Alternative Spring Break 2019

There are a variety of ways that college students can choose to spend their spring break. Some students choose to visit their family and relax, some go on vacation to get some sun, and some even travel to other countries as part of a class. For others, however, they choose to spend their spring break doing something good for a community. This past spring break, Shelly Baldrige traveled to St. Louis, Missouri to volunteer with the organization Kingdom House. Here is her account of the experience.

“For the 2019 Alternative Spring Break, I, along with 4 other MNSU students, traveled to St. Louis, Missouri for a service-learning trip with Kingdom House. Kingdom House is a nonprofit organization that works with the economically disadvantaged in St. Louis to help them get out of poverty by learning about money management, providing affordable food, clothing, childcare, assisting in job searches, and teaching English as a second language among a great number of other services. Throughout our trip, we took part in educational sessions, service projects, and volunteered with the Family Center in the evenings.

Leaders pic

During the educational sessions, we went through a poverty simulation in which we had to stretch our limited dollar for a month while encountering various financial obstacles such as medical issues, school fees for our children, car payments, rent, food, and crises at our jobs. It was incredibly eye-opening to have a small taste of the very real challenges that the economically disadvantaged of the world are faced with day in and day out. Many of our group members expressed a difficulty in choosing the morally correct choice and the financially responsible choice in tough situations. Our educational sessions also covered food inequity, with one of our tasks being to create a week-long menu for 5 people. It was very challenging trying to please everyone in just our group, and we were 5 grown adults. It took us between 20-30 minutes to create our menu and many families – especially those with young children – do not have that kind of free time. We were able to purchase our entire menu for the week under our allotted food stamps budget, but it was not hard to see how families with several young kids could struggle to make ends meet. Our final educational session had us playing monopoly, but with some players having economic disadvantages or advantages (i.e. more or less money than the norm, paying higher fees, receiving less from other players, etc.). This demonstrated a small-scale edition of what the economically disadvantaged experience in their real lives and I personally was astounded by the constant barrage of misfortunate that the players at a disadvantage experienced. Towards the end, everyone was allowed to play by the normal rules but those who had been at a disadvantage previously were unable to comfortably catch up to the other players. For me, this was an incredibly educational tactic for showing how those who have lived in poverty their whole life would face a massive struggle trying to get out.

For our service projects, we were first tasked with coming up with a list of activities to do with the kids in the Family Center each night that we volunteered there. While this wasn’t particularly challenging, we did have to demonstrate our teamwork in selecting activities and then assembling our boxes of supplies for each craft. Our subsequent service projects involved reorganizing the storage spaces of Kingdom House that were filled with a wide variety of donations ranging from baby supplies to clothes to school supplies or birthday kits. This involved a great deal of patience and perseverance as the rooms were cramped, messy, and stuffy. However, it was incredibly rewarding to see how much work we had gotten done and hearing the appreciation from the Kingdom House employees, knowing that we had helped check off a few more boxes on their endless to-do list. Finally, we each spent 2 nights volunteering in their Family Center, creating crafts and playing with the many kids who needed child care as their parents were at work or taking classes provided by Kingdom House. It was exceptionally fun getting to interact with such a diverse group of children and get a small look into their lives. It was a humbling experience realizing how few luxury items these kids had in their lives, that I felt entitled to in my childhood, and still seeing the blissful joy on all of their faces. This trip was by far the most rewarding educational experience I have ever had, and I greatly enjoyed my time there. My only wish was that we could have stayed and helped out for longer!”

To learn more about the Kingdom House, please visit:


Continued Education Down a Non-Traditional Path

This spring, we have been fortunate to make contact with Honors Program alumni Laurel Gustafson who has graciously agreed to write the following post for us. Laurel graduated in 2003 with a B.S. in Recreation, Parks and Leisure Services. She then went on and received her M.S. in Experimental Education in 2014. Soon after receiving her second degree, Laurel and her husband decided to travel the country while living out of their van- an experience that changed their lives forever. Here is the story of their journey.

Laurel Gustafson:

Continued Education Down a Non-Traditional Path

Paying tuition has been a regular commitment to my learning. As the sole contributor to my undergraduate degree, it was an exciting moment to pay off loan debt within 5 years of graduating. It wasn’t that my degree in Recreation, Parks and Leisure Services led to a high-paying job; I prioritized my spending and got rid of a large, outstanding payment. A payment for a rich time of growth in and out of the classroom that set the stage for future decisions.

In 2014, my husband asked me if we could quit our jobs to travel full time.

Caption: How we made our decision to travel.

We hit so many roadblocks in figuring out how to do it, so we tackled them one at a time. How will we pay for this? Budget. What do we do with our things? Sell. Share. Store. What do we do with our cat? Share 😉 What if we don’t like it? Stop. What vehicle could we use? A cheap van. Can we really do this? Yes. Just start.

Having experience in prioritizing a budget paid off significantly. In our new lifestyle, we’d pay tuition yet again for an education, but this time we would scatter those tuition payments to many parks, donut shops, gas stations, and grocery stores across the US.

In July of 2016, we turned over our keys to our rental space and proceeded to sleep in that parking lot for a week. I know, you’re thinking: how glamorous! My husband finished his work commitments with Minnesota State University Mankato during that time, and we started to figure out what it would be like to use public bathrooms all the time. It wasn’t until we crossed the state line into Wisconsin that we felt we had started this journey, which had been 18 months of saving, dreaming, and changing to our new normal.

Caption: The kitchen we built under our bed in our 2003 VW Eurovan.

We had a rough guideline of where to travel but no detailed agenda. Our overnight stays consisted of state parks, state & national forests, Walmart & Cabela’s parking lots, homes of friends & family, and a few hotels. We loved the Upper Peninsula of Michigan and stayed there longer than we thought we would. We booked a 1-week camping stay in Acadia National Park long before we were certain we could endure an October night sleeping in our uninsulated van in Maine. Our timing of traveling south followed near-peak leaf season that fall.

There was a time in this drive south when we questioned all of our travels. We spent another night in a parking lot. Another night resting between Point A and Point Unknown. It was our decision to stop that was our best decision. We didn’t stop traveling, we stopped moving. We spent more time at each location. We lingered. We finally stopped letting the busyness of our society control our thoughts. Eight days walking the beaches of the Outer Banks during the 2016 presidential election. All we had for a connection was a slider phone that could call and send texts. No data. No cable. No Netflix. Using older phones with spotty wifi at public locations was how we stayed in touch. Although it took a while to break away from the feeling of needing to be connected, it was a refreshing moment to realize how much reflection I had been doing in lieu of the bombardment of news and ads and Facebook likes.

That turning point led to two of our favorite parts of our travels. Although our initial thoughts of traveling had us on the West Coast at this point, we kept returning to New England. We discovered a house-sitting opportunity in New Hampshire and spent the month of March 2017 in an 1800’s post and beam home nestled south of the White Mountains. The homeowners (now dear friends) entrusted us to take care of their dog, three cats, and home through a season of potential nor’easters. Amazing.

Caption: Building a snow quinzee after a nor’easter in New Hampshire.

Another rewarding season of our trip was finding a WWOOFing [World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms] location that invited us to stay on a private island off the coast of Maine. In April 2017, we stepped onto a boat and were welcomed to the working family of this island farm. We started chores before the sunrise. We gardened. We set up fencing for animals. We cleaned barns. We assisted in lambing season. We made butter and ice cream from fresh cream. We picked things up and put things down. I worked on a life-struggle while being so far removed from my normal circle of support. I cried. We laughed. We worked on it. We basked in the sunrises and could often be found sleeping before the sun set. We jumped in the ocean on a nice day and hunkered down tight during the moments of ruthless waves and high tides. We were immersed in a world new to us, and we learned. We learned a lot.

Caption: Assisting in birthing a calf on the island farm.

Overall, we didn’t know when this segment of our life would change until it changed. We found out we were expecting the baby we were told would probably never happen. It was the birth of our daughter that brought us back to our home state of Minnesota, but our mindset of collecting new experiences has never left us. The value obtained from paying tuition when ready to soak up life is never a question.

“If we thought we had to know what we were doing before we began, we would never have started.”

~Jinti Fell

Nomadic Australian Vlogger, Mother, Adventurer


Just start.


*Each hyperlink in the story is to a different social media site used to keep our friends and family updated on our travels. We’re not professional photographers, journalists, or videographers. We just did it; taking some pictures, notes, videos along the way.

To learn more:

A Reflection on Research

This February, after a pair of weather delays, the Honors Program hosted a research fair for students to interact with professors in various disciplines about how to get involved in research. History, Psychology, Marketing, Business Law, and the College of Allied Health and Nursing all had representatives at the fair.

Kade Patterson, a first-year students in the Honors Program, explored the fair. As a Math Education major, he has had some worries about completing the research competency. Here is his reflection on his experience at the research fair:

Fulfilling the competencies, especially the research competency, has been a concern of mine. However, through classes and events I have begun to understand and formulate ideas on how I am going to fulfill the competencies. When I attended the research fair, I learned that there are more opportunities to participate in research than I had originally thought. I started to understand that if I asked professors in my discipline about research opportunities, they could suggest research projects for me to participate in. The research fair also made me think about possibly doing a research project outside of my discipline. I could potentially find an area that I am interested in and then get involved with that department.  After going to the research fair, I felt more confident in my ability to fulfill the research competency.

Research Fair

Students visiting with professors at the fair!

The Life of a Student Athlete

The past couple of weeks, our student athletes in the Honors Program have taken a couple minutes out of their busy schedules to chat a little bit about how they balance school, extracurricular activities, and their sport throughout the year. Here are a couple of our athlete’s responses. 

Zoe Wright

zoe wright

What is your major? What year in school are you? What sport(s) do you play?

I am a Biochemistry major in my sophomore year, and I play for the women’s soccer team here at Minnesota State.

What season is your busiest during the school year, and what season is your least busy during the year?

I actually keep myself very busy throughout the school year – Our soccer season is officially in the fall, which means 20 hours or more a week in practice, games, and travel. While the spring season is a bit less time spent in my sport, I take on a heavier course load.

What types of things are you involved in besides school and athletics, if any?

I am involved in the Pre-Med club on campus, I am doing undergraduate research with Dr. Thoempke, and I am involved with a women’s Bible study.

How do you balance athletics, school, and any extracurriculars? What types of things do you do to keep yourself organized and prepared for everything?

I use a lot of my “down time” to prepare for what’s next. For example, before I wind down for each day, I make sure I am prepared for tomorrow in the best way I can be so that I don’t have to spend time on silly things like finding my uniform or charging my laptop later. I’ve found that it’s paying attention to these little things consistently that makes all the difference.

How often do your school work and your sport interfere with each other? Do you find it difficult to excel at both?

There have been a handful of occasions where I have to reschedule labs and/or exams because of travelling for soccer, which is definitely less than ideal. For the most part, my professors have been very kind and accommodating. However, our coaches understand that we are students first, and try to do everything they can to make sure we are still excelling in the classroom. I believe our team GPA is about a 3.6.

What types of things do you like to do to de-stress or take a mental break?

I’ve been trying to read fiction as an alternative to watching Netflix lately, and honestly, it’s one of my favorite things to do now.

What has being a student-athlete taught you in your time here at Minnesota State?

Being a student-athlete has taught me to be accountable for myself. There is a lot we have to do when nobody’s watching, so I have to learn to do it for the future me, or for my future team.

What is one of your favorite memories from your time as a student-athlete on campus?

One of my favorite memories has to be winning the conference tournament. It felt like all the work we’d been doing all season finally paid off into something big.

If you could go back and tell yourself one thing before starting college, what would it be?

I would tell my younger self that I have to be ready to find myself outside of my comfort zone a lot, and to embrace it as a growing opportunity rather than shy away from it.

Share one piece of advice that you would give to other or future student-athletes.

Being successful as a student-athlete is all about learning to find balance. Prioritize your studies and work hard in your sport, but find time to take care of yourself as well.

Megan Serratore

megan serratore

What is your major? What year in school are you? What sport(s) do you play?

My major is biomedical science with intent to attend medical school. I am a senior (4th year). I run cross country in the fall and indoor and outdoor track and field in the winter and spring.

What season is your busiest during the school year, and what season is your least busy during the year?

My busiest season is my spring semester during my indoor and outdoor track season. My team has track meets nearly every weekend. My cross country season during the fall is a little more laid back. We usually only have competitions every other weekend for cross country.

What types of things are you involved in besides school and athletics, if any?

Besides school and athletics, I have worked part time as an at-home caregiver for elderly individuals while I have been in school. I also try to do volunteer work in my spare time. Some of my volunteer experiences include volunteering as a language partner, peer adviser, step-force volunteer at the Mayo Clinic, and helping supervise kids at my local Boys and Girls Club in Bemidji. This semester I am hoping to start doing volunteer work at the Harry Meyering Center.

How do you balance athletics, school, and any extracurriculars? What types of things do you do to keep yourself organized and prepared for everything?

To balance athletics, school, and other extracurriculars I set goals for myself and prioritize my time. I might set academic and running related goals, but I also set self-care goals. I think the craziness of college can sometimes make it hard to take good care of yourself, but it is important to prioritize your well being. To stay organized in school I rely heavily on my weekly planner. I have everything written down so I know when things are due. Writing everything down allows me to visualize what my week will be like and how I need to spend my time. I also have a big, paper calendar in my bedroom that is designated to non-academic related reminders.

How often do your school work and your sport interfere with each other? Do you find it difficult to excel at both?

Sometimes my class schedule will conflict with my cross country or track practice schedule. On these days, I have to find time in my day to work-out on my own either before, after, or between my classes. Missing practice is not ideal because I do not get to practice with my teammates, but school is always the priority. Also, I sometimes have to miss classes for weekend competitions. I think it can sometimes be difficult to excel in both sports and school. Sometimes my running suffers because school can be stressful. At the same-time, running adds structure to my day and has taught me how to work hard both in and outside of athletics. I think overall being both a student and an athlete has helped me be successful in college.

What types of things do you like to do to de-stress or take a mental break?

To de-stress I like to listen to music, spend time with friends, meditate, cook, take a warm bath, or do some form of physical activity outside like biking or rollerblading.

What has being a student-athlete taught you in your time here at MSU?

Being a student-athlete at MSU has taught me the importance of surrounding myself with people who build me up and support me. I cannot say enough how important it is to have a “team” of people who share passions with you and encourage you to work hard to be successful in your endeavors. There is nothing more satisfying than reaching team goals. Your “team” could be actual sports teammates, friends, co-workers, family members, etc. Reaching a goal is not as satisfying when you have no one to high-five. So, find your team!

What is one of your favorite memories from your time as a student-athlete on campus?

One of my favorite memories from my time as a student-athlete was when my track team won the indoor conference track and field meet during my freshman year. It was my first conference track meet and also the first time our women’s team won a conference meet in many years. So, it was very exciting and emotional.

If you could go back and tell yourself one thing before starting college, what would it be?

Do not do things that you are not passionate about. You should not do something just because you feel like you need to fulfill some type of bullet point list. Pursue activities that bring you joy, challenge you, and make you want to work hard. Also, do not wait until the night before an exam to study for a test!

Share one piece of advice that you would give to other or future student-athletes.

To future student-athletes, relish your time with your teammates doing something that you hopefully love. Being part of a sports team is such a unique, wonderful experience. Do not take it for granted.

What We Are Thankful For

With the holidays getting closer every day, it is good to take a minute and look at all of the good things we have in our lives. This past week, we asked our fellow Honors students what they are thankful for this holiday season and why. Here are some of their responses!


I am thankful for my family because they have been very supportive of my change in major, and have never showed their annoyance (I know they have it) when I continue to talk about the same problems I still have not found a solution to. They are seriously the best.

I’m thankful for my friends and family because they support and help me.

I am thankful for my support system. My family and friends are always there for me!

I am thankful for the opportunity to further my education and go to a school as nice as Mankato. I am most thankful for my friends in the Honors Learning Community. I owe a good chunk of my smooth transition to college to them. They have helped me in many ways and they have accepted me into their group of friends.

I’m thankful for the smooth transition into college.

I am thankful for my friends, because they are always there for me no matter what.

I’m thankful for all the opportunities I have been presented with at Mankato and the willingness of faculty and staff to assist students with their future. I’m also thankful for all my friends at Mankato who have made this year one of the most memorable years already, and it’s only November! I’m especially thankful for my amazing coworkers, Emily Schiltz, Josie Braaten, Amber Chrischilles, and Amily Smith for making every staff meeting a little more interesting!

My sister’s dog!

My family, they are very supportive and always there if I need them.

I am thankful for all of the new experiences I have had this year, and for all the new friends I’ve made coming to college.

A healthy family! My family has had some rough times this past year with illnesses, so I’m just happy we’re all alive and well!

I’m thankful for my amazing support system because college (and life) would be tough without people cheering you on!

I am thankful that I have a wonderful and supportive family, amazing grades, a fantastic boyfriend, great friends, a good job, the great learning opportunities presented to me on this campus, and that it looks like the Democrats are going to take back the House this next election.

I am thankful for second chances.

Family and my health! I’m thankful for having a support system to fall back on when I need to find guidance or support. I’m also very thankful for my health. I’m thankful that I do not have health issues because it would only make life harder for me and for my family. You never stop to appreciate the little things, such as being able to see or smell or taste. I’m thankful that I’m healthy both physically an mentally.

I am thankful because I spent this summer with my parents and sister

I am thankful for my family, boyfriend, and friends. I am also very thankful for the opportunities I have, especially to study at MSU.

I am thankful to the people I met during summer 2018 because they help me to understand the outside world of the university. As a international student from different culture, it was a very big deal for me.

I am thankful for my warm bed, because it makes the end of a long day worth it!

New friends!

I am thankful for my mom because she always answers my calls.

I am so thankful for bees and their ability to spread pollen and make honey 🙂

I’m thankful for the opportunities that have been gifted to me. I am also thankful for my family and friends who are there for me.

I’m thankful for having a supportive family. Though they can’t support me through college financially, they still offer love and support in other ways.

I am thankful that I was able to attend college this year, and that my family is continuing to support me in all of my endeavors.

I’m thankful for my parents. They are so supportive and I hope to be more supportive to them because they need It.

As always, I am thankful for my family, my health, and the privileges I have been given in life. This year, I am extra thankful for the opportunity to continue my education and pursue one of my dreams, and for all of the new friends I have made here at Mankato. I always knew that I would love college, but I have been so blessed with all the new experiences; I know that the friends I am making are going to be life-long, and the education I am receiving will be so helpful in giving me the skills I need to run my own business!

Family because they have been there to support me though all good and bad, ups and downs of my life.



My Homecoming Court Experience

This past September one of our Honors students, Kirsten Siebenga, had the opportunity to be a part of the Homecoming Court. Kirsten is a junior here at MSU and is majoring in Community Health Education. Below is a reflection of her experience on the homecoming court.

This past week I had the opportunity to represent MNSU on the Homecoming royalty court. Upon calling home to tell my family of what I was doing on campus, I think they were just as shocked that I was running as I was.

“You did what?”

Confused, they asked if this meant that I was helping to organize the Homecoming activities.

Being a part of the Homecoming royalty court is probably the furthest thing I have ever done outside of my comfort zone- right up there with deciding to run a marathon. But I am happy to report that I am so, so glad I did.

I think that is the beauty of college. Sometimes the growing pains are difficult (at least for me) including lots of calls home to encouraging moms, hair pulling over the big question, “what am I going to do with my life?”, and what is this thing called “adulting?” Somewhere along our journey we begin to learn who we are and slowly, we begin to learn who we are until it starts to connect. This week as part of the Homecoming royalty court I felt a piece of who I am becoming fall into place.

Homecoming- Kirsten

After the lip sync competition with the crowned royalty

As weird as it sounds- I think sometimes we need to be pushed further than we think we can to grow.

During homecoming week, the royalty candidates were able to participate in a variety of activities including Mavs on the Mall, royalty family feud, and Maverick pride day. One of my favorite homecoming activities was watching the lip sing battle on Thursday night (we need to make an Honors lip sing next year!!). The activities were great, but the best part about being on Homecoming royalty court was the people I was able to meet.

I knew our campus was filled with some incredible people, but I am confident now that our campus is curating the ground breaking, earth-shattering, boot stomping leaders of tomorrow. On the Homecoming court, I met a diverse group of students that represented organizations like Greek Life, Black Union, Mav Fam, and Student Ambassadors. While campaigning around campus, I met students that have dreams to be English professors, doctors, teachers, and to protect our country abroad. I met people in the greater Mankato community that love and support our school.

I think next time I call home with my latest endeavor at MNSU, my family won’t be surprised.

Homecoming- Kirsten 2

A Few New Faces

Welcome back to campus for what will be another awesome semester! The past six months have been an exciting time of transition and growth for the Honors Department, and now we are ready to charge into the new semester with a team of fresh and familiar faces. Here are the new honors staff members you will be seeing around the office! Feel free to drop by anytime to say hi, grab some candy, use a computer, or curl up on a couch between classes. We can’t wait to meet you! 

Shelly Baldridge

Shelly Baldridge

Hello! My name is Shelly Baldrige, and I’m from Ames, Iowa. My major is Sports Management, and I am pursuing a minor in Human Resources Management. This year I am the Student Experience Coordinator, so I will be the one who helps plan the honors events throughout the year and communicate about them with you! I applied to the Honors Program as an incoming freshman, and after my first year, I wanted to make an effort to become more involved which led me to this position. Outside of school, I play the trumpet in the Maverick Machine Athletic Band, am a member of the Sports Management Association, and volunteer with the local Humane Society. In my free time I like to watch sports, reality TV, and Netflix. A fun fact about me is I got to work at the Super Bowl this past February in Minneapolis! This year I am most excited to meet more Honors members and create plenty of new friendships!

Pam Guss

PG 2

Hi – my name is Pam Guss, and I am the new Administrative Assistant for the Honors Program, Undergraduate Research Center and Office of University Fellowships. I am a Mankato native and a MSU, Mankato alumni. I recently celebrated my 25th anniversary with my husband Brad. I have 3 adult children – Adam, Libby and Becca. I love to spend time with my family, friends, and our dogs – Kona and Fitger. In my free time I also enjoy reading and watching Netflix, especially stand-up comedy – any recommendations are appreciated. I’m trying to learn everyone’s name, please stop by to say hi!

Emily Schiltz

Emily Schlitz

My name is Emily Schiltz, and I am a second year student here at MSU. I am majoring in exercise science with a minor in psychology, and I am also a pre-med student. I am from a town in northern Minnesota called Detroit Lakes, and I graduated from a class of about 230 people. This year I am working alongside Josie as the Social Media Relations Coordinator. After being a part of the Freshman Learning Community I wanted to become more involved with the program, and I thought this would be a great opportunity to meet new people and attend more events. When I have free time I like to hangout with my friends, watch Netflix, and explore the city. For this semester, I am most excited about fall weather and football games! Important things to know about me: I love Grey’s Anatomy, ice cream with my whole heart, and my planners (yes, plural) are color-coded.


Dr. White

I am the Interim Honors Program Director.  I have taught honors seminars in the past, and those have been some of my best teaching experiences.  I consider St. Paul, MN my hometown. I was a double Communication Studies/English Writing major in college.  I love to read, cook, volunteer in the community, and spend time with my family.  My kids are in 7th and 9th grade this year.  We are a loud and sarcastic family.  A fun personal fact about me is that when I was in Jr. High I did community theater with the late comedian, Mitch Hedberg.  I am extremely excited about all aspects of this upcoming year.  However, I am most looking forward to getting to know new students.

The Honors Lounge (Morris Hall 265) is open Mondays, Tuesdays, and Fridays from 8am-5pm; Wednesdays from 8am-6pm, and Thursdays from 8am-7pm. Please come say hello!