September 29, 2015

University of Mary looks to build presence in Watford

By Amy Robinson
Farmer Staff Writer

The University of Mary is looking at Watford City with a long-term vision and the goal of increasing its presence within this ever-growing and evolving community.
“McKenzie County and Watford City are growing quickly,” said Rachael Brash, University of Mary director of Graduate Admissions. “We wanted to be a part of that growth. If there’s a need in the community for higher education, we want to be a part of filling that need. I think it’s important to have a four-year institution in this community. We’d like to bring many of our students to the companies here and enhance that workforce.”
As part of its long-term vision, the University of Mary would like to offer adult programs, undergraduate, and graduate degrees on a consistent and regular basis.
“Our long-term goal was not to come here, offer some classes or a program, and then be done,” stated Brash. “Coming to Watford City was part of our strategic plan. And our administration has really been pushing for us to be here.”
Brash says that the university feels that offering courses on an as-needed basis is what sets the University of Mary apart from other schools, whether that is offering classes for the healthcare sector, the private sector, or other sectors.
“The key to offering classes to the workforce is to show people how to make time for education,” said Brash. “From the feedback we received from our first class of students in Watford City, we found that students were concerned with having enough time and energy to make it through another four hours of a class, after already working an eight-hour, 10-hour, or 12-hour day.”
But instead of feeling overwhelmed, exhausted, or stressed out about additional time being spent on education, a majority of the students said it offered a time of reflection and slowdown from their already busy and chaotic day. The class time allowed for the students to have the opportunity to discuss with other students, which re-energized them for the next day.
“It’s a powerful piece of the curriculum,” says Brash. “Students feel energized and they are able to see how the course applies to them and how they can utilize and apply it to their own lives.”
Depending on the educational material being offered through the University of Mary, a course can take anywhere from five to 10 weeks to complete. The university’s format in Watford City is to offer one class at a time so students can focus on that material and spend that resource there, then move on to the next course, says Brash.
“We’ve been meeting with a lot of businesses in Watford City to put together a schedule to find out what is needed here,” said Brash. “That way we can offer what is needed here. We should have a catalogue of class offerings soon.”
For undergraduate degrees, students need 124 credits to obtain their Bachelor’s Degree. However, the University of Mary takes into account an individual’s prior college credits, military credits, and/or life experience. Once that information is obtained, the school creates a customized degree plan for that individual so they know what it takes for them to get their degree. Brash says every one of the undergraduate degree plans is individualized for that person’s degree.
“Our graduate programs are a set package,” says Brash. “Each of those programs, depending on the degree and area of study, takes 15 to 20 months on average to complete. We want to offer continual undergraduate and graduate work. We’ve even been conversing with the school  administrators about getting a couple classes on-site to offer to the teachers. It’s going to be critical for us to be in the community and finding out what the need is so we know what to offer.”
“I think the University of Mary’s commitment to Watford City is evident in that we have an office here now, a staff person, and courses,” said Kristin Bolken, coordinator of Development and Partnerships for the University of Mary. “As a member of the Watford City community and as an employee of the University of Mary, I can say that people don’t understand that it’s not just convenient, there’s a safety factor too. To be able to stay in your home community and not have to go to Williston or drive the roads to other communities to receive college courses is huge.”
Bolken adds that Watford City needs to become a hub, where people don’t have to drive four or five hours to get what they need.
“From our very beginning conversations a few years ago, we knew that Watford City was and still is progressive and community-focused,” said Brash. “I can tell you that the administration has been energized at every meeting because the people and leaders of Watford City have been receptive to what we want to do. And what we want to do really goes back to our mission at the University.”
The University of Mary’s mission statement says that the University of Mary exists to serve the religious, academic and cultural needs of the people in this region and beyond. It takes its tone from the commitment of the Sisters of Annunciation Monastery, who founded the University in 1959 and continue to sponsor it today. It is Christian, it is Catholic, and it is Benedictine.
“The delivery system that we  have is finally tuned,” says Brash. “What’s different about Watford City is that it’s growing very quickly. To be in the midst of that fabric is a huge opportunity. We have the flexibility and the expectation from our president and the administration to expect us to be a part of that. Serving western North Dakota, through Watford City as its hub, is critical for us as an institution because we’re about being applicable and accessible.”