Article Written by Mykaela Kappes. Photo credited to Robbyn Wacker.

St. Cloud State University President Robbyn Wacker announced in late November 2023 that she would be leaving her position effective June 30, 2024.

While conducting a one-on-one interview, President Wacker reflected on her time here at SCSU.

Since she arrived at SCSU in 2018, she has had many challenges to face. The first being the world-changing Covid-19 Pandemic.

Due to the pandemic, the University’s enrollment dropped, and everything was forced to move online in a matter of days. According to President Wacker, during the 18-month period of Covid-19, the university lost over $20 million in revenue. Community outreach was also impacted, due to the isolation rules and shutdown of in-person events.

However, through this challenge, President Wacker thought the growth and initiative it took the University to get through it was amazing; saying, “I think I will still reflect on what an amazing accomplishment for all the faculty and staff to take what they do in person and figure out how to keep operating so students can graduate. It was pretty remarkable.”

Another challenge President Wacker faced was the resistance to change surrounding the University.

“Higher education is changing rapidly,” President Wacker acknowledged, “How do you get a very diverse campus community of faculty, staff, and students to understand that our world is changing? Rapidly.”

Shifts in students’ needs have changed and students now look for changes within the University. There was some adversity towards these changes.

President Wacker said the main question was, “How do we address what people fear most about the change; address those fears so we can move forward and be adaptive and welcome the opportunity to reassess how we deliver our programs and engage with students.”

Even with the challenges came great success and growth towards a new future for the University.

Reflecting through all the success the University had made since 2018, President Wacker stated she is most proud of is the ‘It’s Time’ Strategic Vision.

According to President Wacker, the strategic plan focuses on, “What can we do different? How can we be a different kind of university?”

‘It’s Time’ brought the campus together and it was an entire campus community effort. ‘It’s Time’ has worked quite well since its installation. Enrollment is up 16.5% in new undergraduate students. Even more impressive, it is the first time since 2015 in which enrollment is up.

Within ‘It’s Time’, Husky Student Success was also created under President Wacker’s time. It offers extra support to students, providing a specific coach during the time a student is admitted until they graduate. This offers a large increase in support for students to make sure they have the guidance they need to graduate.

President Wacker believes, “The hardest thing you should do as a student is studying for your class. It shouldn’t be registering for classes or living on campus. We should be here to make sure those are taken care of, and you can worry about your classes.” She went on to say, “The forefront always has to be how are we serving students? Are we making sure the experience here is really the best it can be?”

‘It’s Time’s mission had to look at some difficult decisions, like program cuts due to the debt of the University President Wacker acknowledged, “I never thought when I was a faculty member that I would ever have to say we have to close a program.”

Since 2010, enrollment had dropped 34% when President Wacker arrived, and revenue was dropping while expenses were rising.

Reflecting on the cuts President Wacker had to make, she said, “You have to make those tough decisions in service to make sure the University can be the best it can be for its students.”

The question President Wacker faced through these budget challenges was “At the end of the day, how do we make sure this University is set for success in the future? That it is not just set to survive in the coming years but to thrive?”

The goal is to get the University to be able to focus on putting money towards upgrades in classrooms, technology and resident halls.

President Wacker received some negative feedback on these cuts but stands by the decisions saying, “You do it and it’s hard but it’s a service to the University as a whole and I did it to make sure I am leaving the University in the best possible condition I can. It’s also a service to the students.”

When asked about how President Wacker strengthened relationships in the community, her answer was simple yet effective: “Listen and learn. Ask how the University can better serve them.”

President Wacker made it a point to meet and learn about the community when she first arrived at SCSU. She met with schools, non-profit organizations, the business community, and other citizens of the community.

President Wacker serves on the board of The Greater St. Cloud Development Corporation which aims to drive economic development; to focus on how the city can be the best it can be and a place where people want to visit, live, and work in.

President Wacker also serves on the board of the Initiative Foundation which does great work around supporting small business, community, and issues such as childcare.

President Wacker and Mayor Kleis meet once a month to talk about initiatives and ideas, specifically around the downtown district of St. Cloud.

When asked about her own future, President Wacker is, “still exploring.”

She says she is and always has been passionate about higher education, “I’ll continue to serve and be a part of higher education in some way.”

She also looks forward to spending some time hiking, exercising and sleeping just a bit more.

President Wacker reflected on what she will miss most, saying, “I love the students. All the amazing students and faculty, the staff who respond for students and go the extra mile for students. The students are remarkable. It’s a group of students who all seem so grateful to be here. I have learned so much from the students, it has been a wonderful gift to get to know so many of the students and be a part of their journey, it’s a remarkable gift.”

President Wacker advice to students is simple yet important, “Don’t stop learning. Stay curious. Always be curious about the world and each other. Be kind to each other. We need that. We need to figure out how to better connect with each other. Be kind, compassionate, and empathetic. Take failure out of your mindset. Life is a journey to live and learn.”

Her biggest message for the students in the future? Pay it forward.

President Wacker said, “somebody helped me so I could get an education and my life’s commitment is how do I pay it forward? Somebody in each of our lives has supported or helped us, turn it around and do the same.”

President Wacker ended the reflection with gratitude, saying, “Thank you everyone for making it a remarkable six years. Thanks to the students for how committed they are to this University. It’s a gift I will always take with me. What a gift it has been to be here. I’ll always to be grateful to have been in this role and to apart of this amazing University.”

It’s no secret President Wacker will be deeply missed by many staff, faculty, students and the community. However, in the words of President Wacker herself, “Once a husky, always a husky.”

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