UND Today

University of North Dakota’s Official News Source

Affinity at UND: Building a sense of community

Two former Student Body presidents describe ways students and alumni work together to improve the student experience at UND

Class of 2027 group photo
UND’s Class of 2027 poses for the traditional group photo on Aug. 20, 2023. According to UND estimates, some 1,383 students are included in the photo, which might make this the largest new-student photo that the University has taken to date. UND archival photo.

Editor’s note: The UND LEADS Strategic Plan is meant to be a compass for the community, a tool that points the way toward the University’s goals. With that in mind, UND Today is devoting a special issue on the last Tuesday of each month to charting for readers the institution’s advance.

So, today’s special edition of UND Today – the eighth in this series – focuses on the Affinity core value. As readers will see, every story in today’s issue – including those which we’re reprinting today and were first published over the past few months – centers on a UND program or activity that reflects the Affinity objective, as described in the Strategic Plan.

To continue the series, our issue on June 25 will be devoted to the “Discovery” core value, while July 30 will bring an issue devoted to “Service.”

Comments or questions? Contact Tom Dennis, UND Today editor, at tom.dennis@UND.edu. Thank you for reading!


By Jim Poolman, ’92, and Ella Nelson, ’25

Both Jim and Ella served as Student Body president during their time at UND.

The University of North Dakota and the Greater Grand Forks community do a tremendous job of creating a welcoming culture for students. This commitment to community spirit is not just lip service — it’s a cornerstone of the UND Strategic Plan, captured in the core value of Affinity.

Affinity goes beyond mere attachment; it’s about cultivating a deep sense of belonging and connection among students, faculty, staff, alumni and the broader community. It’s about recognizing that we’re all part of something bigger — a collective endeavor to support and uplift one another on our academic and personal journeys.

Affinity is visible in the many initiatives and programs that underscore UND’s commitment to nurturing a supportive environment. The UND Angel Fund and the Food for Thought Pantry, for example, help students during vulnerable times, while programs such as the Pancratz Center Freeman Professional Closet fill a critical need for students entering the working world.

The spirit of community care

The UND Angel Fund came into prominence during the COVID-19 pandemic as a means to get immediate assistance to students struggling financially. Just this school year, 190 student requests were granted, totaling $137,557. These grants help students deal with unexpected hardships and crises that might otherwise knock them off the path toward earning a UND degree.

The Food for Thought Pantry started in 2018 to address student food insecurity. Use of the food pantry has more than quadrupled over the past two years. There were nearly 1,500 student visits to the pantry this spring.

The Pancratz Center Freeman Professional Closet provides attire for Nistler College of Business & Public Administration students to wear to job interviews, career fairs and internships. The supply of clothing is given directly or purchased with monetary donations.

All these programs, which thrive thanks to the generosity of alumni, friends, student government and student philanthropic efforts, represent the spirt of community care in action.

But Affinity is not confined to financial support alone; it’s about fostering a culture of mutual aid and solidarity. It’s about students volunteering their time and resources to ensure that their peers are supported. It’s about alumni stepping up to mentor current students, recognizing that their success is intertwined with the future of the university.

Both Jim Poolman, ’92, and Ella Nelson, 25, served as Student Body president during their time at UND

A family to call their own

This is represented in the ideals of the Poolman Leadership Academy to educate, enrich and engage student leaders to expand their understanding of leadership and their individual strengths.

Affinity is more than a value system; it’s a promise — a promise to each and every member of the UND community that they will always have a place to belong, a network of support to rely on and a family to call their own.

Affinity is also a call to action. It’s a reminder that building and sustaining a strong sense of community requires ongoing effort and commitment from all of us. It’s about actively seeking out opportunities to connect with one another, to learn from each other and to support each other in our individual and collective endeavors.

So, let us carry forward the spirit of affinity in all that we do. Let us continue to build bridges, foster connections and uplift one another, knowing that, together, we are stronger. Together, we thrive as a community united in purpose. Together, we are forever UND.


>> QUESTIONS OR COMMENTS about the UND LEADS Strategic Plan? Your thoughts are welcome! Please contact Angie Carpenter, UND’s director of Special Student Populations, and/or Ryan Zerr, associate vice president for Strategy & Implementation, the co-chairs of the UND LEADS Implementation Committee.

You also may offer your thoughts by visiting the UND LEADS Strategic Plan home page and clicking on the “Provide your feedback” link that you’ll find there.

Thank you for your support of the UND LEADS Strategic Plan!


About the authors:

Former North Dakota Insurance Commissioner Jim Poolman, ’92, is chair of the UND Alumni Association & Foundation Board of Directors. Former UND Student Body President Ella Nelson is a biology major and rising senior who’s planning on going to dental school after graduating from UND.