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UMD Gets High Marks

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UMD: An A-Plus University for Students with Promise

Tim Dawson
Ricci Bender
Jayson Speters

What if you didn’t have straight A’s in high school? What if your high school didn’t even teach calculus? You might find a home at UMD. There are some top universities that will accept students of promise with less than stellar grades and test scores, and the University of Minnesota Duluth is one of them.

UMD has been recognized for “welcoming and challenging serious B students with a desire to succeed” in the just released U.S. News & World Report (USN&WR) issue of "America's Best Colleges.”  UMD is ranked among the top schools in the country for being an A-plus school for a B plus student. Only 37 Midwest regional universities received the designation. In addition to being a top-quality school, these universities admit a meaningful proportion of non-A students. 

UMD was also ranked first of any Minnesota Regional Public University and seventh in the Top Midwest Regional Public Universities category in the USN&WR 2013 edition. UMD also ranked 35th over-all among all Midwest Universities with Master's Programs (both public and private). 

UMD students who have brought their grades up to the top of the class credit it their advisors and professors. Tim Dawson, Ricci Bender, and Jayson Speters all have similar stories: they found success at UMD.

Tim Dawson
Tim Dawson got B's and even some C's in high school. “I just didn’t put the effort into it,” he said. “When I took Geometry and Algebra, everyone told me to study, but I was busy with other things.” Still, the Labovitz School of Business and Economics saw something in Dawson, and he was accepted.

“When I got to UMD, I realized I was paying money to go to school, and I needed to try harder,” said Dawson. “The more effort I put into a class, the easier it was to study. The more I studied, the better I did on the tests and the more interested I became in my classes.” In 2011, Dawson attended a presentation about the importance of learning to solve real-world business problems by Dan Fishback of DemandTec. “After that presentation, everything began to click,” Dawson said. “My math, statistics, and analytics classes made more sense.”

Dawson’s hard work paid off, he made the Dean’s List with a 3.8 GPA (grade point average). With the help of his advisor, Kurt Guidinger, he was accepted into the 2012 class of UMD’s new, competitive Marketing Analytics Program. Dawson’s hard work paid off in another way, he received Barron Memorial Scholarship, “I’m really excited to be in the Marketing Analytics Program,” he said. “It’s so good, the 2011 class all received paid summer internships at top Minnesota corporations.” Dawson said UMD’s advisors and faculty made the difference. “The director of the Marketing Analytics Program, Sara Pitterle, cares about all of us in the class. It’s a good feeling to have her on my side.”

Ricci Bender
Ricci Bender was a strong student in high school, but she says UMD definitely helped her find her way. “I was from a family with 12 kids in Northome, a small town far from any cities. I arrived at UMD without A-plus experiences.”

Ricci recalls a meeting with her advisor, Dr. Joanne Itami. “I liked all my classes, but I just didn’t know what to concentrate on. She asked me to make a list of subjects I was interested in and try each one. We talked about my favorite apple, Honeycrisp, and how impressed I was when I found out it was developed by the University of Minnesota. That’s when Dr. Itami suggested I work with Professor Clay Carter in plant biology.”

Bender was able to do undergraduate research with Carter. His research project works to understand genetically how plants make nectar. Bender worked in Carter’s lab during the school year and in the summer. After she graduated, she worked in his lab for a year.

This fall Bender began her first year of medical school.  “My family had some rough years,” Bender said. Some of her family members had health problems while she was an undergraduate student. “My exposure to the health care field made me want to use my career to impact patients.”

Bender said UMD deserves the ranking as an A-plus school for students with promise. “Faculty members took the time to get to know me,” she said. “They were invested in my personal life and personal story. They knew where to direct me so I had experiences to help me grow.”

Jayson Speters

Jayson Speters transferred to UMD after attending two universities in Utah. Speters was unhappy there. “Utah didn't allow me the artistic and professional experience I knew I'd need to make it in the entertainment industry,” he said. “There was no room to grow.”

Speters visited UMD and was impressed. He contacted one of the musical theatre professors, Kate Ufema, about applying to UMD and about the Dean's Talent Scholarship for Theatre. Ufema told Speters the scholarship had never been awarded to a student based on a DVD submission. “I sent the DVD anyway,” said Speters. “Then, even though my grades had fallen below a 3.0 GPA in Utah, UMD accepted me, and I received the scholarship.”

Ufema called Speters nearly every week after that. “She wanted me to be one hundred percent sure that I knew that I would have to work hard and train to become a professional when I got to UMD,” Speters said.

During his first year at UMD, Speters was cast in a number of plays including Target Behavior and the Greek play Medea. He is cast in two plays this coming year. "UMD brings in working professionals in the industry for the students benefit, for example, they are bringing New York songwriters Kait Kerrigan and Brian Lowdermilk." Being allowed to stretch and grow in his field allowed Speters to make the Dean's List and to earn a 4.0 GPA for his last semester. “I can’t say enough good things about my professors,” Speters said. “They’re just as involved in my success as I am; they are training us all to be successful professionals. This school saw that I could, one day, make it as a performer and took a chance on me.”

The (USN&WR) rankings are based on peer assessment, graduation and retention rates, faculty resources, student selectivity, financial resources and alumni giving. Complete rankings are published in the U.S. News & World Report Best Colleges 2013 guidebook.

Written by Cheryl Reitan, September 2012

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UMD home page editor, Cheryl Reitan,

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