian peoples and its culture of caring for individuals. Weave those "themes of place" into academic programs, the student experience and community partnerships, while also conveying them through branding and marketing.

• Priority 2: Increase American Indian enrollment through targeted strategies to recruit and retain students, while also doubling opportunities for student learning within tribal nations and other Indian communities

• Priority 3: Increase student attendance at university events and participation in leadership experiences, while also improving the quality of all employee-student interactions.

• Priority 4: Ensure that the university's values of public service, multicultural understanding, commitment to the liberal arts and concern for the environment are reflected in academic programs and the learning of all students.

• Priority 5: Through focused recruitment and establishment of a campus culture in which all are embraced and valued, grow BSU's enrollment of international students and students of color, while also developing a more diverse workforce.

We have established specific, measurable goals to achieve these outcomes and are ready to adjust if circumstances change. Individual managers and their teams are expected to meet scheduled milestones, and we will monitor and communicate our progress along the way.

Although some of the plan's intended activities have a cost, we will strive to manage within existing budgets. With that said, funding support from the Minnesota Legislature is critical, and we will invite the assistance of our alumni and friends, as well.

We will look to partners across the region to help us connect our teaching and research to opportunities and needs. Individual community members also will contribute by welcoming our students and employees, regardless of their ethnicity or social identity.

Bemidji State University's Vision Statement challenges us to "educate students to lead inspired lives." As I look out five years and envision the gains we will make through this plan, I am confident we will meet that challenge.

Our graduates, and the university as a whole, will be more prepared than ever to contribute to the well-being of our nation and the entire world.

Faith C. Hensrud is president of Bemidji State University and Northwest Technical College.