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each other and
broadcast onto
central classroom
monitors. Private
study rooms,
offices and a
number of the
surround a
student commons
area that contains
a cluster of
chairs and sofas
and tables where
students—and often faculty as well—hang out when they
are not in class.
UMR has quickly earned the respect and support
of the Rochester business community, said John Wade,
president of the Rochester Area Chamber of Commerce,
which is hoping to see 8,000 to 10,000 new jobs
created over the next decade. The school’s innovative,
collaborative model is exactly what Rochester needed,
according to Wade. “It’s absolutely essential to the growth
and development of this community,” he said.
But the modest setting wasn’t necessarily what folks in
the Rochester community had in mind as they lobbied for
years to get the University of Minnesota to locate a branch
campus there. “People think of universities in terms of
infrastructure and sports. They wanted a lot of students.
They wanted to be big. They wanted a football stadium,”
said Lehmkuhle.
But Lehmkuhle believed that economic realities
required him to develop a niche-based, tuition-driven
school. So what the community got instead when UMR
welcomed its first 57 undergraduates in 2009 was a lean,
highly focused academic institution, a place where the
library, called the “information commons,” consists of a
couple of shelves of reference books, a dozen computers
and an interlibrary loan program; a university that has a
mascot—the raptor—but no sports teams; and where the
local YMCA functions as the student gym.
None of which seems to bother the students much.
Sophomore Evan Doyle, who’s from Canton, South
Dakota, and is president of UMR’s newly created student
government—the Rochester Student Association—said
that what the school lacks in traditional extracurricular
activities it more than makes up for in the opportunity
to help build UMR from the ground up, to create new
student clubs and activities, and to contribute feedback for
the development of the curriculum. In fact, Doyle joked,
“The hardest part about going here is convincing your
friends that it’s a school—because it’s above a mall.”
There are no plans for a football team or stadium, but
UMR is involved in a private-public partnership that will
provide student housing and additional classroom and
office space in a downtown building next year. The new
building will be a complete living-learning environment,
and will accommodate enrollment growth: UMR plans
to increase its freshman class by 50 students each year,
Lehmkuhle said, until total enrollment hits 1,000, not
including another 400 to 500 students enrolled in joint
programs UMR operates in conjunction with other
Long-range, the school does intend to have its own
campus on the edge of downtown, but it will be limited in
scope; the school is likely to retain its current space above
the mall as well. “Bigger is not necessarily better. So I don’t
want to measure our success on how big we are, but rather
on how good we are,” Lehmkuhle said.
That’s fine with sophomore Hannah Salk, of St. Cloud.
“I don’t feel like I’m missing out at all on the things a large
school has,” said Salk, the great granddaughter of Jonas
Salk, who developed the polio vaccine. On the contrary,
she prefers the small environs of UMR. “I like that
professors know my name and where I’m from, and that
they can gear their classes to the students,” she said.
With their encouragement, she has also starting to
explore and value her own learning style. After struggling
to understand and remember biological processes—such
as aerobic and anaerobic respiration, calcium absorption
and DNA replication—Salk, an enthusiastic artist in high
school, took to sketching them on paper bags. When her
professor, Robert Dunbar, saw the drawings, he suggested
she use them for an independent study project. Now she
is working with him and a professor of literature to turn
those drawings into an instructional book for kids. That’s
something that probably would not have happened at
another university, she said. “Anywhere else, they don’t
care how you learn as long as you learn. Whereas here,
they focus a lot on different styles of learning,” she said.
But that was a secondary reason for enrolling. A
former patient at Mayo, Salk decided to attend UMR
rivalries are non-existent
because there are no
academic departments.
Instead, UMR has
divided the traditional
duties of a professor
into separate jobs.
Mary McCoy, a sophomore at the University of Minnesota Rochester (posing next
to a poster about malaria that she helped to research and design), appreciates the
campus’ highly structured curriculum and interdisciplinary approach.