Countryside connections

UND’s newest faculty and administrators get a taste of North Dakota on statewide bus tour

UND Bus Tour 2017

Theodore Roosevelt National Park was a favorite stop for many on the bus tour. The group gathered with Park Ranger Laura Thomas (middle) for a photo at River Bend Overlook. Photo by Brandon Beyer.

It’s an early Monday morning, and Camilla Morrison is getting comfortable in her bus seat amongst nearly 30 of her peers. As UND’s new Director of Costume Design, it’s her first week living in North Dakota after a childhood on the Marshall Islands and college in Louisiana.

“I’m not ready for the cold at all,” she said with a smirk, looking to Sara Kuhn sitting next to her. “But I’m getting there, and I’m soliciting advice on how to deal with the winter.”

“It’s almost always bright sun,” replied Kuhn, the Chester Fritz Library’s new Social Sciences and Scholarly Communication Librarian. “So even though it’s cold and it’s winter, you don’t get that down feeling.”

Morrison and Kuhn both accepted invitations to join the three-day UND Bus Tour for New Faculty and Administrators. Since 1990, the journey has been an opportunity to show newcomers firsthand what North Dakota has to offer. This year’s August 14-16 tour rolled from Grand Forks all the way west to the North Unit of Theodore Roosevelt National Park, with stops in communities like Rugby, Bottineau, New Town and Watford City along the way.

“I hope that they come away with a better understanding of the diversity of the state – not only geographic diversity, but community diversity and diversity of people,” said Fred Wittmann, tour organizer and director of the UND Office of Ceremonies & University Events. “They have a chance to appreciate the hallmark industries that support the state – agriculture, energy development and tourism.”

Camilla Morrison and Sara Kuhn

Laughs are shared between UND Instructor/Director of Costume Design for Theatre Arts Camilla Morrison (front left) and Social Sciences and Scholarly Communications Librarian Sara Kuhn (front right) as they walk toward their second stop in Bottineau, N.D. – Pride Dairy creamery. Photo by Brandon Beyer.

This is UND President Mark Kennedy’s second year joining the cross-state travelers. He says the benefit of the tour is twofold. Participants see what makes the state tick, and the state sees that UND cares and is here to help.

“We’re not the University of Grand Forks. We’re the University of North Dakota,” he said. “One of the things you find when you travel around North Dakota is people view it as a statewide community.”

Community was a theme that set the course of the tour to come – a faculty community, an industry community and an alumni community.

This was a time to make connections.

Faculty collaboration

After a morning visiting the potato, bean, and hemp-rich fields of Campbell Farms in Grafton, the bus stopped in Bottineau for a tour of Dakota College and a sweet treat and alumni social at the famous Pride Dairy creamery.

As new Mechanical Engineering Assistant Professor Meysam Hageshenas and Assistant Professor of Aviation Chris Cooper chatted over scoops of strawberry and chokecherry ice cream, they reflected on budding bonds.

“You can see my new connection from Aerospace,” Hageshenas said with a nod to Cooper, “as well as from Engineering, and a couple from Education and Management.”

“It’s nice to see people from all around the world and the United States come to Grand Forks,” Cooper added. “It gives UND diversity in terms of not only nationality and ethnicity, but also in terms of background.”

The time between bus stops allows for diverse ideas to mingle and merge. On the 2014 tour, two new professors from Aviation and Engineering started a partnership that helped them develop cockpit technology to alert pilots when they may be too tired to fly.

“It’s very important that different people from different areas of study get to know each other,” President Kennedy said. “They can find areas of collaboration that can richen their own research and scholarship, but also make the University so much better.”

UND First Lady Debbie Kennedy

UND First Lady Debbie Kennedy hands out water bottles to bus tour participants at the farm of Jerry and Norma Effertz near Velva, N.D. The group took a flatbed tour of Black Butte Acres, where the family raises Limousin cattle and offers a scenic prairie getaway for hikers and bikers. Photo by Brandon Beyer.

College and community connections

Teamwork doesn’t stay parked on the bus. A dinner stop at Minot State University (MSU) allowed UND’s crew to circulate ideas with MSU’s new faculty and administrators, as well as the community’s legislators and UND alumni base.

MSU President Steve Shirley pointed to a new graduate certificate in cybersecurity developed between MSU, UND, and North Dakota State University (NDSU) as an example of how campuses in the North Dakota University System (NDUS) can work together.

“Those are the kinds of things, little gems like that, that are hopefully being discussed around these tables tonight,” President Shirley said, scanning the talkative crowd.

Kuhn and Morrison spent the dinner laughing and sharing with proud UND alums Lowell and Ann Latimer, who have lived in Minot for nearly 90 years. The conversation was Morrison’s favorite part of the trip.

“They told us so many wonderful things about the community of Minot and how connected they feel to UND, and how supportive they are of their community, which really seems to be an extension of the attitude at UND,” Morrison said.

Mobile memories

Among the major eye-openers for North Dakota’s newest was a look at the geography and wildlife of Theodore Roosevelt National Park, a favorite stop for many on the bus.

“I saw the beauty of what the state has, and the diversity that it can offer,” Cooper said, thinking back to the bison herds and expansive buttes of the park.

The tour group continued to make valuable connections across the state, shaking hands with representatives of Whiting Oil and Gas in New Town, Cankdeska Cikana Community College in Ft. Totten, and Grand Forks Air Force Base at Turtle River State Park.

But the strongest ties formed on four wheels.

“I know that I have watched over the years some groups become very cohesive, and you just know that afterwards they are going to stay connected,” Wittmann said.

After three full days of laughter, learning and limited leg stretches, Kuhn and Morrison know that the friendship that grew across North Dakota will put down solid roots in Grand Forks.

“It was great to meet somebody pretty much right away and to be able to sit on the bus and talk about what we experienced on the tour,” Morrison reflected. “I formed a bond with somebody that I know I will definitely want to keep up after this.”