Bison Bridge program helps first-generation students transition into college life

Starting college is a big transition, especially for students who are the first in their families to pursue a degree. NDSU’s Bison Bridge Program helps first-year, first-generation college students navigate the university world and establish a support system, so they have the tools they need to succeed.

Alexis Carney brought her dream of becoming a physical therapist to NDSU. But she brought some jitters, too.

She was worried that college would be too hard (she made the dean’s list), that she’d walk into a wrong classroom and be mortified (she did once, but it was no big deal), that she wouldn’t make friends (she had a group of buddies before classes even started).

This fall Carney, a sophomore from Moorhead, Minnesota, is sharing the lessons of her first year with a new group of freshmen. They are members of Bison Bridge, a program that helped Carney get off to a good start.

Bison Bridge is for first-year, first-generation, multicultural students. It addresses common concerns many students have when they start college and helps the students establish a home-away-from-home support system.

Lower retention rates for students in this demographic is a trend at colleges and universities throughout the country. Students who drop out often report it’s because they feel overwhelmed and alone, said Kara Gravley-Stack, director of diversity initiatives at NDSU. “Research shows programs like Bison Bridge can help.” 

Bison Bridge brings students to campus a week before classes start. They are introduced to student services, such as the Center for Writers and ACE Tutoring, that can help them succeed in classes. They get familiar with campus before 14,000 other students show up. They develop relationships with other students in the program and Bison Bridge staff. And they learn the door is open.

Carney turned to a Bison Bridge staff member when she was worried about a challenging class. The staff member helped her identify what she could do to help herself.

“They are very welcoming,” she said of the staff. “They say, ‘we want you to come in. We’ll talk for 10 or 15 minutes.’”

The program is entering its second year with strong momentum. The new class has 18 participants. Gravley-Stack expects 12 of 13 participants from last year’s inaugural class to return this fall. “What’s really exciting is the academic progress our students are making, their awareness of student services, the connections they are making to leadership activities and the sense of community that has been forged,” she said.

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NDSU welcomes incoming students

NDSU’s incoming class was officially welcomed to fall semester by Provost Beth Ingram; Timothy Alvarez, vice president for student affairs; Sarah Russell, student body president; and Hilary Haugeberg, student body vice president, during ceremonies Aug. 25. The students were led through the university gates and gathered on the mall area near Old Main.

Addressing the freshmen, Alvarez said they are joining an outstanding university and expectations are high.

“This is an exciting and unprecedented time to be at NDSU,” he said to the crowd. “We are a student-focused, land-grant research university and you’re part of one of our largest freshman classes. Your success is really linked to our success. You’re one of the most academically talented groups of students we’ve ever had at NDSU, so I think you deserve a round of applause.”

Russell and Haugeberg offered suggestions for the freshmen, wishing them a successful start to their collegiate careers.

“If we were to give you one piece of advice, for me, it would be to get involved,” said Haugeberg, urging students to take part in Welcome Week events to find activities of interest. “We have so many organizations and opportunities for students to be involved, whether that is in a professional organization, recreational organization or maybe a service opportunity.”

Meantime, Russell said her advice for incoming students is to build lasting relationships. “Reach out. Make new friends, whether with your peers, faculty members or administrators,” Russell said. “Take this week to get to know the people around you.”

Alvarez also introduced Mark Randklev, one of the first students to be admitted for fall semester. Randklev is a marketing major from Minnetrista, Minnesota.

Randklev said he was looking forward to the academic and social challenges of collegiate life, and he said he wanted to meet each of his classmates. “I would like to challenge each of you here today to not settle for mediocrity. We’re coming to college with a fresh start; there is nothing holding us back,” said Randklev, who is the son of Keith and Beth Randklev. “Let’s be the leaders, innovators and role models that we’ve looked up to our whole lives. We can be the people that we want to be. So, let’s go do that.”

The Gold Star Marching Band, NDSU Yell Leaders and cheer team added music and school spirit to the welcome event. As the ceremony wrapped up, students received NDSU T-shirts to wear to football games and other campus activities.

NDSU is recognized as one of the nation’s top 108 public and private universities by the Carnegie Commission on Higher Education.

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Welcome planned for new NDSU students


NDSU will greet new students during a welcome celebration scheduled for Monday, Aug. 25, from 1 p.m. to 1:30 p.m.

Timothy Alvarez, vice president for student affairs, and Sarah Russell, student body president, will address the incoming class and lead them as a group through the university gates, located at the corner of University Drive and 12th Avenue North.

“This is an exciting and unprecedented time to be at NDSU,” Alvarez said, noting this will be one of NDSU’s largest freshman classes. “I will share with our incoming students that our student-focused, land-grant research university has had exceptional success in the academic rigor of our classes, research opportunities and our athletics. I will discuss how our success as a university is inextricably linked to their success as students.”

Alvarez also will introduce Mark Randklev, one of the first students admitted for fall semester. Randklev, a marketing major from Minnetrista, Minnesota, is the son of Keith and Beth Randklev.

Randklev said he is excited to begin classes at NDSU and to meet other students. “I want to challenge myself in the classroom, and develop the skills I need to help me grow intellectually and socially,” he said. “I am looking forward to learning more about my major than I ever have, but I’m also excited to live the college life.”

Randklev’s message to fellow students will include a challenge to pursue success. “Let’s go out and leave our mark on the school. Let’s never settle for mediocrity,” he said. “Let’s be the best in the classroom, on the field and in our lives. Let’s be the people we’ve always wanted to be. Let’s become the leaders, innovators and role models that we have looked up to our whole lives.

Fall semester classes begin Aug. 25 at 4 p.m., with the first full day of classes on Tuesday, Aug. 26.

NDSU is recognized as one of the nation’s top 108 public and private universities by the Carnegie Commission on Higher Education.

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NDSU event to introduce public to animal agriculture

“Moos, Ewes and More,” the NDSU Department of Animal Sciences’ annual free, family-friendly event, is scheduled for Saturday, Sept. 6, at the NDSU Equine Center on 19th Avenue North in Fargo.

The event, which is designed to expand the public’s knowledge of animal-related agriculture, will run from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.

Participants will experience interactive, hands-on agriculture and animal demonstrations and enjoy dairy product treats and food by Carnivore Catering. This year, a mix of new and traditional activities include stick horse races for children, the chance to bottle feed a calf, see research in action and learn about showing livestock and sheep shearing. “Ask the Animal Scientist” and horsemanship demonstrations also are planned.

The public will meet the animals that call NDSU home, the farm managers who care for them, and the faculty and staff who teach and conduct research in the animal sciences department.

“We strive to provide a fun, educational event that reconnects people to where their food comes from and give the community a glimpse of what NDSU is doing to support agriculture and animal sciences in North Dakota and beyond,” said Stacey Ostby, co-director of the department’s Veterinary Technology Program and co-chair of Moos, Ewes and More.

For more information, contact Ostby at or visit

NDSU is recognized as one of the nation’s top 108 public and private universities by the Carnegie Commission on Higher Education.

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NDSU researchers to appear in World Channel documentary



The film “Ice People,” which features NDSU researchers, has been selected by ITVS to be part of “Global Voices,” a critically acclaimed international documentary television series. It is scheduled to air Sunday, Aug. 24, at 10 p.m. EST on the World Channel.

In 2006, Emmy Award-winning filmmaker Anne Aghion spent four months at the U.S. research station McMurdo, and camped out for seven weeks in Antarctica’s Dry Valleys region with Allan Ashworth, emeritus University Distinguished Professor of geology; Adam Lewis, assistant professor of geology; and former NDSU students Kelly Gorz and Andrew Podoll as the researchers studied fossilized vegetation in ancient lakebeds.

“Making the film was an enjoyable experience, start to finish,” Lewis said of the project with Aghion and her video crew, noting they have made films around the world. “During the filming, it was interesting to see how Anne’s take on geology and a natural, physical science was pretty different from ours. She looked at it artistically and wanted to know about our connection with the Antarctic landscape; she had a romantic take on it. But, we kept telling her we were trying to answer a question.”

Lewis said Aghion’s film helps put research into terms the public can easily understand. “Anne’s film is beautiful and I love the music she had composed for it, but the real value for me is that anyone who’s interested can see science being done,” he said. “It’s an exceptionally beautiful piece of work that will introduce people to the every-day job of science as well as our wider motivations.”

In 2005, Aghion was awarded a prestigious Guggenheim Fellowship to pursue her independent filmmaking goals. Included in her projects are “In Rwanda We Say … The Family That Does Not Speak Dies,” which received an Emmy Award in 2005 and “Gacaca, Living Together Again in Rwanda?” She earned a degree in Arab language and literature from Barnard College at Columbia University in New York.

NDSU is recognized as one of the top 108 public and private universities by the Carnegie Commission on Higher Education.

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Custom-built kiln gives students unique educational experience

NDSU’s visual arts department designed and built a wood-fired kiln to give students a unique, hands-on learning experience. The custom-made tool immerses students in the process of creating one-of-a-kind pottery and provides experience working cooperatively to achieve a larger goal.

For seven years, David Swenson and Dan Siverson of the NDSU visual arts department planned. They consulted. They designed. They labored. They bought materials when the department had money for it. They labored more.

In spring 2012, they stood back and looked at what they built: a custom-made wood-fired kiln that gives students greater insight into the process of creating one-of-a-kind pottery and experience working together to achieve a larger goal. A wood kiln is a rare find in college art programs.

“I wanted it to be really thoughtful and really well planned out, so it would last a long time,” said Swenson, associate professor who specializes in ceramics and sculpture. He drew on his experience from five previous kilns he built or helped build.

The NDSU Wood Kiln is located on the ground floor of Renaissance Hall, home of NDSU’s visual arts and architecture and landscape architecture departments. The building showcases work of faculty and blossoming artists and architects. The kiln, too, is beautiful and functional, a carefully crafted work of art.

The visual arts program emphasizes using local materials and environmental responsibility. The orange brick covering the outside of the 26-foot-long rectangle is from Hebron, a town in western North Dakota known for brick produced there. Much of the kiln’s innards—a layer of common brick and a layer of insulation brick—are salvaged materials. The builders used bricks from an old kiln and a discarded step from another building on campus.

Meg Roberts, BFA ’12, ceramics, was involved with construction of the kiln starting in 2009. She hauled and stacked brick, mixed mortar and laid bricks. It was repetitive, physical work, but she learned some important lessons. Attention to detail was a major emphasis.

“If you laid a brick kind of wonky and said to yourself, ‘good enough,’ it could have a noticeable impact on the next row you lay and so on,” she said. “That one brick has the potential to help or harm your future work. There were many times that we’d lay a row and come back the next day only to have to take it apart and start again.”

Brick by brick, the kiln and its builders’ investment in the project, grew. That sense of community and cooperation is what the visual arts program works to foster in students.

Every student takes a turn working in the basement of Renaissance Hall to turn vats of fine soil particles into smooth cakes of clay. The soil, like the brick of the kiln, is from western North Dakota.

The program could buy bags of prepared clay, Swenson said. But then the students “would miss out on a level of developing a relationship with the material.”

Firing the kiln

The inaugural firing of the NDSU Wood Kiln was in October 2012 during NDSU Homecoming. Students, faculty, alumni and local artists brought their work to go through the two-week firing process.

Students are involved in every step of the firing, from stacking wood to taking four-hour shifts on a team monitoring the kiln. “It’s a community-building thing,” Swenson said. “Students learn they can accomplish more together than by themselves.”

More than a 1,000 pieces are stacked every which way in the kiln’s two chambers—one for green ware and the other for glaze ware. The way the pieces are arranged is called tumble stacking, which is akin to wedging as many dishes as possible into a dishwasher. The tumble stacking is one of the factors that affects how the finished product looks. The pattern is created by the way each piece is licked by flames or touched by ash.

Then the kiln is closed.  It takes a couple people, with the help of a pulley, to guide the massive door into place. It is 9 feet wide by 10 feet tall and is similar in weight to a mid-size SUV at 3,800 pounds. The door is sealed with clay to keep out oxygen.

The lighting of the NDSU Wood Kiln is an event, as kiln lightings have been since ancient times. The American Ceramics Society says the first ceramic figurines were made as early as 24,000 BC. Swenson said the lighting of the fire has traditionally been a ceremonial event of spiritual significance in many cultures.

At NDSU, the lighting of the kiln is celebrated with brief speeches about the work of the artists and a sparkling cider toast. The inferno is dramatic and awe-inspiring.  It exceeds 1,100 degrees, making it nearly as hot as lava. The fire is watched and stoked for a week. Then it cools for a week.

The artists don’t know what they will find when they open the kiln. The size and shape of the pots, the way they are stacked, the weather, type of wood and the length of time the work is fired all affect what the final product looks like.

Michael Strand, head of the visual arts department, describes the opening of the kiln as a big, warm present. Swenson describes it as a contemplative time, like looking for pretty rocks in a lake.

The kiln has been fired seven times. An eighth firing is planned for this fall.

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New research explores student-parent communication


It’s a fundamental communication question in today’s busy world: Do I call or text? In particular, how do college students decide which method to use when contacting their parents?

New research at NDSU indicates that decision is often determined by time and schedule.

Carrie Anne Platt, NDSU associate professor of communication, and doctoral students Renee Bourdeaux and Nancy DiTunnariello looked into these questions. Their findings were recently published in Emerald Studies in Media and Communication in the article, “Should I text or should I call?: How college student navigate mediated connections with family.”

In the study, in-depth interviews were conducted with 22 students. They were asked about their communication habits, frequency of communication and which technology they used, including calling, texting, emailing or using social media like Facebook or Instagram.

The results showed some recurring themes.

Most students said they are in almost daily contact with their parents. And they manage that while juggling schedules that often include classes, internships and part-time jobs.

The students also worried about interrupting their parents, because they, too, have a lot going on.

“Students prefer to text. They found it easier and more convenient, particularly with their busy schedules,” explained Platt, who teaches courses in new media and technology. “They wouldn’t have time to sit down for a conversation, but they could shoot a text off to mom to check in. They could still feel a connection without having to devote the time a phone call would require.”

According to Platt, the determining factor is efficiency. Can it be handled in series of texts or will a short phone call take less time?

The researchers also found there were specific times the students felt a phone call is necessary.

“If something was of high emotional importance or they wanted support from mom or dad, that was the situation where they tended to call,” Platt said. “We had a lot of the students say there is something about hearing mom’s voice or getting to talk to dad that makes them feel better, and they didn’t get that same feeling texting back and forth.”

According to Platt, another factor that prompted students to make phone calls was efficiency. If the topic of conversation was too complicated to be handled in a series of texts, they would make a short phone call to save time.

Platt said the research ultimately showed students want to stay connected with their parents.

“Many students wished they had the opportunity to talk more often with their parents. They felt they get a lot out of the interaction, but they didn’t have the time to do it,” Platt said. “When asked what advice they had for new students, they said incoming students should make time for phone calls, because they are important to maintain that connection.”

The work may trigger further research. Platt said it would be interesting to look at the parents’ perspective, communication with siblings and how the type of communication affects the quality of student-parent relationships.

Platt joined the NDSU faculty in 2008. She earned her bachelor’s degree from Carroll College in Helena, Montana; her master’s degree from Wake Forest University; and her doctorate from the University of Southern California.

NDSU is recognized as one of the nation’s top 108 public and private universities by the Carnegie Commission on Higher Education.

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Student starts nonprofit organization to save lives with swimming lessons

Jonathon McCarthy, right, and Andrew Moe spent 12 days this summer in Kathmandu, Nepal, teaching swimming lessons to children.

New NDSU graduate Jonathon McCarthy wants to save children’s lives with swimming lessons.

His idea—giving access to swimming lessons in areas around the world with high drowning rates—was made a reality by participating in Innovation Challenge ’14, NDSU’s third annual student innovation competition. 

The competition, sponsored by the NDSU Research and Technology Park, provides an organized way for students to present ideas, earn prize money and learn more about the process of turning ideas into a viable organization or business. 

McCarthy won the top prize in the service category of the competition. The $5,000 award provided the bulk of the money necessary for McCarthy to begin teaching children to swim this spring in Nepal.

However, the prize money was just part of the competition’s benefits. Innovation Challenge also helped McCarthy cultivate the idea and provided valuable input from others on how to bring the project to fruition.

It helped him to begin saving lives.  

McCarthy, 21, discovered that drowning is a major problem in many underdeveloped countries. He learned that it is the third leading cause of unintentional death worldwide. In some countries, it’s the leading cause of unintentional death for children.

But he couldn’t find organizations dedicated to drowning prevention. It didn’t appear solving this problem was a priority for anyone.

So he brainstormed and came up with the idea for an organization to provide free swimming lessons to children around the world. The student innovation competition provided the platform for refining his idea.

And this spring, McCarthy brought Aqua Motion International to life. He spent 18 days in Nepal, where monsoon season brings flash floods and new bodies of water that can be deadly for children who can’t swim. 

He and a group of more than 36 Nepalese instructors taught basic swimming lessons to about 2,000 children over 12 days in May and June. The three-day sessions were spread out over four pools in Kathmandu. 

McCarthy also instructed teachers from about 50 schools in Nepal on teaching children how to hold their breath, float, tread water and develop a basic front safety stroke. Those teachers hopefully will be able to instruct additional children each year to help save more lives, McCarthy said.

Andrew Moe, an accounting major from Pequot Lakes, Minn., documented the trip to Nepal with a pair of video cameras. The footage will be used to show potential corporate partners and donors the impact of the swimming lessons.

Moe and McCarthy partnered for the innovation competition victory. Both students also were members of Entrepreneurs of NDSU, a campus organization that helps move student business ideas into a working business plan.

The project in Nepal was a continuation of years of swimming instruction for McCarthy, a management major from Coon Rapids, Minn.

The former high school swimmer began teaching summer lessons at age 16 in his family’s backyard pool. McCarthy started with about 10 children per week, and grew the business to 75 children per week in the fifth year.

“We would love to be able to eventually grow this organization, so we could bring portable pools to rural areas to teach lessons,” McCarthy said of Aqua Motion International. “We would love to make it a worldwide organization.” 

Registration for Innovation Challenge ’15 will open in September. Watch for details.

NDSU is recognized as one of the nation’s top 108 public and private universities by the Carnegie Commission on Higher Education.

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Two NDSU representatives to present at Health Pitch 2014


Donald Warne, director of NDSU’s Master of Public Health program, and senior Andrew Dalman are scheduled to give presentations at Health Pitch 2014, a community event to showcase ideas on improving health care. Hosted by non-profit healthcare provider Family HealthCare, the second annual event is set for Aug. 14 at 3:30 p.m. at The Stage at Fargo’s Island Park.

Health Pitch 2014 gives a platform for healthcare providers, solution providers, educators and the public to hear ideas about solving healthcare issues and improving the well-being of the community. The event will feature 15 regional leaders who have three minutes to “pitch” their idea for innovation in the field of healthcare and wellness. Some topics will include mobile healthcare apps, new medical technologies and mental health awareness.

“I will discuss the need for a Preservation and Advancement of Traditional Healing program, known as PATH, in which we would work with traditional healers and medicine men from regional tribes to ensure the development of apprenticeship programs in a culturally appropriate manner,” Warne explained. “Many tribes are losing their traditional healers, and traditional cultural approaches could be significant and important in addressing contemporary health issues, including diabetes, heart disease, cancer, substance abuse and other conditions.”

According to Warne, the PATH program could provide resources to tribes and to healers to ensure that their cultural healing traditions are passed on to future generations. He said the NDSU Master of Public Health program could be a valuable partner in the process.

Dalman, who is a manufacturing engineering major from Minneapolis, is a University Innovation Fellow of the National Center for Engineering Pathways to Innovation.

The event’s keynote speaker is scheduled to be Shane Waslaski, president and CEO of Intelligent InSites, a software company.

Tickets are $25 and can be purchased online at All proceeds will support Family HealthCare.

NDSU is recognized as one of the nation’s top 108 public and private universities by the Carnegie Commission on Higher Education.

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Research program seeks solutions for Bakken dust impacts

Clouds of dust carried by prairie winds can impact everything from soil to crops, animals, humans and the environment. A team at NDSU is combing through proposals from NDSU researchers to help develop solutions focused on road dust issues stemming from oil and gas development in the Bakken region in western North Dakota. NDSU President Dean L. Bresciani has made available $350,000 in potential research funding for NDSU researchers.

“Economic successes of the area have led to increased traffic and associated road dust that have created impacts that are not yet fully known. The research funded under NDSU’s Road Dust Program will help quantify and qualify impacts and create solutions to help alleviate dust issues,” said Bresciani. “As a land-grant institution, we strive to engage in activities such as this one to benefit the state and its citizens. Such research programs also present opportunities for students who can see the impact that they can make by being involved in research, using their skills in real world applications that can ultimately benefit communities.”

NDSU faculty had until July 21 to apply for the program, which offers research seed funds. Under criteria, the proposed research must: quantify and/or qualify road dust emissions; evaluate agricultural health impacts (crops, livestock and rangeland) from road dust; evaluate ecological impacts from road dust; and develop techniques or technologies to control road dust emissions.

North Dakota oil production surpassed more than 1 million barrels per day in June 2014, making the state’s oil production second only to Texas. There are more than 10,600 wells in production in North Dakota with the potential for thousands of additional wells to be developed. Oil produced in North Dakota represents more than 12 percent of all oil produced in the U.S. Increased truck traffic from energy development activity and accompanying economic growth can result in higher road dust emissions. NDSU’s road dust research program serves to augment the excellent work conducted by other entities, providing additional information and potential solutions.

“Research can measure the amount of dust emitted from road traffic, quantify the types of road dust emitted, evaluate the impacts dust has on agriculture, humans and the ecosystem, and develop strategies that help mitigate road dust emissions,” said Kelly A. Rusch, vice president for research and creative activity at NDSU. The research projects ultimately selected must be completed in no more than two years. “The goal is to provide quantifiable information and most importantly, provide the information to citizens, state and community leaders who can use such data for strategic planning and dust remediation,” said Rusch.

NDSU’s Office of Research and Creative Activity is assembling a panel of external and internal members to review the proposals for potential research funding. It is anticipated that the review process will be completed by late August, with awards beginning approximately Sept. 1, 2014.

Initial applications for funding represent research spread across many disciplines at NDSU, including: soil science, animal science, natural resource management, engineering, transportation, pharmaceutical science, geosciences, computer science, plant science, sociology and others. Upon final selection, grants to be awarded will range from up to $15,000 for individual research projects and up to $60,000 for multidisciplinary teams of researchers.

Prior to the road dust research program, NDSU faculty and student researchers have been engaged in providing data and information to assist community leaders in western North Dakota and others affected by the state’s burgeoning energy sector. Researchers at NDSU have evaluated workforce characteristics in the Bakken, assisted cities with population projections to plan for the future, and compiled data on jobs and investment. Faculty also conduct research to assist law enforcement and community leaders as they work to match enforcement needs to population changes in western North Dakota.

Other NDSU scientists analyze North Dakota clay samples to determine composition and suitability for processes used in oil extraction. Additional scientists offer expertise in sensors that can monitor equipment and provide expertise in corrosion that can lead to pipeline degradation. NDSU representatives, including the Extension Service, are among those participating to find answers to challenges of an economic boom. NDSU faculty researchers in natural resources are evaluating native grassland reclamation methods to reestablish native vegetation and restore landscape in partnership with a pipeline company. Additional NDSU researchers will be studying groundwater in the Bakken region.

“Land-grant universities and our research partners can play integral roles in solving 21st century challenges in the state we serve,” said Bresciani.

NDSU is recognized as one of the nation’s top 108 public and private universities by the Carnegie Commission on Higher Education.

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