Montana State University

Mountains and Minds


Heart of Montana October 12, 2011 by Evelyn Boswell, photos by Kelly Gorham • Published 10/12/11

Small-town roots have big impact on the destinies of many MSU students
From the time that Montana State first began more than a century ago, students from small towns have been at the heart of its student body. And, still it is so.

Last school year (2010-11) 5,025 MSU undergraduates identified that they graduated from Montana high schools, according to MSU's Office of Planning and Analysis. Of those, 1,001 students, or about one-fifth, identified that they graduated from a Montana high school with 50 or fewer graduates. Half of those, or 511 students, said they were in a graduating class with 25 or fewer graduates.

Rooted in the remote corners of Montana or the tiny towns between them, the road that brought these students to Bozeman carried them far from home and a long way from the familiar.

The students may have attended a high school where they were one of only a handful of students in their graduating class. Now they might live in a residence hall that houses more people than the population of their entire hometown. They attend classes that may have more students than their entire high school.

Yet rural Montana students have a reputation for hard work, adaptation and success. Whether they're from Kremlin or Coffee Creek, MSU students from small towns and isolated farms and ranches appear every semester on the MSU honor roll. They're active in college life and lead campus organizations. In the past year alone, small-town MSU students won the prestigious Goldwater, McNair and Presidential Scholarships. In just the past year, MSU students from small towns were finalists for both the prestigious Truman and Rhodes Scholarships.

"I am deeply inspired by students from rural Montana who arrive on campus, eager to embark on their undergraduate careers; girded with ingenuity, resourcefulness, self-reliance and an innate desire to succeed and excel," said Ilse-Mari Lee, director of the University Honors Program. "These students routinely 'seize the day' and make the most of every opportunity available to them."


Click on the video below to learn more about 11 MSU students who explain what's great about their Montana small town.
Video by Kelly Gorham.


Here is a look at a few students who are still the heart of Montana State.

Courtney Wendland

"My professors were fully committed to the students, making sure we were learning and succeeding in class. The opportunities are endless at MSU; there are so many clubs, committees, etc., to get involved in." --Courtney Wendland


Courtney Wendland

Rudyard, Montana

Growing up on a farm near Rudyard, Courtney Wendland raised pigs, threw the javelin and competed in several sports. She knew nearly everyone in town and even the surrounding towns. She walked down the main street of Rudyard without worrying about getting hit. So, moving to Bozeman was somewhat of a culture shock, Wendland said. When she drove into Bozeman for the first time, she started to panic because she didn't know where she was going and the traffic seemed overwhelming. One of the biggest shocks was attending classes with more than 100 students when she only had 18 students in her class at North Star School. She adapted, however, and said the College of Business, where she won several scholarships, and MSU are helping her realize her dreams of pursuing a career in accounting. Now working on her master's degree in business, Wendland said she appreciates the support group she had growing up. She has learned the importance of developing a strong network at MSU.



Chisholm Christensen

"MSU was much larger and faster-paced than school in Hinsdale, but I liked and learned from that. I was surprised by how big it was, but how small it felt once I became more involved and comfortable in it." --Chisholm Christensen


Chisholm Christensen

Hinsdale, Montana

Hinsdale Public Schools had 93 students when Chisholm Christensen graduated in 2009. His class only had six members. But Christensen--whose first name was inspired by the historic Chisholm Trail--says his class succeeded greatly because of the supportive Hinsdale community. Two-thirds of his class belonged to the National Honor Society, and half were state champions in track. Leaving this Hi-Line community where "everybody knows everybody and cares" might seem difficult, but Christensen said he was able to carve out another little community at MSU. He is public relations chair for the AGR Fraternity and for the Order of Omega. He is an Ag Ambassador, was vice president of collegiate FFA and belongs to two honor societies. Besides earning a 4.0 in the spring, Christensen won fourth place in the region as a saddle bronc rider for MSU. The ag education major said MSU will help him establish himself as an involved, caring, successful and charismatic person in his church, family, community and ranch.



Emily Linker

"When I came to MSU and Bozeman, I expected it to feel completely different from growing up in a rural area. But, what not only surprised me but also made me fall in love with MSU, is that it still has a small town feel, while offering an exciting, busy and diverse experience." --Emily Linker


Emily Linker

Coffee Creek, Montana

Coming to MSU meant Emily Linker left her family and their farm eight miles north of Coffee Creek, but she also left an entire community that had her back. Her smallest MSU classes were four times larger than her senior class at Denton and she lived in a town for the first time ever when she came to MSU. Linker said she initially felt alone and out of place, but she chose to make new friends, join clubs and volunteer her time. She regained self-confidence and now says MSU transformed her life. It showed her that having passion is a gift and that she has the potential and confidence to reach her goals in the field of community health.



Ashley Iverson

"When I first came to MSU I was most surprised by how much pride and school spirit there was around campus, and how quickly I found a home away from home." -- Ashley Iverson



Ashley Iverson

Potomac, Montana

Growing up near Potomac meant living in a tight-knit community where the whole town showed up for weddings and graduation parties. It meant haying, driving tractors and attending grade school where Ashley Iverson had, at most, 13 students in her class. Coming to MSU could have been daunting, but it helped that she attended high school in Missoula and that the Potomac Valley is an agricultural community full of people who attended MSU, Iverson said. Fully engaged in campus life, she became president of the Collegiate Cattle Women and the Chi Omega sorority. She was co-coordinator of MSU's Relay for Life and helped organize a basketball benefit called "Swishes for Wishes."



Mark Boyd

Even though some of the classes are really big, the professors would all meet with me. I was surprised by that. I figured they wouldn't have time." --Mark Boyd



Mark Boyd

Alder, Montana

Mark Boyd was warned that he would see differences between Alder and MSU, but he didn't fully grasp what they meant until he came to campus and saw hundreds of strangers and classes much larger than he was used to. When he attended high school in Sheridan, he not only knew all 72 students, but he knew everything about them. When he came to MSU, he knew almost no one and had no idea what kind of background they had. Now finished with his freshman year, he said he actually enjoyed the changes. The 2011 Montana FFA state winner in ag mechanics and maintenance is a member of the Alpha Lambda Delta Honor Society, Alpha Zeta and the National Society of Collegiate Scholars.



Angela Howe-Parrish

"I'm surprised at how much I've developed as a person in the past five years being at MSU, and how attached I've become to the MSU community." --Angela Howe-Parrish



Angela Howe-Parrish

Crow Agency, Montana

Coming to MSU from the Crow Indian Reservation meant Angela Howe-Parrish's two oldest children had to adjust to life without their longtime friends and relatives. They had to adapt to her busy schedule as a student and mother of a new baby. Howe-Parrish, herself, had to adjust to classes that were much larger than those she took at Little Big Horn College. All of her MSU classmates were strangers and none were Native American unless she was in a Native American Studies class. Howe-Parrish eventually got to know her professors and other students, however. She became president of the MSU American Indian Council, joined Nations, a Native American ministry affiliated with Campus Crusade for Christ, and received the 2010 MSU Student of Achievement Award. She coordinated an outreach effort to the homeless and won a community involvement award in 2009. Howe-Parrish said she ended up feeling so much at home at MSU that she was sorry to leave Bozeman. Howe-Parrish graduated this spring in business management.



Dewey Brooke

"The most surprising thing for me when I first came to MSU was the quality of the education here. Every day I hear something about how MSU is such a great institution." --Dewey Brooke



Dewey Brooke

Pony, Montana

Dewey Brooke was one of about 300 residents in Pony and one of 11 students who graduated from Harrison High School in 2008. When it was time to attend MSU, though, the "ice man," who used to deliver ice around southwest Montana, said he didn't find it hard to adapt. He became president of the Undergraduate Chemistry Society. He is one of the most active volunteers at "Science Saturdays." He is a McNair Scholar who also receives INBRE funding for his gene therapy research with professor Brian Bothner. He plans to become a medical doctor who conducts research.



Rachel Semansky

"The thing that most surprised me about MSU was first how big it was--there were more people in one of my classes than the whole town of Highwood--and secondly, how fast I was able to feel at home there." --Rachel Semansky



Rachel Semansky

Highwood, Montana

Rachel Semansky attended summer basketball camps at MSU, but the difference between MSU and Highwood didn't strike her until her first fall semester. As she walked across campus, she realized she probably passed more people on the sidewalk than lived in her entire home town. Attending her first large lecture was frightening because her high school class only had 10 students. She adjusted, though, and said she flourished academically, athletically, socially and spiritually. She became starting center for the Bobcat women's basketball team as a true freshman. She said MSU is helping her achieve her dreams of becoming a great teacher and coach, most likely in a small Montana town.



Craig West

"I didn't really know what to expect of lifestyles here in Bozeman, but it's definitely been such a great experience for me." --Craig West



Craig West

Outlook, Montana

Living on a farm five miles from the Canadian border and having a mom who drove two hours to work meant Craig West was used to flat land, small towns and long drives. His hometown of Outlook generally had 100 people. The Outlook School, before closing in 2005, was so small that it recruited foreign exchange students to round out classes and teams. Despite the differences between northeast Montana and Bozeman, West said attending MSU has been a great experience. The future high school English teacher who graduated from Plentywood High School said MSU is giving him a world class education in English and teaching him how to work with people.



Shannlyn Spotted Elk

"Mentors have told me to get to know the professor or instructor right away no matter how big or small the class is, so I did, and it was very helpful. I am very impressed with the faculty's attitude about helping the students succeed, because they helped me do so."
--Shannlyn Spotted Elk



Shannlyn Spotted Elk

Lame Deer, Montana

Shannlyn Spotted Elk grew up near Lame Deer, but rode about 20 miles to attend high school in Colstrip. One of approximately 50 students in her graduating class, she said coming to MSU was intimidating at first. But she knew that she wanted to study nursing and she had two brothers at MSU, as well as an uncle, Jim Burns, the Native American Studies adviser on campus. The youngest of 12 children, Spotted Elk said she also adapted to MSU by playing intramural sports, getting involved in campus ministries and living in the residence halls. An enrolled member of the Northern Cheyenne tribe and current Miss Indian MSU, Spotted Elk said she would like to become a traveling nurse for a while so she can visit new places. She said the College of Nursing is doing an amazing job of making that possible with its CO-OP Program for Native American nursing students. She added that MSU has caused her to explore who she is and what she wants out of life.



Everly Richards

"What surprised me most was just the amount of people on the campus from day to day." --Everly Richards



Everly Richards

Hammond, Montana

Everly Richards started his formal education by attending a small rural school near the family ranch in southeast Montana. At times, he was one of only 7 to 10 students in the entire school. When he attended high school, he drove 21 miles to Hammond, then caught the bus for another 25 miles to Broadus where he was one of about 26 students in his class. Needless to say, coming to MSU was a definite "change-up," according to Richards. He was one of about 350 students living in Langford Hall. Richards said he missed the openness of southeast Montana, but one way he kept in touch with his rural roots was by working at the MSU farm formerly known as the Towne Farm. The construction engineering technology major plans to work in Montana or one of its neighboring states.



We've featured a few current students from small towns. But MSU graduates who hailed from small towns have gone on to change the world. Do you know of any notable MSU graduates from small towns that you would like to see featured in a future issue of Mountains and Minds magazine? If so, we'd like to hear from you. Please send details in an email to mountainsandminds@montana.edu