Impact through immersion: Q&A with Jeanine Gangeness of WSU-Rochester

With more than 45 two- and four-year postsecondary institutions within 90 miles of Rochester, the city is a breeding ground for thinkers and innovators. The state’s strategic focus on world-class education is also positioning Minnesota as national leaders in workforce development.

DMC sat down with WSU-R’s associate vice president, Jeanine Gangeness, to learn more about the college’s presence in Rochester and plans for growth.

DMC: Winona State has long been a staple in Rochester’s educational environment, but what prompted the expansion into downtown?

Gangeness: There are several things that prompted the move. One would be that we were looking for space that met the needs of emerging programs. The other is that RCTC [Rochester Community and Technical College] is looking at a bonding project that will reduce their footprint by about 16,000 square feet. But that wasn’t the sole purpose. As you look at what Winona State University Rochester does, we do immersion work – and this about immersion.

DMC: Tell us more about this “immersion work.” What exactly does that mean?

Jeanine Gangeness

Gangeness: I’ll give you examples of our immersion work. We’ve been in Rochester for 100 years and one program that is hallmark Winona State is our teaching program. One of the immersion examples would be our classroom at the Riverside Elementary school. Our students take their classes at the elementary school surrounded by an elementary. That’s what immersion looks like. Another example is in our graduate nursing program. They have a long-term relationship with the Boys and Girls Club in doing research for their after-school program. They’ve found that, over five years of tracking eating and exercise, they now have statistically significant findings that the children in the after-school program are physically healthier today than they were five years ago.

DMC: What a great story to share here in America’s City for Health.

Gangeness: It is. And it’s been great for me, not being a Rochester native, to hear the stories of our students from the community’s perspective. [Our students and faculty] are a part of the fabric of the community and have been contributing for so long that we don’t always notice their impact. They’re working at IBM, Mayo Clinic, in the school system in high percentages. Their impact strengthens all of us.

DMC: WSU-Rochester has been a part of Rochester for a long time. In fact, the university here turns 100 this year. What does that mean for you? What does that mean for us?

Gangeness: It’s an exciting time for Rochester and for DMC, which means it’s a really exciting time for Winona State in Rochester as well. When I envision our collective futures in Rochester, I am incredibly moved and wonder if people truly realize what an opportunity being here now is for all of us.

DMC: What advantages do you see for WSU-R now that you are immersed in the DMC District?

Gangeness: I think DMC is about so much more than health care. It’s about every job role serving this community that is impacted by a shifting visitor population each day. That population needs to be served compassionately and with a functional level of cultural competence that is not earned in a one-day workshop, but I see here each day in a way you don’t see in other cities. There are ripples of compassion throughout all employment sectors.

DMC: You’ve been here for nearly two years now. What do you see in Rochester that’s different?

Gangeness: We’re a different community because of our business makeup. We have healthcare at our core, but every single career in this community serves the patient in some sense. I see it in restaurants and in retail stores. Employees here take the time to ask people what brought them here, how they’re doing. They may not be a nurse or a doctor, but they get it. People have taken on a caregiver approach here that is so pervasive that we don’t even recognize it anymore. For me, that’s what I’ve noticed the most. Compassion is just the way of being in Rochester.