He enriched lives
Potter’s focus on globalization bore fruit this fall with a school-record enrollment of 1,374 international students
“Our international students add vibrancy to our academic community, and their presence in our classes brings an important international perspective to all students,” Potter said in 2014.
Potter made those remarks at a gathering to celebrate the Heiskell Award and Simon Award, internationalization nods St. Cloud State shares with schools such as Wake Forest University and Carnegie Mellon University.
The awards were important, but Potter’s work was guided by a desire to open Central Minnesota to the world, to have fifth- and sixth-generation Euro-American students – the bulk of the student body – learning side-by-side with Nepalese, Chinese and Burkinabe.
The legacy of internationalization lives on, thanks to his pledge to double by 2019 the number of students studying abroad.
He changed lives
At the press conference following Potter’s death, Haji Yusuf ’09 summarized the St. Cloud State commitment to diversity, a charge Potter led in word and deed.
“He made this space safe for everyone, regardless of religion, color, sexual orientation, where you come from,” Yusuf said. “He was building a community. He was a bridge-builder.”
Potter’s passion was personal. When Walid Issa ’13 ’15 earned his master’s degree, but couldn’t collect his diploma because of an account balance in the business office, Potter acted. Issa wasn’t just any student, he was a refugee from Palestine, a Bethlehem kid who’d made good at St. Cloud State.
Issa recalls: “I received my diploma and a receipt informing me that my tuition has been paid fully by personal check from President Potter.”
Potter was also a bridge builder through academics and community partnerships. The Integrated Science and Engineering Laboratory Facility (ISELF) building is a lasting testament to that vision for college-community partnerships. When the building opened in fall 2013, “Education plus business collaboration — that’s the idea behind ISELF,” was the message from the Minneapolis Star Tribune’s editorial.
He saved lives
Early in his tenure Potter manned a cell phone that connected him with campus housing employees at St. Cloud Hospital and a conference room of administrators at the University. In the emergency room was a first-year student, battling the effects of alcohol poisoning, a life hanging in the balance.
He was a bridge-builder.”
— Haji Yusuf ’09
University employees and St. Cloud police officers walked the neighborhood, counseling residents to make responsible and respectful choices.
Potter directed staff members to work with the city of St. Cloud to enact laws that target binge drinking and underage drinking.
University leaders worked with the city to create the IMPACT Diversion Program. It gives people with a first or second citation for minor consumption an opportunity to avoid fines in exchange for learning about the impacts of high-risk drinking. Upon completion, minor-consumption charges are expunged from their records.
“Thanks to the IMPACT Diversion Program, repeat violations of the minor-consumption law are way down, falling from 12 percent in 2010 to 5.6 percent in 2015,” said Jen Sell-Matzke ’96, assistant dean of students.
College Health Survey results suggest a nearly 53 percent drop in high-risk drinking between 2005 and 2014.
He’s helping us make a difference
There’s more to be done to make students safer. Studying abroad presents enormous challenges for an increasingly cash-strapped student body. Anti-Muslim, anti-immigrant sentiments spike in response to real and imagined threats. The erosion of civility continues apace.
But, the work that bears Potter’s fingerprints goes on. The late Rabbi Alvin Fine, whose words were shared at the June 17 memorial, speaks to the power and courage of people, like Potter, who are committed to progress.
“From defeat to defeat to defeat, until, looking backward or ahead: We see that victory lies not at some high place along the way, but in having made the journey, stage by stage, a sacred pilgrimage.”