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Homecoming week proves SMSU’s value to southwest Minnesota

Every October the Marshall area takes a weekend to celebrate the importance of post secondary education in the region.

We enjoy Southwest Minnesota State University’s homecoming week; an event that culminates in a parade, athletic events and alumni gatherings.

A special milestone is part of the 2021 festivities. We have the 50th anniversary reunion of the university’s charter class. It’s a reminder of how SMSU has racked up more than 50 years of successful service to students from the local area and from other locations.

It’s a time to enjoy the school spirit, a time to wear Mustang colors and maybe an SMSU sweatshirt. It’s also a time to think about how much SMSU means to the local area.

Many of us wouldn’t be here now if it weren’t for SMSU. In my case, it met my needs for education at two important points in my life.

The first time was in the late 1980s when I was a teenager discerning what I wanted for a career. The second was shortly after the millennium, as I went back to college to get a master’s degree and expand my horizons.

In both instances SMSU played a big role in my decision to remain in Marshall. Had I moved to get an education, it’s hard to say whether or not I would have come back. Without a farm or a business to inherit, there’s a chance I might have ended up somewhere else.

Instead I was blessed with great possibilities close to home. I like many others serve as examples of the value of having local higher education opportunities.

We’re at a point now when SMSU has built up a long and successful history. We have alumni that are past retirement age, who’ve had entire careers of achievements.

East College Drive in Marshall is a thriving stretch of restaurants and other businesses. You have to go back to SMSU’s early years to remember the days of Earth II, Ed’s Pizza and the Happy Chef.

The campus itself has also gone through plenty of exciting changes. Many of us miss the old dome lounge student center, but we’re all very thankful for the impressive two-story facility that took its place. We have a modern-day library that’s changed with the times, that reflects how computers are now part of the heart and soul of almost everyone’s learning process.

College is all about looking to the future. Every year it’s exciting to have a new group of freshman come to town with the same quest for a solid career foundation that we all experienced in our younger days.

It all started in the 1960s with a far-reaching vision for higher education, for what was literally a “college in a cornfield”. Fulfilling that vision has involved efforts of hundreds of faculty, staff and alumni. It’s a process that continues each year, that grows and changes as the years add up.

There are exciting plans for renovations to SMSU’s 1960s and early 1970s buildings. They will position the university for success as the 21st century continues to unfold. They’ll reflect the many changes in academics and campus social life that have occurred in the past half century.

It’s hard to imagine where we’d be if the legacy of SMSU had never taken shape. We’d probably be like some of the deeply rural locations of the Great Plains, places where everyone has to travel a long way for college, business activity or shopping experiences. We wouldn’t have the steady supply of young people that’s so vital to the local economy and that serves as a continuous resource to local employers.

Homecoming Week is a great reminder of how far we’ve come in the mission to make higher education a cornerstone of the region’s future.

It’s important to remember how that broad set of goals is reflected in thousands of individual success stories. SMSU is a great place to learn and grow. It’s a great place for taking steps that pave the way for professional and personal achievements that continue throughout our lifetimes.

— Jim Muchlinski is longtime reporter and contributor to the Marshall Independent

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