Dr. Susan Cosby Ronnenberg, dean of the College, and Dr. Eden Wales Freedman, vice provost for Faculties and Academic Affairs, joined the Saint Mary’s community as new administrators this past summer. Both have faced challenges but have also set goals they believe will benefit students and the university.
Before coming to Saint Mary’s, Dr. Cosby Ronnenberg worked as a department chair and assistant dean at Viterbo University in La Crosse, Wis. She said she was looking for opportunities to work as a full-time administrator and to work with an institution that’s focused on serving students and a community.
Dr. Wales Freedman worked as an English professor for many years and said she always had an interest in administration and understanding how universities work at a larger scale. She wants to do what she can to help universities thrive at that larger level, she said. She was brought to Saint Mary’s in particular, she said, because of her dedication to the university’s mission of awakening, nurturing, and empowering students to lives of ethical leadership and service.
Dr. Cosby Ronnenberg said she hopes to use her experiences as an academic leader to sustain and improve the good that is at Saint Mary’s. One of her main goals is to provide leadership for the Winona campus, she said. She is also dedicated to supporting faculty commitment to students and student learning. “Anything to support that work I am happy to do,” she said.
Some of Dr. Cosby Ronnenberg’s goals are yet to be determined, she said, as she is still learning how things are run. “I still don’t have a sense of how this semester works at Saint Mary’s,” she said. She plans to sit in on a few classes to meet students and see what the class environment is like.
A personal and professional goal for Dr. Wales Freedman is to do all she can to protect and advance higher education, she said. She had enormous educational privilege growing up, she said, and had the opportunities to pursue various degrees in her field. Not everyone has those opportunities, she said, and some students don’t have college on their radar as something that’s available to them. “I really want to make sure that’s not the case, that college is something that’s accessible to people,” she said. Dr. Wales Freedman said she believes that helping students pursue personal advancement will make the world a more just and equitable place.
Both Dr. Cosby Ronnenberg and Dr. Wales Freedman said it was challenging to start a new position in the middle of a pandemic. With everyone masked, it is difficult to meet and connect with people you don’t know, said Dr. Cosby Ronnenberg. Communicating over zoom has been difficult for both administrators. Dr. Wales Freedman said that so much of her job is listening, supporting, and advocating for students and faculty across multiple campuses, and this can be hard to do when she’s not physically close to them.
The administrators also agreed that the people at Saint Mary’s are kind and welcoming. “That was something I sensed with the search committee and it has definitely been true since I’ve gotten here,” said Dr. Cosby Ronnenberg. Dr. Wales Freedman said that it is clear everyone cares deeply about the students, the mission, and each other.
With all the changes that have occurred because of COVID-19, it is difficult to say what it will look like going forward for Saint Mary’s, the administrators said. Dr. Cosby Ronnenberg said that right now it looks like the spring semester is going to look a lot like the fall semester. No matter what the future holds, Dr. Wales Freedman said she believes everyone is doing the best they can to ensure the quality education and community feel that people can expect of Saint Mary’s.