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Leadership students rise to challenge

Kim Gustafson
Kim Gustafson

Sometimes life requires one to make the best out of Plan B.

That was the case for students in Kimberley Gustafson’s upper level leadership classes within the health and nutritional sciences department. Both Leadership 496 and Leadership 310 are oriented around learning one’s leadership style and then working in group to accomplish a service project, said Gustafson, a consumer sciences instructor.

When COVID-19 put an end to in-person classes March 13 while students were on spring break, students had to get creative to develop a group service project when living, in some cases, hundreds of miles apart.

One group sent thank-you cards to health care workers. They posted a simple nomination form on their social media accounts and waited for responses. They ended up sending 45 cards, primarily in South Dakota.

Member Treyson Slate said, “We felt like this was one of the few feasible ways in which we could transcend the lessons from the semester into a meaningful, impactful demonstration. We understood the importance of maintaining proper distancing and felt as though these nomination and letters would be the most streamlined, safe option.

“It also allowed those of us within the group to maintain practicality in regard to our quarantine efforts.”

Working together when apart
Haley Wollmuth, also a student in the 310 class, said, “Our group had originally planned to volunteer with Jack’s Cupboard on campus, but with the transition to online classes we had to change our approach to the service project.

An April 14 screen shot of Haley Wollmuth’s Leadership 310 Facebook page.
An April 14 screen shot of Haley Wollmuth’s Leadership 310 Facebook page.

“This was not easy. We are all very spread out across Minnesota and South Dakota so we knew we would not be able to get together. We brainstormed many ideas before eventually settling on sharing fun and creative activities for elementary students who are now stuck at home, many without access to their schoolwork.

“We hoped these activities will give kids a fun, educational outlet while they’re away from classes.”

There’s no data on how much fun the activities produced, but the four videos did reach an average of 620 persons per post with the most popular video—Float Your Boat—reaching 1,386 people. In that one, Wollmuth encouraged a competition within quarantine groups to see who could craft the best tin foil float and keep the most pennies afloat.

Cara Teigum shared the videos with a Facebook group in her community of Madelia, Minnesota, and a teacher friend of a classmate shared the videos with parents of fourth and fifth graders.

Credit goes to students
Gustafson said, “It was the students who made their projects such a success. They deserve all of the credit for their creativity, ability to adapt to a pandemic and deliver such impactful projects.”

Wollmuth had projects in three different leadership classes taught by Gustafson in spring semester. “She did fantastic in all three classes,” Gustafson said. Wollmuth said the key was remaining adaptable and keeping in mind the greater goal of helping others.

Another project Wollmuth was involved in was an individual project in Leadership 496 in which she raised $550 through a Facebook fundraiser to buy $25 gift certificates from Brookings restaurants to give to 22 nurses and mail carriers. She also printed and distributed 100 positive quotes within her Brookings apartment complex.

‘Proud of every student’
Among the quotes was “Don’t limit your challenges. Challenge your limits.”

It seems that is just what Wollmuth and her classmates did.

Gustafson said, “I saw a lot of learning and growth happen within the students. They saw needs in the community and created projects to meet those needs. They learned a lot about themselves, adapting in difficult times and how to work as a team in a remote learning environment. I am so proud of every student in my courses.”