Last Wednesday I had the opportunity to visit the Dakota College campus in Bottineau. The reason for my visit was to meet a student and a staff member. What I found out, however, is having a lasting impression.
It’s obvious that the big guys; University of North Dakota, University of Mary, North Dakota State University, and Minot State University get most of the attention when it comes to higher education in North Dakota.
Some of that attention ought to be shifted, because after touring the Dakota College campus, it was obvious to me the students appear content, are learning the same things, getting the same experience and meeting friends, but just on a smaller scale.
One might argue that if all those things are in play, why not just go to UND or NDSU? The thing is, the small institutes like those at Bottineau, Mayville, and Valley City, also offer classes unique to that college or university.
Take, for example, the horticulture department at Dakota College. It’s thriving with a small staff and a small group of students. In fact, one student is in charge of that greenhouse and its aquaponics. When she enrolled, the responsibility was given to her, and she has embraced it.
Her name is Jess McInnes and right now, she is the perfect fit for the Dakota College horticulture department. Jess is a full-time student and not only works in the greenhouse, but has been rehearsing for a play that will happen Friday night on campus. If that isn’t enough, She is taking a Farm Beginnings course that isn’t related to her studies on campus.
Why would a young student take on all this extra work? First of all she loves it. She said the satisfaction of the work is more beneficial than the stress the extra work creates. There’s a reason for that, and it’s the staff that allows Jess to do her work as she sees fit, as long as she succeeds. And she’s the kind of person that if you delegate authority, she will succeed.
Jess is passionate about her work, her research and is always up to giving tours. In fact, she said there are a lot of students at Dakota College who have never been in the greenhouse. She strongly suggests that students just stop in there and see how unique this small-campus greenhouse really is.
They grow bananas, they grow pineapples, they grow citrus fruits, decorative plants, cacti, and many other plants such as hydroponic lettuce. It’s pretty impressive, and this young lady from Minnedosa, Manitoba is driving that train.
There are some other interesting things about Dakota College that may also be unique to a small town. One of them is a hockey team that either wins national championships or is always in the running for one. Another is not about academics or sports. It’s about what Dakota College does for Bottineau’s Main Street.
This community of about 2,000 is a county seat and is an agricultural hub near the Canadian border. That’s where it starts. In that respect, it’s just like other communities in North Dakota, the entire existence of it is based on farming or ranching.
Bottineau also has tourism. During the summer, hundreds of people stay in their cottages at Lake Metigoshe. In the winter, it’s skiing on the slopes north of town.
There’s also Dakota College with its 900 students. There’s no doubt it’s a tremendous boost for the local economy, because it represents a third of the local population that wouldn’t otherwise be there.
A couple of drives through Main Street and the side roads late on a Wednesday morning showed there were no parking spots, the downtown sector was thriving and people were on the streets on a cold day going from one store to another.
The cafes were swamped at noon, as were the grocery stores and hardware stores. It’s pretty impressive when you consider what this small town has going for it that includes Dakota College.
And when you talk to the students, they prefer the small-town atmosphere. They want to be in a small town like Bottineau, even though some of them have come from big cities like Denver, Calgary, or Sacramento.
My guess is the other communities with higher education such as Mayville, Valley City, Devils Lake, and even Dickinson are much the same in the experience they offer students.
Economically, it makes sense for these small communities to continue to thrive and academically it makes sense for students like Jess McInnes to follow their dreams with the education of their choosing.