Winona Daily News - Kate Parsi: Helping create a culture of caring at Minnesota State College Southeast
"If she couldn't help me with the problem, she made sure I got in touch with someone who could"
September 12, 2021
Helping college students find their way through the complicated world of higher education has been a lifelong calling for Kate Parsi, the Academic Success Coordinator at Minnesota State College Southeast's Winona campus.
Growing up in St. Charles, MN, her parents were both teachers. "Both of my parents looked at their students as individuals and met them where they were on their journey," she said. "I learned at a young age that it is important to instill the love of education in your children."
However, Kate wasn't inclined to become a teacher herself.
"During my junior year of high school, I knew I wanted to be part of the education environment. For some reason, at that time I thought it meant I could only be a teacher," she said. "The assistant principal was a mentor to me and told me there were many avenues in education that I could explore."
Kate went to Winona State University, where she majored in Organizational Communications. As a work study in the registrar's office, she had a breakthrough moment when she realized that she could have a career in student services.
"I was on a lunch break and saw a student giving a tour to a group of prospective students and their families. I remember thinking it would be a good thing to help people find the right college and the right major for them. From there I secured an internship in the WSU Admissions Office, and I never looked back."
Now with 29 years of experience working in admissions, financial aid, and academic advising in a variety of settings, including public and private two- and four-year institutions, Kate has found a place at Minnesota State College Southeast where her heart for student support can really make a difference.
"We have terms and requirements that are so foreign to students, and college is quite different from high school," she noted. "What I do is not rocket science, but it's a subculture that can be overwhelming and intimidating."
Minnesota State College Southeast's culture of caring is important to Kate Parsi. Students today are facing challenges unlike what she has seen before. "They are working full time, going to school full time, and taking care of children who have been at home because of the pandemic."
She mentioned working with students who have had -- or whose families have had -- issues with mental health, addiction, bankruptcy, homelessness, food insecurity, and incarceration.
Getting to know each one as an individual is critical. "I always tell students, 'I report to my supervisor, but you are my boss, and for me to do my job well, you have to tell me what you need.'"
In the past five years or so, she is starting to notice a change. "Students are more willing to share their past and the experiences that make them who they are. It makes my job easier that they are more open."
But she doesn't regard her role as providing the only possible solution to each problem. Rather, she helps students find the resources they need to solve their own problems.
"For example, I had a student who was trying to take an online class using just a cell phone. The college can provide lending laptops and hot spots," Kate said. "Another student couldn't come in for tutoring because of a conflict with work hours; we have access to online tutoring 24/7."
She has been asked for help with everything from doing taxes to math anxiety. "I can't give tax advice, but I can give them a referral to someone who can. And we have one-on-one tutoring to help our students succeed in all of their classes."
Xander Auman, a second year Liberal Arts and Sciences major, said, "Kate has helped me with any problem I've had where I didn't know where to start. If she couldn't help me with the problem, she made sure I got in touch with someone who could."
For Kate Parsi, the bottom line is simple. "Everyone just needs to know what they need to do to reach their end goal," she said. "Mentors in my life have opened my eyes, and I love to be that person for somebody."
"Kate will help you and she will be happy that you asked the question," Xander Auman said. "She truly enjoys helping people and will make sure you have the tools required to succeed and understand how to use them."