The two-campus relationship at MN State College – Southeast Technical

Yeah, we're different. (Courtesy Katryn Conlin / MSCST)

I've traveled to technical colleges before, but Minnesota State College Southeast Technical in Red Wing presents some interesting background dynamics for today's visit.

Opened in 1972, it's the last technical college campus built in Minnesota. Yet its 66-year-old sister campus in Winona -- with whom it merged in 1992 -- is among the state's oldest public technical schools, and is quite a bit larger.

Johnson (MSCST)

The two campuses have different identities, says President James Johnson, who has served since 1995.

The Winona campus focuses on manufacturing trades and health sciences, while Red Wing's vibe -- perhaps influenced by its instrument-repair program -- is more of the arts.

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As Johnson puts it: "They interact from opposite sides of the brain."

Winona is all business. Red Wing is all about considering every angle.

Johnson said if he and Winona campus leaders needed to come to a major decision, "They'd say, 'Just give me the facts. At Red Wing, we might get to the same end, but maybe we'd have to sit down for two to three meetings to talk about a broader array of issues. So in Red Wing, it might take me longer to get a decision through."

Because Red Wing's site is half the size of the Winona campus, Johnson says, "sometimes feel they are the stepchild. That was the challenge when I became president. [The 1995 merger] was a shotgun marriage."

And yet over the years, Johnson said, "they've embraced that they are different. They've really nurtured their differences."

Off on its own (Courtesy MSCST)

Red Wing's school sits a few miles outside of town-- on top of a hill off of Minnesota 58.

The campus "sits out by itself," Johnson said.

No dorms. No football team. It's a commuter college. About the only trace of town is some affordable housing across the street, and a high school built about a decade ago.

To keep from being isolated from the community, Johnson said, "we have to work extra hard to get [residents] up to the campus."

That means working with civic leaders, hosting community activities and meetings, and becoming a partner with the high school.

It has also teamed up the private, Winona-based St. Mary's University of Minnesota to offer a four-year degree this fall for working adults -- an accelerated evening program for a bachelor's in business administration.

"It's a big deal in that it's going to garner significant support" from the community, Johnson said. "They will have the ability to have a four-year institution in their community. Granted, it's not going to be a wide variety [of degrees] at first, but it's more opportunity for the young professional to access higher education in their own community."

Meanwhile, he has plans for expansion. He's hoping that in the 2016 state bonding cycle, it'll get funding for its $6 million allied-health wing. With that the campus could expand its nursing program and expand into new fields such as medical lab techncian training.

But that's something Johnson wouldn't carry out.

He's retiring this summer, and taking his place July 1 will be Dorothy Duran, who has worked as vice president for academic affairs at Iowa Western Community College.