A New Universe

President Marc Long stands next to one of the banners on the Mount Marty campus in Yankton signaling the momentum felt at the school. On Wednesday, the school changes from a college to a university.

Editor’s Note: The following is part of a series of stories on the July 1 change to the new name Mount Marty University and what it means for the four-year Catholic school in Yankton.

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For Mount Marty, the name isn’t the only thing changing at the Catholic school.

On Wednesday, the school officially becomes Mount Marty University. The name change, announced last January, was approved by both the College’s Board of Trustees and the Sisters of Sacred Heart Monastery.

It’s the school’s first name change in nearly 70 years, according to Barb Rezac, the vice president for advancement.

“When they began awarding baccalaureate degrees (in 1951), the name went from Mount Marty Junior College to Mount Marty College,” she told the Press & Dakotan.

President Marc Long sees the name change as ushering in a new era and continuing the school’s forward movement. The word “Momentum!” plays a prominent role on campus not only on banners but also in conversations and marketing.

In recent years, the school has launched new academic programs, sports — including a new football program kicking off its first season in 2021 — and other co-curricular activities; has renovated Marian Auditorium and Cimpl Arena; and has constructed a new nursing and health sciences center along with a greenhouse.

In addition, a new fieldhouse and residence hall will be completed in time for the fall semester.

Under the strategic plan, the Mount’s enrollment will reach a total of 1,000 students at its three sites by 2023, Long said. The school anticipates enrolling 900 students for the coming school year.

The Yankton campus currently enrolls around 600 students, which looks to grow in the coming years, he added.

“By all accounts, we should have a great fall,” he said. “We’re planning on the largest class of new students in school history. We needed the new residence hall to meet our growth.”

The university is planning its first research center along with adding graduate and undergraduate programs.

While admission has enjoyed a banner year, Mount Marty is also finding strong financial support despite the national recession, Rezac said. She looks for the name change to broaden the university’s outreach and appeal.

“I think people consider a university more prestigious, and it recognizes that we offer graduate programs. But we’re still maintaining the same mission and values. Those will always remain the same,” she said.

“We’ll still appeal to those we have always appealed to, and we should be able to cast a little bit of a wider net when it comes to admissions and fundraising.”

People want to invest in what they see as a healthy institution, Rezac said.

“During the pandemic, it’s been a little bit difficult to get face-to-face visits with people,” she said. “We have had close to 450 contacts with donors since March 1 through phone calls, text messages and video chats. We’ve done a good job of staying in touch. The numbers show it. We’ve had a really good year in fundraising again.”

Mount Marty exerts a strong impact on the region, Rezac said. “We have 1,100 alumni living within 30 miles of Yankton,” she said.

As part of its move to university status, the Mount Marty board of trustees and administration are working on a master plan that is about halfway toward completion, Long said.

The plan uses  five strategic areas: rural health and well-being; Benedictine leadership and values; growth and visibility; community engagement and experiential education with hands-on learning outside the classroom.

With the July 1 name change, Rezac looks forward to a major week-long celebration in September. Mount Marty will hold its Mission Day and homecoming and grand opening of its new fieldhouse along with its rescheduled alumni reunion and graduation.

“The name change to Mount Marty University brings it all together,” she said. “We’re offering something second to none in a well-rounded education. All of that momentum that comes with the name change helps us reach more people.”

Mount Marty plays an important role in terms of both creating and attracting not only students but also a workforce, Long said.

“We’re a net importer of talent for South Dakota,” he said. “We’re bringing talent to the state, and we want the policy makers in Pierre to understand that (fact).”

Yankton offers a tremendous draw for Mount Marty and is seeing its own momentum, Long said.

“Just look at the quality of life and all that we offer,” he said. “You go around town and you see things like construction of the new aquatic center. You go out on Highway 52, and you see the tourism (at Lewis and Clark Lake). There is such a tremendous vibrancy in Yankton and the surrounding region.”

As a university, Mount Marty must use its resources to find new ways of meeting goals in the face of a pandemic, Long said.

“Six months ago we predicted that we would have a fantastic 2020, and we’re still having a great year,” he said. “But we are forced to do things differently, not the old way of doing things.”

As a university entering a new era, Mount Marty will rise to the challenge even in such stressful times, Long predicted.

“I’ve been in higher education for 27 years, and I’ve never seen anything like this facing our region and the entire country,” he said. “The question is, how will we navigate this new normal now and for several months to come?”

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