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 In and Out in Four Years

Six Graduating Seniors Share their Stories

Six of the hundreds of students who, on May 17, will graduate after four years at UMD: Shaili Sharma, Dana Lundquist, Gretchen Egeberg, Inthu Somasuntharam, Ryan Balow, and Brett Linski.

The University of Minnesota Duluth is trying to improve its graduation rates, and according to six graduating seniors, the plan is working.


UMD has instituted a number of incentives to help students get in and out of college fast. Advisors are trained to help students choose classes wisely and there is a clever online, interactive tool called Graduation Planner, that lets students view degree requirements, see what classes are offered, and plan for their graduation.

UMD also uses two financial incentives to lure students into the four-year mindset. Credit Banding allows students to pay a flat tuition rate for over 13 credits. Student can take 16, 18 or more credits a semester and pay the same as they do for 14 credits.

Another incentive is UMD's Four-Year Graduation Plan. UMD will cover an extra semester of tuition if students follow the guidelines and still are unable to graduate when courses in their major aren’t available.

Even though UMD is pulling out the stops to help students graduate faster, it doesn’t mean it will be easy. Here are the accounts of six UMD graduating seniors who reflected on what it took to be eligible for the cap and gown on May 18.


According to Inthu Somasuntharam, an international student from Sri Lanka, graduating in four years was a challenge, but it was possible. She's a bio-chemistry and chemistry double major. "I was a computer lab consultant for Information Technology Systems and Services," she said. "and I worked as a undergraduate research assistant, conducting research in a natural product chemistry laboratory." Even loaded with more than 15 credits each semester and while working two different jobs, she proved that planning and working toward a goal was the key to finish college on time.

Somasuntharam will complete her degree this semester and will move to Chaska, Minn. to work as a research associate for a biochemical company before she goes on to one of the three graduate schools that have accepted her.


Ryan Balow, a communication major, pointed out that the good communication with his advisor was an important element for meeting his college requirements. “I didn’t necessarily plan to graduate in four years when I first got into college, but I was always talking to my advisor and it ended up working out,” said Balow. Another factor that helped Balow was UMD accepted his high school post-secondary classes for full credit. After four years at UMD, Balow is about to realize a long time dream... he has been accepted into the Peace Corps. He won’t leave for his community development assignment in Eastern Europe until May 2009 but until then, he’s looking for work in the communication field as a photographer and graphic designer.


Brett Linski, a music performance major, said that his department handbook was extremely helpful. “It explained step-by-step how to graduate in the shortest amount of time.” The fact that Linski received a scholarship that only lasted four years was also a factor. “I had a community scholarship, and that was a big motivator,” he said. “I greatly appreciated the support and would not have been able to succeed without it.” Linski, who also had some credits transfer to UMD from high school, was able to pick up an English minor just for fun. “The English classes were a nice break,” he said. Linski, is an oboe player with hopes of someday getting a job in an orchestra. This spring he logged thousands of miles as he auditioned for a spot in graduate schools across the country. The travel paid off. After he graduates next week, Linski will move on to graduate school at the Moores School of Music within the University of Houston.


Choosing a career is not always easy. Even after a year, many students aren’t confident about their choice for a major and in Shaili Sharma’s case that almost got in the way of moving through UMD at a steady pace.

Sharma discovered after her second year as a biology major that chemical engineering was a better fit for her. After moving to the engineering department, her semesters got heavier. “It was really hard, but I just wanted to do it,” she said. “I had to take six classes at a time and I was working 20 hours for ITSS and doing research in the lab on top of that.” The heavy class load didn’t stop her. Sharma plowed through and is graduating this semester. Her next stop is Purdue to attend graduate school in bio-medical engineering. In addition to her studies and academic goals, Sharma, an international student from Nepal, has a bigger plan. Eventually, she wants to start a bio-medical engineering company in her hometown.


Gretchen Egeberg, a marketing major, says that getting done in four years was no easy task. “It was hard,” she said. “I was very busy.” It was especially difficult for Egeberg because she studied abroad, completing a May term in Bulgaria and a January term in India. Adding to her responsibilities as a student were extracurricular activities such as her role as officer in Admar, the advertising marketing club, her participation in a number of intramural sports and an internship in the Kirby Student Center. After graduation, Egeberg leaps from the college classroom right into the corporate world. She starts at the Target Corporate headquarters as an Executive Team Leader in July.


Dana Lundquist, a Spanish major, worked student teaching into her four-year graduation plan, but only by taking on-line classes at the same time. She had to keep up with her assignments, post on-line responses weekly, and physically meet the class three times in the semester. All her on-line work was in addition to teaching 9th through 12th graders. “Every day I need to prepare to teach four Spanish classes,” she said. “It’s a lot of fun.” Lundquist has even more on her plate. She has two jobs at UMD: one in the Admissions Office , and another at the Kirby Information Desk. Lundquist hopes to find a teaching job in the Denver area upon her graduation.


These six students, like others in the state and across the country, had to stay focused. "It's always a challenge to complete a bachelor's degree in four years,” said Randy Hyman, vice chancellor for academic support and student life at UMD. “Many of our students work part-time, often because they need the money to pay college expenses."

The graduation rate issue affects all of Minnesota. A report released in March 2008 by the Minnesota Office of Higher Education points out that fewer than 40 percent of students at Minnesota's colleges and universities graduate in four years.

At the moment, UMD does a pretty good job. It compares much more favorably than some schools but does worse when compared with private colleges. While MnSCU system state schools have a four-year graduation rate of 20.6 percent, in 2006, the last year statistics were available, UMD had a four-year graduation rate of 26 percent and a five-year rate of 54 percent.

UMD's goals include significant improvement in the current graduation rate. The university is aggressively supporting students in their efforts. “By the year 2012, we want UMD’s four-year graduation rate to be at least 40 percent,” said Hyman. And with Graduation Planner, Credit Banding and the Four-Year Graduation Guarantee, students will have good tools to work with.


Graduation Planner

Credit Banding: Tuition and Fees

Four-Year Graduation Plan

UMD's Initiative to Improve Graduation Rates

by Cheryl Reitan with Thomas Gadbois and Mariana Osorio

UMD home page editor, Cheryl Reitan,
NEW RELEASES, UMD media contact, Susan Latto,, 218-726-8830



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