Cold Enough for You?
For warm-weather Katies, Minnesota winters mean snow, fear of frostbite and a willingness to forsake all fashion sense.
BY ANDY STEINER | PHOTOGRAPHY BY REBECCA ZENEFSKI '10
As associate director of admission for St. Catherine University, Susan Rudd recruits young women from around the United States for the baccalaureate program in the College for Women.
"I love St. Kate's, and I'm truly excited about the quality of the educational experience we provide for our students," she says. "So it's not hard for me to go into a high school somewhere and talk up our programs, our mission and our beautiful campus."
Rudd recruits mainly on the West Coast. Each year she spends a week in southern California, meeting with high school students, parents and teachers. She fields a range of questions about every element of the St. Catherine experience, from the benefits of single-gender education and employment rates for graduates to the safety of an urban campus.
At some point during these California conversations, the same question invariably gets asked.
"They're all curious about our weather," Rudd says with a smile. "Unless they've got Midwestern roots, these young women and their families usually haven't experienced anything like a Minnesota winter. They want to know how bad it will get. Sometimes they even ask if I think they'll be able to survive it."
Rudd doesn't sugarcoat the realities of Minnesota weather — nor could she in a year when a 17-inch snowfall captured national attention after the Metrodome roof collapsed. She explains that it does get cold, dark and snowy over the winter months, but she also talks about the positive side of the season, about ice skating and cross-country skiing, snowball fights and sledding, and the hush of campus after a pristine snowfall.
In some ways, Rudd appreciates the conversation: Each young woman's reactions are a barometer of her heartiness and sense of adventure.
"West Coast students who would consider coming all the way to St. Kate's are already open to leaving home," she explains. "If they've done even a little bit of research they know that Minnesota gets cold. But these young women want the adventure. They want to do something different. The winter is just one of the challenges they signed up for in the first place."
Still, every year, as the days get shorter and the temperature drops, Rudd worries that one of her first-year recruits will have a hard time adjusting to the season. "I feel responsible for them," she says. "We've built a relationship. When it starts getting cold, I start asking myself, 'Are they OK?' But usually they're just fine. They tell me they were expecting the cold, and while most don't like it that much, they know they can live through it."
From oven to freezer
In recent years, a majority of St. Catherine's international students in the baccalaureate program have come from countries where temperatures rarely reach freezing — and snow is absolutely unheard of. "International interest in St. Kate's often runs in cycles," explains Aimee Thostenson, associate director for international admission. "Graduates recommend the University to students from their high schools, sisters talk to sisters. So we see students in regional clusters."
International applications are up 110 percent in the past year, due largely to the College of St. Catherine becoming St. Catherine University in June 2009. "From an international perspective, the word university works better to explain the institution," Thostenson says. "The word college can mean high school in many other parts of the world." This year's international class has 60 students from 18 different countries, with Colombia, Ghana, India, Nepal and United Arab Emirates among the warmer climes. Thostenson predicts an increase in applications from Vietnam, another country where residents never experience harsh Minnesota-style winters.
International admission staff members work hard to prepare potential students for the weather. "In our recruitment materials we show where Minnesota is on the U.S. map," Thostenson says. "We give the temperature range. We show photos of winter." But since few international students make a campus visit, it is hard to describe the reality of winter to people for whom bone-chilling cold is a foreign concept.
Thostenson and her team work hard to prepare students once they've arrived. "During orientations we talk about the winters a lot," she says. "We explain how to dress warmly and what to expect from living with cold. We take them shopping for warm coats, boots and clothes. But no matter how much we explain, the first winter usually is a surprise to our students from warmer climates. Four seasons can be a shock when you're used to one or two."
Has a horrible cold snap or a fierce blizzard ever sent an international student packing? Thostenson hasn't heard of anything like that in her 14 years at St. Kate's. "We try to be honest about our winters here," she says. "When I talk to anyone who is going to be working with potential students, my guiding philosophy is always this: Be positive but honest. Nobody deserves to be surprised by the reality of our winter weather."
Andy Steiner is managing editor of SCAN.