There wasn't any horsin' around when new University of Minnesota President Joan Gabel came to the Crookston campus Wednesday.

Well, actually, maybe there was a little fun.

Gabel visited the campus for the second time Wednesday, Nov. 6, and for the first time as president of the University of Minnesota system. Gabel had previously visited campus when she was interviewing for the job in December. Gabel became the 17th president of the University of Minnesota system on July 1.

Wednesday's visit involved meetings with faculty, staff and students, as well as other officials on the UMC campus.

She also met Max, a horse that is a part of UMC’s equine program. Gabel, though a bit hesitant, sat on the horse’s back and posed for a few photos Wednesday afternoon.

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But while that was all fun and games, Gabel said UMC's equine program, is a "gem" in the region and the country. The program is recognized nationally and draws a unique student base.

"It's a gem now, but I think the growth potential is in making sure people know the gem is there," Gabel said.

As enrollment in higher education institutions across the country continues to dip, Gabel said universities will need to lean on their unique programs to engage students. Gabel said there has not only been participation in the equine program from students who are majoring in the program, but also growth in students participating from related fields.

“I think that the schools that are doing well or better than well in this national trend that we've been discussing are (the schools) that lean into a distinction like that,” she said, speaking of UMC’s equine program.

Enrollment remained fairly steady at UMC this fall, with a slight bump in the student population. Overall enrollment was also up at the system level.

Gabel said it is important for people to know what kind of programs are available at UMC and to ensure the stories of those students are being told and told well.

The first few months

Gabel has been enjoying her first few months as president. She has met with leaders on the other four campuses in the system as a part of her inauguration process. Crookston was last on the list so Gabel could attend the university’s annual “Torch and Shield” donor and alumni dinner, which was held Wednesday evening.

“I feel great. I'm really glad to be here in Crookston and as a part of the University of Minnesota system,” she said.

Gabel said the interview process, which also involved visiting each of the campuses, gave her the opportunity to talk with campus leaders and better understand each campus.

Eleora DeMuth, a UMC student who also serves as a student representative on the University of Minnesota Board of Regents, said she is glad Gabel was able to visit the campus to "talk with the people that live this on a daily basis."

"I think that's something that she's been absolutely phenomenal at. I was at her inauguration and she spent time with us as students," she said. "That's something that I've ultimately been incredibly impressed with. And I think that really those connections that she's made in those conversations she's had gives a very realistic expectation of where we're at, but also potentially where we could be going."

Gabel’s visit to UMC also allows her to gain more insights from the campus for the system’s ongoing strategic planning, Gabel said.