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Whether someone has family responsibilities, parental responsibilities, financial hardships or other challenges, Anoka-Ramsey Community College, Cambridge Campus, offers an opportunity for anybody to change their life and pursue their dreams.

For many years, the Cambridge Campus Foundation has hosted an annual Scholardazzle fundraising banquet where the proceeds from the event directly benefit student scholarships. This year, due to the pandemic, the foundation will be hosting a virtual Scholardazzle fundraising event that will kick off April 1 and wrap up with special video message to the community and students from President Kent Hanson on Thursday, April 29.

Proceeds from the virtual Scholardazzle will go toward scholarships for Cambridge Campus students and the Crisis Grants program that provides funding support for students in financial emergencies.

Chris Miller, who has been part of the Cambridge Campus Foundation Board for five years and has served as chair for two years, explained past sponsors and donors of the Scholardazzle will receive an invite in the mail to participate in this year’s virtual Scholardazzle and will have the option to mail in a donation. Anyone wishing to donate to the virtual Scholardazzle will also have the option to donate online at the Anoka-Ramsey website, www.anokaramsey.edu/donate.

“The thing that stands tall for me, is that when you look around our community, I knew about the college but I didn’t really know about the college until I became a part of this board. So No. 1, I would like to invite people to come and visit our campus when it opens up because I think people would be amazed at what we have to offer, both relationally for students and professors and staff, but also for just what an amazing opportunity the students that attend there, that campus, are invited to do,” Miller said. “The second thing, when I talk to people, is that there is so many people that live here and work here that had their beginning here, and I’m not just talking about those pursuing dreams such as doctors or lawyers. I’m talking about people who are working in many of the offices and many of the places as assistants to dentists or assistants to finance, and I sit and hear their story and their story includes a great journey at the Cambridge Campus of Anoka-Ramsey. College is more than an education. College helps us be the best version of ourself because we get that time to focus on ourself and that educational journey can include our spiritual journey, it can include whatever makes us the best version of ourself.”

Anoka-Ramsey Cambridge Campus is partnering again with First Bank and Trust as their presenting sponsor. Their support this year will bring their lifetime of giving to over $100,000. This year, they will be providing scholarships to four Anoka-Ramsey students. Cambridge Pine City orthodontics is a brand new donor this year and Anoka-Ramsey is excited to welcome them as a virtual Scholardazzle sponsor.

Dr. Paul Sanders, who has also been a member of the Cambridge Campus Foundation Board for five years and serves as chairperson of the Anoka-Ramsey Cambridge Campus Development Committee, said there are students in need of financial assistance.

“The reality is, the needs continue. Students still have to pay tuition, they still have to pay for their gas to get to school when they are able to attend classes and we’ve just been very pleased so far at the response of the community, that despite the significant challenges many people are facing, the loss of unemployment, the decrease in income, they are participating,” Sanders said. “This is an opportunity to virtually remind the community we’re still here and our students still need assistance.”

Through the Cambridge Campus Foundation, students may receive funding through the Crisis Grants program that assists students with unexpected financial shortfalls.

“We change lives. We are a gateway to a better life for anybody. Not all folks can afford college, they may have different challenges, but we are a gateway to whatever what you want to be in life,” Hanson said. “We have lawyers and dentists and doctors and all kinds of professionals, nurses, that start out here. But it’s really a gateway to whatever you want to become. This is a great start to invest in two years of education, but it really allows individuals to bring themselves up and be whatever they want to be. And what better way to invest in our community members to improve the level of education and employability and helping our businesses.”

The personalized stories shared during the in-person Scholardazzle banquets will be missed by Sanders.

“For the last couple of years, we’ve invited students to share their story at our annual Scholardazzle banquet and we’ve heard wonderful stories, I would almost use the word tear-jerking stories, from students who, because of significant challenges, could not go off to some place else with a four-year program,” Sanders said. “But Anoka-Ramsey provides them the opportunity within the community to get an education comparable to what they would get by traveling off some distance and abandoning their families or parental responsibilities and that’s been a big advantage for many of our students.”

Hanson, who is in his eighth year as president of Anoka-Ramsey Community College and Anoka Technical College, started out with a two-year degree, which he said changed his life.

“Scholardazzle is one of my favorite events, period. And when I look at Scholardazzle I look at it as a celebration of the community and the college’s role in the community,” Hanson said. And to me, yes, it’s a fundraiser for sure, our students need help and support, but it’s really a celebration. We are so proud to be in the community and it just highlights the strength of the community and how we work together.”

Sanders reminds the community that sponsorships are available for this year’s Scholardazzle, ranging from $250 to $10,000, and sponsors will get name recognition in the community.

“One of the things I will miss this year compared to what we can do live, are the number of the people I meet in the community that have strong connections to the college,” Sanders said. “We have professional people, dentists, lawyers and teachers and people who got their first training at the college and it’s really fun to see them in person and find out who they are.”

The Cambridge Campus has approximately 2,880 students enrolled, with its top five cities of residence for students being Cambridge, Isanti, North Branch, Coon Rapids and Princeton.

“The Cambridge Campus Foundation is dedicated to building relationships and making friends across our communities, as well as raising funds for our students and programs,” Miller said. “It is truly a gift to have a ‘Top 10’ Community College right here in our backyard. We are thankful for the people that founded this college, the people that have worked together to support and build this college and everyone that has helped make the Cambridge Campus the ‘golden educational opportunity’ it is today.”

Anoka-Ramsey has students who are first-generation college students to high school students utilizing Postsecondary Educational Options, which offers high school students the opportunity to enroll in and attend college-level courses and apply earned credits toward high school graduation requirements and a college degree.

“There’s really something special about the Cambridge Campus. It feels like home and we hear it from students too. There’s something in the environment, in the atmosphere that just is so welcoming to students. And if anybody has any doubt in their mind about can you do higher ed, I would say come and see us because you can, definitely, and we can help you with that,” Hanson said. “We have all kinds of students that come to our college, but ultimately I think it’s because they get a great education and it’s very affordable.”

Being a part of the Cambridge Campus Foundation has allowed Sanders to make a difference in the community.

“I accepted the invitation to join (the foundation) because it gave me an opportunity to use my nonprofit organizational experience to give back to the community through the college, which provides a great service to our East Central MN area,” Sanders said. “The foundation exists to actively promote the college and to enjoin community and individual participation through financial support. Our graduates are our communities’ future.”

Anoka-Ramsey Community College was named one of the top 10 community colleges in the United States in 2017 by the Aspen Institute. Hanson mentioned Anoka-Ramsey’s credits are very transferable to other public or private higher education institutions, as the college is part of the Minnesota State System.

“I believe our focus on helping students be successful is very strong. I think even during the pandemic we have really stepped up to help our students. We are in these communities, we’re strongly invested in the communities, we have strong community partnerships, but even during the pandemic and maybe finding their way after that, we are a very reasonable choice. We are reasonably priced,” Hanson said “We’ve been able to serve as a good viable option, not only during the pandemic, but we also have the lowest tuition in the state so we are affordable.”

Impacts of the pandemic

“I think a roller-coaster is probably a good way to put it; just a lot of changes and ambiguity and needing to change plans, sometimes the next day or even the same day,” Hanson said. “We get a lot of guidance from the Minnesota Department of Health and the Governor’s Office as well as our Minnesota State System Office, and sometimes those change. You think you’re going down a path and then you have to move in this direction.”

Hanson gives credit to the employees of the college.

“I think it’s been a little frustrating at times but I should say that I’m so proud of our employees because they’ve just stepped up to the plate. Dealing with ambiguity is not easy for everybody, some people are better at it than others, and I think they’ve been very patient during this time and that’s really helped too, but also their willingness to step up to the plate and do whatever to serve our students,” Hanson said. “I’m very proud of our employees, our faculty, they’ve been able to shift gears, and also our students, they didn’t bargain for this. This is not what they had signed on for.”

Hanson said the campuses are mostly all online, with some on-campus classes, and most labs are in person. He said most classes will still be online in the fall, but more classes will be coming back to campus in the fall.

“Higher ed is different than K-12, especially in the vaccine efforts,” Hanson said. “The K-12 instructors and teachers have been priority for vaccinations and higher ed has not been. So that will impact us and our ability to get back to normal and also a concern over the new variants. The year has been a roller-coaster, but I’m very proud of the work we’ve done at Anoka-Ramsey.”

The college is trying to utilize what they’ve learned during the pandemic to do a better job of reaching out to students.

“Our employees had to figure out a way to reach out to our students, not just in teaching, but how do our advisers connect with students and how do our financial aid staff connect with students,” Hanson said. “And I’ve been meeting with our different departments and I would say that we have learned a lot during the pandemic too. Maybe, you know, sitting in your office and having one-on-one appointments is not the best way to reach out to students. So we will probably be incorporating more Zoom advising sessions and things like that even when we get post-pandemic, because it’s worked to reach out to students. So that’s one of the things that we’ve learned and that has worked well for us.”

Also, post-pandemic, employees may continue working from home.

“Our work-from-home efforts likely will continue in some fashion. We will likely have employees doing telework because we’re finding that some of our employees probably do better at home without distractions,” Hanson said. “So we’ll be trying to really investigate what that looks like, but we do believe we’ll be maintaining some elements of telework even on the other side of this pandemic.

“But our students are really going through the ringer here with the impact of the pandemic and maybe they lost their job or maybe they’re at risk of losing their housing or maybe they suffer through food insecurities, and those factors are magnified during the pandemic,” Hanson added.

The college was able to purchase 300 laptops for students utilizing CARES Act funding, according to Hanson. The college also purchased some additional hot spots for students to access the internet. The campus food pantry also found a way to adapt and address students’ nutritional needs through the contactless grab-and-go food distribution days.

“And that’s been a challenge for us, making sure our students have the technology that they need,” Hanson said. “Up in Cambridge at times, it is an issue for them with their internet connectivity. So we have challenges as an institution, challenges as a leader, but really trying to meet the challenges our students face.”

Sanders is proud of how Anoka-Ramsey has provided flexibility and support to its students.

“We’ve been very pleased to see the way the administration and the faculty have almost seamlessly adapted from full-time on-site education to off-site as appropriate. It’s done a great service to the students as well, and I’ve been very pleased to see our students adapt,” Sanders said. “It’s not been free of problems. When students start doing this offline and online they start having expenses and things like that. So we’ve as a board of the foundation have watched very carefully to see that we are available to provide financial resources to students who are really struggling to, despite the pandemic, keep up their education. We’re very proud of the way they’ve been doing it and I’m pleased to see the school has been so accommodating and flexible to provide ways for the students to stay on top of their education.”

Miller said the entire community appreciates Hanson’s leadership.

“I’m really thankful of how important he makes the Cambridge Campus feel, because sometimes when you have three campuses it’s difficult to make all three campuses feel important, and Dr. Hanson, you do an exemplary job of that, so thank you,” Miller said.

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