Mary Holz-Clause, the freshly appointed chancellor of the University of Minnesota-Crookston, is well-versed in the perks and challenges of farming the Midwest.
An Iowa native and alumna of Iowa State University, Holz-Clause balances her life in academic administration with the long-term ownership and operation of a cattle feedlot in her home state. Her background in agriculture education puts her in good company at the ag-heavy UMC, but her experience isn't limited to the waving Midwestern seas of corn, wheat and soybeans.
If prompted, Holz-Clause can also fill you in on the agribusiness landscape of Afghanistan, where she spent time working with local farmers to establish markets more immune to swinging commodity prices. In a country fraught with conflict and competition from the opium poppy cash crop, Holz-Clause and her team had their work cut out for them in their efforts to inject a more cooperative business model with ties to extension services offered by American universities.
There are decidedly fewer pomegranate fields in northwest Minnesota than one might find in Afghanistan, but for Holz-Clause, the focus on outreach remains the same.
"I've been on both coasts, and being back in the Midwest where there's a real community value was important" when considering UMC, she said.
She was serving as the dean of the college of agriculture at Cal-Poly Pomona when she was chosen last spring for the top office at the Crookston campus. She officially started her tenure June 30 and has been getting a feel for the university and the area during the relative lull of midsummer.
The quieter days of a college campus on summer break afford some time to think. For Holz-Clause, that has included a focus on how to further the engagement of her university with the wider community. She notes a sense of "common purpose" that she feels in Crookston and has seen in other university towns and, while she's still getting her bearings in a new town, one of her earlier takeaways is that it's "part of our heritage that we are present" in the fabric of the region.
To build on that presence, Holz-Clause intends to keep pushing students to make the most of the experiential learning opportunities she feels UMC is known for. She also wants to work more closely with local industry to get a better idea of the kinds of skills they need to advance in a changing economy.
When describing her goals for campus, Holz-Clause emphasizes the importance of "fit."
She's interested in fine-tuning UMC's enrollment strategy to better figure out the demographics it serves now and those it could better reach in the future. Once students have been recruited, Holz-Clause wants to be better at keeping them at school and on track to timely graduation, boosting retention and graduation rates.
Those goals are common across higher ed in general, but Holz-Clause believes UMC is well-positioned to make good on them. She speaks highly of the university's ability to leverage its ties with the larger University of Minnesota system, its wide reach in the realm of online education and its campus, which she describes as a particularly scenic asset.
So far, she's spent much of her time with faculty and staff to better hone her understanding of what the university brings to the table. With the academic year poised to begin, she's ready to do the same with the university's students.
"I'm looking forward to the students coming back ... to hearing their stores and what UMC has given them," Holz-Clause said.