Ridgewater College opens for fall semester as construction wraps up

WILLMAR -- Rain last week slowed down some of the final landscaping, but Ridgewater College's $14 million remodeling project will be ready for students when classes start on Monday.

Buying books
Marion White, 17, of Willmar, waits in line to buy books for her freshman classes at Ridgewater College. White is a senior in high school but will use the Postsecondary Enrollment Options to earn college credits while she finishes high school. (Tribune photo by Linda Vanderwerf)

WILLMAR - Rain last week slowed down some of the final landscaping, but Ridgewater College’s $14 million remodeling project will be ready for students when classes start on Monday.
The fall semester opens on Monday with enrollment down a bit but students registering right up to the last minute, college President Douglas Allen said Friday afternoon.
Final enrollment figures will be calculated in 30 days, he said.
Ridgewater’s official enrollment for 2013 was about 3,000 full-year-equivalent students on the Willmar and Hutchinson campuses, according to the Minnesota State Colleges and Universities website.
Allen said it’s always exciting to have the campus busy with students after the quieter summer.
The college has some new initiatives that will make the year interesting, he said. The school is in partnership with Northland and Central Lakes colleges to develop a center of excellence in agriculture. The MnSCU system is also in an initiative called Charting the Future, to look for ways for campuses in the system to work together.
In the remodeling project, the college gutted and remodeled the former Building A and moved the business office, financial aid, bookstore and counseling services. The second floor cafeteria and student services area was also remodeled. The building was renamed the Student Center and now serves as a front door for the campus.
The project also made improvements in agriculture and veterinary technology areas, two growing programs which were in cramped quarters.
Parts of the campus which were aged and in poor repair were demolished, and parking lots and sidewalks were reconfigured.
The Student Center includes a new bookstore just inside the entrance. Kathy Bengtson was fielding a variety of questions in her office at the rear of the store.
Many people have commented about the new store, she said.
“What’s not to love about this space,” she asked. “It looks so much more inviting.”
The store has better traffic flow than the old one, which had been in another building.
“One of the nice things, we actually have storage connected to the bookstore,” she said. Before, the bookstore had three separate storage rooms on campus.
Another feature is a window which can be used for book buyback and order pickups.
Even in a digital age, the bookstore is still stocked with books for classes in chemistry, sociology and literature.
“There are still students who do not have access to computers,” she said, so the traditional textbooks are still necessary. E-books are popular, too, she said.
The Student Center was a busy place in the week before classes.
Students waited on comfortable chairs in the lobby to be called to an office to talk about transcripts, test scores, class selection or financial aid. The lobby’s windows overlook much of the campus. A large main desk lets students make one stop to have questions answered.
Katie Nelsen, 22, a freshman, will begin the work on her education degree Monday. She moved to Willmar from Brainerd to live near her extended family.
“I love school, meeting new people and getting my degree,” she said. “I want to be a teacher.” Her goal is to teach middle school math or history.
Justin Norwood, 20, of Lansing, Mich., an outside linebacker for the Ridgewater Warriors, was waiting to see if the credits would transfer from his first year at a community college in Lansing. “My goal is to be a physical therapist,” he said. He’s not sure yet what four-year school he wants to attend, he said. He’ll go “wherever life takes me.”
When school starts, “I’m looking forward to chemistry class,” he said. “It’s not my thing; I just want to survive it.”
Marion White, 17, of Willmar, is starting on an adventure as she prepares to finish high school and start college in the same year, using the state’s Postsecondary Enrollment Options Program. She registered for the same classes she would have taken in high school, she said, but “it’s a free year of college. Why not?”
White said she may miss high school a little “but I’m excited to be here.”
Several faculty members said they are excited to meet a new group of students on Monday.
“Every semester is a fresh start,” said Alissa Martinka, an English and reading teacher. She said she is looking forward to teaching an expanded student success class called On Course. It has expanded from one credit to three, she said, and includes study skills as well as non-cognitive skills like respect, self-awareness and emotional health.

Related Topics: EDUCATION
In 42 years in the newspaper industry, Linda Vanderwerf has worked at several daily newspapers in Minnesota, including the Mesabi Daily News, now called the Mesabi Tribune in Virginia. Previously, she worked for the Las Cruces Sun-News in New Mexico and the Rapid City Journal in the Black Hills of South Dakota. She has been a reporter at the West Central Tribune for nearly 27 years.

Vanderwerf can be reached at email: or phone 320-214-4340
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