It’s hard to put the rest of my findings into one coherent narrative. So I’ll give you some main thoughts on what has stuck out during my limited experience here:
- Ethnic diversity. With 56 percent of the student body non-white, Saint Paul College is one of the most diverse colleges in Minnesota. And I hear it time and time again from minority students — how diverse this place is, and how comfortable they feel here. “I fit in here,” said Jessica Tyler, the 30-year-old biracial culinary student. The student body is down to earth, friendly, genuine — not like the cast of Clueless at the community college she transferred from.
- Surprises.I didn’t go looking for “nontraditional students” such as 30-year-old Tyler, 50-year-old nursing student Linda Moore or our 55-year-old from art class, Joycelyn Joyce. But they’re out there front and center at Saint Paul College — taking classes, holding down jobs and raising families. But turn around and you’ve got Allen Lee (above, left), a general-education student who’s only 17 and in search of something to do in the way of clubs or sports. (They’re limited here, he says.) Or Suzy Vang, who’s considering auto technician classes because her dad’s a mechanic, and she likes to work with her hands. (Sure, she’s changed the oil and tires. But she’s also replaced engines.)
- Reputation. Suzy and Daisy Vang, 18-year-old twins from Hugo, said they decided to make the commute to St. Paul because their mother and high-school counselors “said St. Paul was the best” in last year’s Washington Monthlyrankings. Other students came because of the reputation of individual programs or relationships formed when they worked with or for instructors in the real world.
- Instructors who reach out. Daniel Paulnock, department chair for English, speech, reading and theater, gives his cell phone number to any student who needs it — a holdover from his days in the private sector, when clients could call him after hours. “My work has a lifetime warranty for my clients,” he told me. “I still get calls from my graduates.” So does culinary arts instructor Manfred Krug. Tyler says he tells them to call anytime they need help — even if it’s just that they’re drunk and need cab fare to get home. Students told me they get the feeling that many of the instructors care, and will go the extra mile to help them when they’re in a bind — and they appreciate it.