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The Fargo Classroom

Students in Barry Hall. Photos courtesy of NDSU Media Relations

They come from farms, tiny towns and Twin Cities suburbs.

They come to Fargo-Moorhead to earn a degree and launch their adult lives. “They” are the 25,000 students at F-M’s colleges and universities.

If you ask — as I do at the start of each semester — why students choose Fargo-Moorhead, almost none say they come seeking fame or fortune, or to put down roots here. Their wants are simple: Learn enough to land a job that’ll let them enjoy a life about like mom and dad or grandma and grandpa.

During first-day introductions, I ask students to list the following:

-What do you want to be when you “grow up?”

-What’s your major?

-Where are you from and where do you want to go?

Rare is the student who aspires to fame, a glitzy gig or a six-figure salary. They simply hope for the best job they can find wherever that may land them. Most say they chose Fargo-Moorhead because they found the major they wanted and relatively affordable tuition. Most are pragmatic and willing to go wherever the first job happens to be. Life goals tend to be down-to-earth desires like staying within driving distance of family, fishing and hunting spots and summer lake life.

I’ve been teaching at North Dakota State or Minnesota State University Moorhead since 2003 when I was a Forum senior reporter and NDSU asked me to teach a journalism course. A year later, I became an NDSU graduate student and traded a willingness to teach for my tuition bill. With Ph.D. in hand in 2008, I became a professor at MSUM’s School of Communication and Journalism.

Meeting and getting to know students has been the greatest pleasure of my 16 years as a college educator, much like meeting all kinds of people is the best part of being a journalist.

Some students leave an indelible mark on a professor. Some have done that, while also leaving a significant mark on their community, too.

These young professionals are all beneficiaries of F-M’s economic boom, allowing them to land a job close to home and build a life in a booming metro area. But we all are beneficiaries of these students – our region’s young people  – who no longer have to head to the coasts or Twin Cities to begin a career.

It is we, not they, who are the ultimate winners because these young people have big hearts, great minds and a desire to make their community and their world a better place. We are lucky to have them here rather than in Brooklyn, Minneapolis or Silicon Valley.

Roots Planted

A generational shift has occurred, keeping more students closer to where they grew up. In the 1980s and ‘90s, parents bemoaned the fact their kids couldn’t find jobs here after they graduated from NDSU, MSUM or Concordia. It was common to hear parents and government leaders complain that our educated youth were our chief economic export. With fresh diplomas in hand, grads had to move to the Twin Cities, East or West coast to find their first career-type job.

More and more lately, F-M’s university grads can land their first career job here.  That’s thanks to a nearly two-decade economic expansion in the Fargo-Moorhead region. Three key factors underpin the expansion.

Economic diversification: As always, ag is prime. Now tech, ed, medicine and energy diversify the metro economy. Remember, Fargo is home to one of Microsoft’s largest corporate campuses, with more than 1,000 jobs; plus Sanford Health recently built an 11-story Fargo hospital that employs 1,500 people at peak times; and oil boom money rolls right through the metro economy.

Economic resiliency: Fargo’s economic indicators outshone even those of the Twin Cities during the recession that began in 2008-09, according to a July MinnPost story on F-M’s booming economy.

Jobs for all: A low unemployment rate in the early 2000s provided jobs for anybody who wanted one and led to more of those jobs becoming career-building type jobs. The F-M metro area’s unemployment rate was a miniscule 2.1 % in May, according to Job Service ND.

In fact, 80 percent of NDSU students now stay in the Fargo-Moorhead region after graduation, according to a recent study by NDSU. That’s a huge generational change, one we are thankful for.

Deneen Gilmour is a journalism professor at MSUM, teaching media writing, reporting and digital storytelling courses. Gilmour worked as a daily newspaper reporter for 16 years before earning a master’s in 2005 and Ph.D. in 2007 at NDSU. She and her husband, Jim, live in north Fargo where they’re raising 16- and 17-year-old daughters. Their 27-year-old son is a national reporter for McClatchy Media in San Francisco

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