2019: Quite a year for VCSU

By: Alan LaFave, D.M.A.
Date: Dec. 22nd, 2019
(Note: An illustrated version of this document has been published as Campus Update: January 2020.)

Greetings from Valley City State University!

It’s been my privilege to serve VCSU for just a little more than a year, and what a year it’s been. I’ve been warmly received both on campus and in the community, and I can’t overstate how excited I am to lead this wonderful school.

Our students, faculty, staff, alumni and donors, with the support of the State Board of Higher Education, the North Dakota University System, the North Dakota Legislature and Governor Burgum, have made 2019 a year to be remembered. Let me touch on a few of the highlights.

Within a month of arriving on campus, I was presenting to the House Appropriations Committee’s Education and Environment Division about VCSU, introducing myself to the legislators and sharing VCSU’s accolades and accomplishments, including innovative programs, high-impact practices, and solid financial footing, while also outlining the university’s needs. I made a similar presentation to the Senate Appropriations Committee in March.

A couple items that were new to the March presentation were our record spring enrollment numbers and a feature story on then first-year student Lauren Roscoe from New Rockford, N.D., who served as the 2018-19 National Student of the Year for SADD—Students Against Destructive Decisions—a national organization with 10,000 chapters across all 50 states (and several U.S. territories) headquartered in Washington, D.C.

Those spring enrollment numbers, announced in early February, featured a headcount of 1,517 students, a record-setting number for the fourth consecutive year!

A celebration of 50 years of women’s athletics at VCSU was held February 15-16, with more than 75 former Viking athlete and family members returning to campus for a luncheon, a women’s basketball game, and post-game reunions. An in-depth, illustrated recap of VCSU women’s athletics was created for the weekend; check it out online at www.vcsuvikings.com/50.

From April 11-13, Viking Club Tennis competed in the USTA Tennis On Campus National Championships in Surprise, Ariz. The team for the championships included seniors Dustin Miller and Clarissa Olson, junior Dalton Ondracek, and sophomore Caitlyn Hunter. The squad had qualified for nationals by finishing second at the USTA Northern Section Tennis On Campus Championships held at the Eau Claire (Wis.) YMCA in February.

Our collective efforts in pursuit of a fine arts building to replace Foss Hall, located on the wrong side of the floodwall, came to fruition in May, when Governor Burgum signed Senate Bill No. 2297, finalizing the North Dakota Legislature’s $32 million in funding for the Center for the Arts. Then I said this: “I want to thank the legislature, the governor, the state board and the system office for their support of our fine arts building project. This project has been years in the making, and there’s great joy on campus and the community knowing that the building will become a reality.” And I’ll say it again — thank you!

The month of May also featured VCSU’s 127th commencement exercises (it was my first!), celebrating students completing a record 278 undergraduate degrees and 47 master’s degrees during academic year 2018-19. Marc Wagner gave the student reflection, and Emily Fenster, Ph.D., presented the faculty reflection. Associate professor in the VCSU Social Science Department, Fenster was recognized as “Teacher of the Year” by the VCSU Student Senate this spring. Outstanding!

The Concert Choir of Valley City State University — 26 students accompanied by their director, Christopher Redfearn, and his wife, Jennifer — toured Italy May 16-27. The choir’s first performance was singing during mass in St. Peter’s Basilica in Vatican City, and the group was also able to do some sightseeing in Rome. Other stops, with more performances and sites to see, included Florence, Pisa, Santa Margherita Ligure, Cremona (the home of Stradivari’s violin workshop), Padua, Mirano, and Venice.

According to Redfearn, international travel and performance opportunities are part of what makes the VCSU music program special. “For many of our students, this is their first opportunity to travel overseas,” he said, “and to have the opportunity to see the sites and sing in the venues they do makes this truly a trip of a lifetime.”

May was also quite a month for the VCSU athletic program. The athletic department earned three North Star Athletic Association awards at the North Star Summit in Watertown, S.D. Valley City State won the first NSAA Commissioner’s Cup trophy, awarded to the top performing athletic department based on the final conference standings in all sports. VCSU had 9 of its 14 teams finish in the Top 3 in 2018-19 North Star competition. Jill DeVries was named NSAA Athletic Director of the Year, and Mark Potts was named NSAA Sports Information Director of the Year.

The Viking softball team put together a season for the ages, making it all the way to the NAIA World Series in Springfield, Mo., winning the conference title, the conference tournament title and the NAIA regional in Columbia, Mo., along the way. The squad finished with a school record 54-5 record.

Kyle Odegard and Dennis Gonzalez both earned All-American honors, leading a group of seven VCSU track and field athletes competing at the NAIA Outdoor Track & Field National Championships in Gulf Shores, Ala. Odegard placed fourth in the nation in the javelin with a school-record throw of 64.26 meters (210 feet, 10 inches), while Gonzalez placed fifth in the men’s marathon.

Summer brought the Middle School STEM Academy to campus, hosted by VCSU’s Great Plains STEM Education Center. The academy, featuring two week-long sessions in June for Native American middle school students, aims to heighten awareness and participation among students typically underrepresented in science, technology, engineering and mathematics, while also enhancing students’ confidence in regard to academic and career aspirations, and introducing them to college life by working with university faculty in exploring academic disciplines, living in residence halls, and eating in the dining hall, for example. Thanks to New Town Public Schools, Microsoft, and North Dakota United for supporting this terrific program.

On August 26, we recognized the contributions of the John Hill family toward rebuilding the VCSU track complex at Lokken Stadium. Hill, his son Phillip, and his late wife Diane were honored at the all student-athlete meeting held in the stadium. The Viking track facilities now bear the name of the John and Diane Hill Track Complex in appreciation of the support received from the Hills.

College rankings from two sources — Washington Monthly and U.S. News and World Report — came out at the end of the summer. VCSU ranked 51st of 372 schools in the Midwest in Washington Monthly’s Best Bang for the Buck Colleges (Midwest) listings. That category was defined as an “exclusive list of schools ranked according to how well they help non-wealthy students attain marketable degrees at affordable prices.” VCSU’s value proposition was clearly recognized here.

In the 2020 U.S. News rankings that came out in early September 2019, VCSU was ranked the No. 2 public regional college in the Midwest. That marked the 22nd consecutive year that VCSU has appeared in the U.S. News “Best College” rankings. The university has been ranked among the top three Midwest public regional colleges each year since 2010.

Mid-September brought another accolade, this time for our athletic program: VCSU was named an NAIA Champions of Character Five-Star Institution for the 17th straight year, and the 3rd consecutive year of silver recognition in the program. The five core values of integrity, respect, responsibility, sportsmanship and servant leadership are put into play and accounted for as part of the Champions of Character program.

The college rankings and the Champions of Character award speak to the good work done together by our students, faculty and staff, along with the strong support of our alumni, friends and the Valley City community. Thanks much!

Toward the end of the month, we celebrated in several ways: a new record for student enrollment, homecoming and the inauguration.

The new all-time enrollment record was set with a total headcount of 1,665 students and an undergraduate headcount of 1,524. The 1,665 total headcount surpasses the previous record of 1,547 set in fall 2018, a 7.6% increase, and the undergraduate headcount of 1,524 surpasses the previous record of 1,404, also from fall 2018, an 8.5% increase. The full-time equivalent (FTE) figure also increased from 2018 to 2019, moving from 1,096 to 1,164, a 6.2% increase. The headcount enrollment marks the fifth consecutive year of record-breaking numbers for VCSU, beginning with a 2015 mark of 1,422 that surpassed the previous record of 1,384 set in 2011.

Our retention rate for our first-time, full-time students is also at a record high for VCSU. This rate, measured by the number of students retained from fall semester freshman year to fall semester sophomore year, was 72.85% this fall, nearly 5 percentage points over the 68.13% last year. A task force is moving forward, working on recommendations for actions and programs that will help our retention remain strong. This a top priority in the coming year.

We enjoyed a tremendous weekend of homecoming festivities, along with the inauguration celebration, in the last week of September. I was overjoyed to have my family, friends and mentors on campus; what a fabulous celebration the campus inauguration committee put together — receptions, a recital, the ceremony and a concert (along with a football win to boot!).

In early October, select VCSU musicians presented a showcase recital in conjunction with the Royal Winnipeg Ballet at the Centennial Concert Hall in Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada. The hour-long recital was performed for ballet patrons prior to the Royal Winnipeg Ballet’s matinee performance of “La Bayadère.” This marked the second year in a row for a VCSU recital at the ballet.

VCSU students performing at the recital included Rachel Baker, horn; William Egan, baritone; Abigail Ingstad, soprano; Riley Loeks, soprano; Grayson Marty, piano; Isaac Samuels, baritone; Rochelle Van Bruggen, clarinet; Johnathon Van Puersem, trombone; and Jami Wells, clarinet. Robin Allebach, VCSU music faculty member, facilitated and directed the recital, assisted by faculty Daniel Becker and Kenneth Jimenez. Jimenez also performed in the recital, as did staff pianist Sarah Larsen.

Later that month, VCSU sophomore Shane Hitch from West Fargo was honored for his selection as a finalist in the Cyber FastTrack cyber security competition. Shane competed over several months to solve more than 250 cybersecurity challenges. Over the course of several months, the competition was narrowed from 13,000 students who started the competition to 2,579 quarterfinalists, then 541 semi-finalists, and finally, 100 finalists, including Hitch, who were selected to receive a full scholarship for advanced cyber skills training through the SANS Technology Institute.

Site preparation for the new Center for the Arts started in November, with final design meetings held in December. We can’t wait to begin construction in the spring!

December 2 was the day the State Board of Higher Education approved the sale of bonds for the activated carbon plant addition to the heat plant. This innovative project will help power the campus, while creating activated carbons and research opportunities for students and faculty

Also in December, VCSU running back Louis Quinones was named Honorable Mention NAIA All-American and second team AP All-American. Quinones led the nation in both rushing yards per game (150) and all-purpose yards per game (210) this season. Quinones also broke the VCSU career rushing record this season and tied the school record for rushing touchdowns, finishing his Viking career with 3,530 rushing yards and 36 rushing touchdowns.

Quinones’s teammate, all-conference linebacker Arron Martin, played for the West team in the inaugural NAIA Senior Football Classic, featuring some of the top NAIA seniors around the country, on December 14 in Savannah, Ga.

We just capped off the year with our fifth winter commencement on December 19 in Vangstad Auditorium, with Autumn Johnson giving the student reflection and Joan Oigawa Aus, Ph.D., presenting faculty remarks. In spring 2019, Aus, associate professor of education and chair of the elementary education and English language learners programs, received the Faculty Excellence Award for Senior Faculty.

What a year 2019 was for Valley City State University; can you believe it? Thank you so much for all the support we enjoy for the benefit of our students, faculty, staff, community, and state. We are so grateful for the partnerships that make it all possible. In the new year, my hope is that we all continue our good work as we move forward together.

Go Vikings!