With his inauguration just around the corner, Edward Inch, 13th president of Minnesota State University, looks back on his first year on campus and the Mankato area with a great deal of fondness.
“I learned a lot,” the Washington state native said. “It was a year of learning about the people and culture here, which was my focus.”
Through familiarizing himself with the community both on and off campus, Inch said he’s been inspired by the optimism people have about the future of MSU.
He even noted that a big reason he chose to go after the position when it first became available was due to how well-received MSU is in the community it’s in.
“One of the special things about this place is the tight connection we have with the region around us and all of the people that help support the efforts of the university,” he said. “It was a good year to imagine what’s possible.”
To Inch, anything is possible. But for the upcoming years ahead, his main priority is the students and their success in and out of college.
With the 10% increase of incoming students this year over last year, Inch has more to consider despite enrollment being down 3% compared to pre-pandemic levels.
A total of 14,546 students were enrolled at the university last year. MSU is expected to release the official numbers for this year sometime in early October.
“We’re looking at the strategic initiatives we have to have in order to better support students’ success at this institution,” he said. “I want to make sure we’re taking care of the students that come here.”
From discussing the creation of new graduate programs that are in demand, hiring more faculty that can fill the roles needed to meet such demands, to expanding the university’s outreach and accessibility to all eligible learners at any stage in their life, Inch plans to do it all for the sake of all Mavericks.
“I want to make sure that undergraduates have the best experience possible,” he said. “What does a high-impact experience look like for our students? How do we make sure that every student has one, whether it be an internship or research opportunity? How do we ensure that all of our undergraduates, all of our graduate students, have an experience that’s really defining for their degree? Those are the questions we ask.”
Inch also keeps alumni in mind.
“The world is moving quickly and the economy is moving quickly. Graduates might still need us. Maybe there are professional development programs that we ought to be thinking about,” he said. “So how do we make sure that we remain adaptable and can make opportunities that look reasonable? There’s a chance for us to think about our students in a much longer timeframe, including retirees.”
As a self-proclaimed future-oriented person, Inch sees the steps he takes today as something that impacts MSU’s tomorrow. So, he keeps in mind what he hopes the university looks like in 10 years — bigger and bolder — when making decisions about its present state.
As for how the university will proceed through the pandemic, Inch said they will continue to follow Minnesota Department of Health and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines.
Masks are currently not mandated on campus, but anyone who’s exposed to COVID-19 is asked to mask up and get tested. Those who test positive are asked to quarantine.
Free testing and vaccination clinics are also offered on campus for those who need it.
“Our vaccination rates are relatively high on campus,” Inch said. “With being vaccinated and using precautions, we haven’t seen a spike since we’ve gotten back.”
Classes will also resume being offered both online and in person.
Inch sees Zoom and other online learning sites as tools and the university will continue to utilize them.
The student population on campus has differing needs and Inch said he wants everyone to have access to the education they’re seeking out with as minimal barriers as possible.
“About 5% of our students have families, more have elder care issues and need to be able to take care of their parents,” he said. “I think we ought to be adaptable to meet our students where they are. The alternative to that is we have students that have to make some hard choices between family and education or between income and education. I’m hoping that technology allows us to adapt to meet the needs that our students have.”
However, Inch doesn’t plan on ever converting MSU to a fully online university because he said he sees the value in face-to-face interactions and making connections with others in person.
Regardless of how classes are offered, Inch said he will do all that he can these upcoming years to ensure students get the most out of their time at MSU and are taken care of even after they graduate.
“I’m hoping we continue to evolve to a place that helps every eligible learner get the education that they want to have and that we do our best to support it,” he said.