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DWU plants seeds for new business, community leaders

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by Erik Kaufman for the Mitchell Republic, Sept. 23, 2021

The landscape is literally changing at Dakota Wesleyan University.

That was on display Thursday morning as school leaders, students, faculty and members of the public gathered to dedicate the School of Business, Innovation and Leadership, a new campus building that will house the Ron and Sheilah Gates College of Business, Education and Social Sciences as well as the Musick Family Department of Business.

Under sunny skies and mild September temperatures, representatives of the school offered thanks to the project’s supporters and also expounded on what the new building means for the future of the school, its students and the community that hosts it.

“We believed that a facility of this size and scope was needed not just for Dakota Wesleyan University, but for the region,” Theresa Kriese, interim president for Dakota Wesleyan University, told the assembled crowd. “This is a place that will allow Dakota Wesleyan University to plant the seeds to grow future business leaders.”

The new campus addition has been a long time coming. Looking to consolidate its business school under one roof, the school applied for federal funding sources to help make that vision a reality in 2018. The United States Department of Agriculture awarded the school a $14.5 million loan that would be used primarily for the construction of the building.

Also contributing monetarily to the construction cost were over 60 community members. Two of the primary donors were Ron and Sheilah Gates as well as Roger and Vicki Musick, for which the College of Business, Education and Social Science and the school’s Department of Business will be named.

Kriese said that the new building would simply not have been possible without the generous benefactors who stepped forward.

“We’re so appreciative that you put your faith in us and invested your resources to help the next generation of business leaders in this region,” Kriese said. “Your investment in this facility will help students and faculty build their own unique foundation and develop into business and workforce leaders, something our society will always need.”

Dakota Wesleyan University, Mitchell and the surrounding region have always had a close, symbiotic relationship. That relationship was clearly on display Thursday, according to Geri Beck, CEO for the Mitchell Chamber and Development Corporation.

She noted that 40% of students will remain in Mitchell or the surrounding area after graduation, and with a state and local unemployment rate of 2.9% and 2.4% respectively, there will be employment spots to fill as they emerge from their studies.

“There are 27,000 open jobs in South Dakota, and 733 locally,” Beck said. “So, we need them. We absolutely need them. Not just for the workforce, but for their spending, their investing, their intelligence, their skills and their character. Truth be told, the over 900 students on this campus help fuel our economic engine right here in Mitchell.”

In addition to crafting new business leaders, the new campus facility will allow for even more connectivity between school and community.

“This new 32,000 square-foot complex will not only educate traditional students, but also the leaders in our city through ongoing education and training,” Beck said. “Having Dakota Wesleyan University as a stakeholder in our community is a blessing. A rising tide raises all ships, and when Dakota Wesleyan University succeeds, so does our community.”

Devan Weelborg, a junior who hails from Bryant and also serves as president of the school business club, said the arrival of the new building serves as an example of how a vision can eventually develop into a reality, a concept he has studied in his time in the business program.

“As a student who has taken several leadership classes, I am learning that it takes a group of people with the vision and motivation to come up with an idea, figure out how to make it a reality and finance it,” Weelborg said. “A building such as the school of business is a concrete example of that kind of thinking. I’m grateful that my university has had the vision and motivation to build something like this, and I’m really glad to experience it first hand.”

As vice chair of the school board of trustees, Rita Johnson said it has been a challenging but satisfying journey from idea to reality, and the effort to get it done was a group effort.

“Working with our president’s office, with Theresa (Kriese), the leadership team and with our friends at Puetz Design & Build, along with our congressional partners and the United States Department of Agriculture, we were able to put together a plan conceptualize, to design and ultimately to construct this wonderful facility,” Johnson said.

Following their remarks, the speakers and the crowd moved to the front of the new structure to cut a ceremonial ribbon before allowing the public inside for tours of the building that has been a dream of campus leaders for years. Food and conversation followed as hundreds streamed through the place that would host the next generation of business leaders for years to come.

The community on campus and in the Mitchell area at large is a family, Kriese said, and a family needs a home. The Dakota Wesleyan University School of Business, Innovation and Leadership is now the latest place in that home to welcome students, faculty and the community.

“We are a place of learning, of leadership, of faith and of service. We live our values in a place in the world every day. We welcome you to our newest place, and we hope you, too, will feel at home,” Kriese said.