By Dr. Hara Charlier, President of Central Lakes College
We all know that college is about earning a top-notch degree, certificate or diploma. At Central Lakes College, everything we do is about helping students be successful in their chosen program. Of course, this includes obvious components, such as having access to great instruction, advising and support services. But, in today’s challenging world, it also means making sure that students feel connected to the resources and people of CLC. Across higher education, this is often referred to as “a sense of belonging.” It’s that sense that we aren’t in this alone, that people care about us.
Our students study in-person, online, or both, and our student leaders tell us that they all need to feel like they belong and are connected. Those who spend their time online find this when they work with our faculty and staff and access services, support and activities. In addition, those who spend time on our campuses need places to study, access technology and get the social interaction that we all crave.
For this reason, we’ve placed a special focus on developing spaces on campuses where students can relax, connect with peers, and tap into resources without judgement or stigma. We serve a wide range of students, from those in high school to those who are well into retirement, each with different interests, backgrounds and experiences. Our spaces are as varied and diverse as our students, in hopes that everyone finds a place that feels right.
Admittedly, some of my favorite spots are hidden under the snow right now. In the summer months, student-designed courtyards on both campuses are prime spots. Their cobblestones, benches and ponds are perfect for taking a break and enjoying the beauty around us. But, this time of year, students tend to find those warm and cozy spots indoors. On the Staples campus, there is a welcoming fireplace and lounge area right as you walk in the door. It’s a prime gathering spot. In Brainerd, students hang out, play guitar or study in the Fireside Lounge, relax near our fishpond, or take in a game of pool or ping pong.
We’re fortunate to have Veterans Resource Centers on both campuses to help our student vets and military families get connected with resources and engage with other veterans. Our Student Life Centers are places to hang out (and often play video games), get a snack and relax between classes. And, our extraordinary CLC Food Pantries have recently been upgraded to highlight fresh produce and healthy options. The fact that they serve an average of 400 students each week suggests that the mission to “Eat Well, Study Well” is working. We’ve also worked hard to make sure places that students go to find resources, like our Student Link (advising, financial aid, etc.), The Bridge (Accessibility Services and TRIO) and Library and Tutoring Center, are warm and friendly. They invite students to take a seat and relax… and often have some popcorn. And, we’ve created cozy nooks for students to sit, study, plug in and log on.
We’re particularly excited about an expansion of Student Life on our Brainerd campus. We recently held the grand opening of a new multicultural center called “The Nest.” Here, students will find personal support, academic advising, a safe study space, activities and important initiatives. This center represents a place of belonging and safety. It is about being able to nestle in, find yourself, grow and thrive. While The Nest will primarily serve students of color and Indigenous students, all are welcome. This is a place that we hope all students can find that sense of identity, that sense of purpose. A place where good dialogue and difficult conversations might take place. A place for students to fit in and belong.
Student Life Director Erich Heppner, alongside our student leaders, has led the effort to bring The Nest to fruition.
“CLC students have been requesting a space designed for our underrepresented students for many years now,” he said. “Thanks to their continued advocacy, we took their feedback and created a space that seeks to provide a welcoming environment for all students.”
Heppner added, “At CLC, we are committed to providing a holistic approach to student success. That is why you will find amazing resources like our food pantry, awesome recreational opportunities like those provided through Outdoor Adventures, and a multicultural center that showcases the fact that all students are welcome and valuable members of our community.”
As with all things at CLC, students and employees brought forward the need for a space to elevate and model the commitment that CLC has made to diversity, equity, and inclusion. The Nest’s jaw-dropping mural, designed and created by a talented CLC alumna, spans the length of the center and speaks volumes. It features civil right leaders, each representing strength, vision and our values of diversity, equity and inclusion.
Also new this semester is the outdoor recreation hub where students can rent recreation equipment, like mountain bikes, kayaks, and snowshoes to help students enjoy our region’s beautiful natural resources. While this list of spaces certainly isn’t exhaustive, you get the idea. Combine these with our excellent academic programs, awesome student life activities, robust theatre and arts, and a full range of Raider athletics, CLC promises a complete college experience that’s customizable to what each student needs.
CLC is the community’s college. We’re your college. If you haven’t visited our campuses for a while, stop by, take a tour. Feel the warmth of the people and find the spaces where you belong.