Improving the World One Stitch at a Time

yarn and knitting needles


The practice of knitting has been around for thousands of years and knitting used to be a skill handed down from mothers to daughters. Then in the 80s and 90s, people started pulling away from knitting as a symbol of old-fashioned domesticity. Now in the 21st century, more and more people are picking knitting up as a hobby. I myself knit and so do many of my friends. In fact, there are enough knitters on campus that we’ve formed our own club, is also a Knitting Club on campus now.

The cool thing about the Knitting Club is that the members don’t just knit for themselves, they knit for others. Knitting needles and yarn are provided by the group and whatever they make–often hats, scarves and gloves–they donate to children or people in need. To them, knitting is fun so why not do something you really enjoy and then donate it to someone else.

The Knitting Club meets up with another local club called Knitting for Others at Yarnology on the first Saturday of the month. For several hours, they happily knit away and at the end they donate all of the completed items to Kids First, area hospitals, nursing homes, homeless shelters and sometimes to other countries such as  Tanzania and Morocco. Unfortunately, I usually have to work on Saturdays, but one of these months I would love to be able to go with them just to watch how it all happens to see what everyone else has made.

It really is an amazing thing to do.  These people in these clubs are going above and beyond what is expected of them.  The items that they make can help so many people and provide warmth for those who do not have it.  You can get involved with this effort as well, by joining the Knitting Club Facebook page. Here, they post when the meetings are going to take place and you can also message anyone on that page to ask for details!

–Liz Peterson

I Want You to Vote!

"Don't complain. Vote"

Seriously. You have to take action to make the world a better place.

“Do you know about this year’s midterm election?”  “Would you like to register to vote?” “Have you considered who you’re voting for this year?”

These are just a few questions from my door-knocking script. That’s right. I’m one of those people, knocking on your dorm room door when you’re just trying to enjoy leftover pizza and watch Grey’s Anatomy.

I apologize for my intrusion, but despite having loud mouths and big opinions on hot topic issues like abortion, gay marriage and student loans the so-called “youth vote” is weaker than ever. Less than 50% of eligible youth voters actually show up to vote. It’s up to volunteers like myself to get students hyped about this year’s upcoming election.

Volunteering for Winona’s Democratic-Farmers-Labor (DFL) party was one of the best decisions I’ve made since I started school at WSU this past August. Through the volunteer program I’ve met a lot of likeminded people that share the same views I do and made some really great friends. Activities the volunteer program offer consist of going door to door asking people to register and helping them find their polling place, calling people to remind them of the upcoming election day, handing out flyers to students on campus, and helping set up for big events like the “Get out and Vote” bus tour. I was even given the opportunity to meet a few of the politicians running this year like Steve Simon and Gene Pelowski.

If you’re not from Minnesota or don’t know much about Minnesota politics, volunteering is a great way to find out more about the different politicians and policies. In fact, even if you’re from out of state you are still eligible to vote in Minnesota’s midterm and presidential election. I came to Winona from a small town in Illinois, but after just two months of volunteering I like to think I’m pretty savvy with MnSCU jargon and politicians running in this year’s election.

One of the biggest things I’ve learned over the course of volunteering is the importance of a vote. While in presidential elect years nearly everyone turns out to vote, midterms are often overlooked. But think about it for minute–how can the president you helped put in office do anything without a cooperative congress? It’s easy to vote for the president. There are endless ads and almost every history class you take will be talking about it at the time of the election. Midterm elections are just as important as presidential elections, but are not taken as seriously by voters. This needs to change.

Regardless of party lines, everyone should get educated and vote. As a citizen it’s your right to vote and it’s a right we’re very lucky to have. If you don’t like the way your student loans work, if you want more or less government involvement at a state level, if you think there should be more emphasis on equality rights, I’ve got great news! You get in a say in it this Tuesday. It doesn’t matter if you didn’t register. If you show up to your polling place (PDF) with a valid ID, you can vote.

Please, take the time out of your Tuesday this week to vote. No party has this election ‘in the bag’ there’s no sure fire winner. Everything is close and everything is up in the air. Your voice matters and here is your chance to have it heard.

Hope to see you at the polls on Tuesday!

–Hannah Carmack

How to Find Volunteer Opportunities at WSU

A WSU flag in the sunlight

The motto on our school flag says it all: “A Community of Learners Improving Our World.”

It’s about two months into my freshman year of college and one of the biggest things I’ve learned so far is that being as involved as possible at school is incredibly beneficial. Not only does it help you meet new people, it also helps you in the long-run as you build up your resume.Extracurricular sports and clubs are always a good idea, as well as eventually finding some sort of job whether on or off campus. But volunteering has a special significance and value all its own because you are helping others.

For me personally, I didn’t get a lot of job experience in high school, but I was involved in volunteering and this sticks out on my resume. If you can time can be found in your busy schedules during the week, or even a day on the weekend, you can change someone else’s life by just setting aside a few hours of your time.

Volunteer opportunities can be found all over campus. A great place to start is simply the Improving Our World – Winona State University Facebook page. This page is constantly posting information about service opportunities on and off campus. Just scroll through and you will find countless causes that need volunteers. Some of these causes are Winona-based such as the Sauer Health Care and the Winona County Historical Society and these are more casual and less of a commitment. But others need volunteers to travel around the world such as the International Volunteer Abroad Programs for Students. IVS would be an amazing life-changing opportunity for students interested in traveling abroad and you could potentially even get academic credit for it too. If you go on a service-based travel study through WSU you will defintiely receive academic credit. For example my  Women’s Gender and Sexuality Studies teacher offers a trip during the summer to the Virgin Islands where you can do volunteer work on the islands and take a class as at the same time.

Another tip for finding places to volunteer is to pay attention to posters and fliers in your residence halls and academic buildings. These colorful papers hanging in the common areas of offer so many different things for students to do. This is where I saw the information to join Hall Council and the Residence Housing Association of WSU. RHA is a group on campus and it is fantastic to put on resumes, to meet new people, and to work with a group of people to help with events and socials to make campus life the best it can possibly be for students. It has been one of the best choices I have made this year so far, and I found the information for it simply by looking at a poster by the Sheehan elevator and talking to my RA.  RAs are another great resource to help you get involved with volunteering as well because they have been at the university longer and have more connections than we freshmen do.

These are just a few different ways to find volunteer opportunities. The internet is always a great source, but you don’t even have to search that hard if you pay attention next time you walk through the halls of Kryzsko as well. I strongly recommend keeping on the lookout for amazing opportunities throughout the year!

–Liz Doyle

Sailing Toward Sustainability


Sustainability was never really a topic I thought I would be interested in. And I didn’t think I would learn more about this topic while riding on the Cal Fremling. However, both of these things happened when I was given the opportunity at the sustainability fair kick off a month ago. I was taking selfies of people in the Futures Photo Booth, when I ran into the WSU Sustainability advisor, Tex Hawkins. He asked if I would like to accompany WSU club leaders on a “boat ride to the wild side” as he called it, I couldn’t pass that up! Taking pictures and learning about something I knew little of sounded great to me.

Aboard WSU’s new educational vessel, the Cal Fremling, with Captain Rudy Beshensky highlighting navigation landmarks, student club leaders and myself got an entirely new perspective on the Mississippi from the river’s point of view. A group of “River Rat” philosophers, scientists, historians and conservationists were invited by Tex Hawkins to share their knowledge and experiences. The expedition was co-hosted by Friends of the Mississippi Headwaters President Todd Paddock, and assisted by Friends Crewmen Bruce Nicklay and John Lyons. After a few words from Captain Rudy on safety and a welcome from the Friends, we were on our way!

The boat ride was a blast! I listened to a professor sing us a Native American song, saw a couple bald eagles fly over us and took tons of pictures of the whole event. It was very informative and fascinating. The best part was standing on the upper deck and seeing the beautiful scenery surrounding us. It was such a gorgeous sight!

Afterwards, I asked Tex about that giant Eco-Warrior button, which I had seen before at the Sustainability Fair on Puddles, the Refuge’s big blue goose mascot. “I consider all of those on board today Eco-Warriors,” he said. “We are people who care enough about what is happening in our world to show up, pay attention, get involved and stand up for our core values. We love the outdoors, the beauty of nature that surrounds and sustains us, and we’re willing to fight for our future.”

Students who share these core values and want to be involved in Sustainable Futures Theme Year activities, including future educational excursions on the Cal Fremling, are encouraged to participate in Eco-Warrior on-line certification. They also can participate in the upcoming “Sustainability Challenge” and all of the other events scheduled on the Theme Year Calendar. Also, if you participate, don’t forget to complete the short on-line evaluations – it helps with future event planning. After my experience on the Cal Fremling boat, I would definitely recommend people looking into learning more about our theme of the year, sustainability.

–Sharna Miller

Conserving Our Stream Banks, One Cedar at a Time

Workers anchor cedar branches to the bank of the Riceford Creek to help stop soil erosion.

Workers anchor cedar branches to the bank of the Riceford Creek to help stop soil erosion. Photo Credit: Hometown Argus

Southeastern Minnesota is the home to many beautiful streams. However, these streams are becoming less beautiful as they are becoming more soil than water. Many stream banks are being exposed as the soil is transported downstream. This hurts the cleanliness of the streams, many of which are home to variety of species including frogs, water birds and trout.

To help preserve our streams and keep habitats for these animals clean, Winona State University, The Nature Conservancy and The Conservation Corps Minnesota have started a unique conservation effort called cedar revetment. I was lucky enough to get involved in this effort last summer and helped analyze the stream banks and transport cedar trees– which are an invasive species and bad for local prairies– to Riceford Creek located in Houston County in Minnesota.

My typical day meant pulling on my stream waders and driving down to Riceford Creek to make observations about this erosional problem. I would rate the stream banks on variables such as bank angle, bank height, amount of plants or rocks, plant root depth and density. I was then able to locate the sections of the stream that were at a crucial erosion stage and were eligible for the cedar tree placement.

After the evaluation, the cedar trees were then put into place along the bank. The cedar trees help slow down the water current and prevent material from being eroded. This will also promote the growth of trees and grasses.

This project will be monitored over a long period of time and then we’ll know just how successful it has been. Hopefully, it will clean up our streams and promote the population growth of the trout, which has recreational and economic benefits for southeastern Minnesota.

This conservation project is a chance for me to improve our environment and get a hands-on educational experience about future stream bank restoration. Through an innovative and cost effective process, we can protect the health of our streams and control a tree species that is foreign to the grassland area. I will be presenting my results at the Geological Society of America Conference in Vancouver in a couple of weeks. It was an amazing opportunity for me to be involved in such a dynamic and educational experience while being a student at Winona State University.

–Cole Tousignant

The 2014 Walk to End Alzheimer's: an Unforgettable Experience

people walking on a path around a lake

The 2014 Walk to End Alzneimer’s was a huge success.

We all know that when we get older, we tend to forget things. But sometimes we forget that this can actually become a serious issue. The forgetfulness of old age can turn into dementia, often a form called Alzheimer’s disease. While Alzheimer’s  actually isn’t a normal part of aging, it’s very common for older adults, particularly women, to develop it. We have all heard of this disease, but how much do we really know about it? This weekend I had the chance to take a deeper look at what Alzheimer’s really is and how it affects individuals and families at the 2014 Walk to End Alzheimer’s.

On Saturday morning, I didn’t sleep in like the normal college student usually does. Instead, I was up and ready to walk around Lake Winona by 9:30am with my fellow Student Association of Social Workers (SASW) club members. It was sunny outside and the lake looked gorgeous, of course, but what I didn’t expect to see was the huge sea of brightly colored t-shirts. There were over a hundred people there proudly supporting this cause in their orange, yellow and green event shirts from past years along with this year’s purple design. The opening ceremony started right on time in a pavilion hung with informational posters about the disease and decked with many flower pinwheels in remembrance of people with Alzheimer’s. After the walk, everyone met at the pavilion again for a raffle drawing, prizes for the teams who donated the most money and refreshments. We also heard touching stories of people who passed away from Alzheimer’s disease to remind us of why we were raising awareness for this disease.

I was at the walk because I know someone who is currently battling Alzheimer’s disease through my friend. Her father, Ron, is a former Marine gunnery sergeant, is probably one of the most cheerful, funny and kindhearted person I have ever met. He would always playfully tease the students and baseball players he coached and tell us interesting stories about his past. It was such a shock when he suddenly developed Alzheimer’s at the age of 44. I learned quickly that Alzheimer’s disease can happen to anybody, and the person doesn’t even have to be old to develop it.

Because Ron caught the disease early, he was able to get some treatment that helped and he has been decently healthy these past few years. However, it didn’t stop all the changes that came to the family and to Ron, and I could see it was a struggle for the family to handle the news. Even though she has to watch her dad slip slowly away, my friend is very supportive and does anything she can to help her dad. I remember how a few years ago she rallied classmates together for a Walk for Alzheimer’s to support him.

Ron was the person I was remembering on the 2014 Walk to End Alzheimer’s. While Alzheimer’s does not have a cure yet, there is medicine that can help treat symptoms. I hope that someday someone will be able to find a cure to this disease that deeply affects both the person and the family deeply. The statistics and facts of Alzheimer’s disease are shocking, and I encourage you to take the time to become more aware of this disease and then support research for a cure.

Hopefully, I’ll be seeing you and next year’s Walk to End Alzheimer’s!

–Sharna Miller

a group of people posing

The Student Association of Social Work club got a group pic before we took our walk.

Give Back for a Sustainable Future

three potted plants

These carbon-absorbing beauties are one small way I give back to the environment.

In an industrialized world, it can seem near impossible to do everything you can to save the environment—sure you recycle and you walk when your destination is close by, but there are many other ways to adapt a sustainable lifestyle. That being said, you DON’T need to do anything drastic like permanently ditching your car and biking miles from place to place or going off the grid and covering your rooftop in solar panels (Your landlord might not appreciate that too much). Leading a sustainable lifestyle, as this year’s University theme “Sustainable Futures” calls us to do,  is all about giving back in little ways.

Give Back to the Earth

For many years, humans have destroyed plants and habitats to make space for cities and farmland. By stripping the land, we have fewer plants to soak up all the carbon dioxide we put out through cars and other machines.

A simple way to combat this is to plant. This summer my roommate and I bought some pots at the Salvation Army and planted flowers in them. Not only are they good for the environment, but they also look so pretty on our stoop. You could also get vegetable seeds at Wal-Mart and plant them in a pot. At the Sustainability Fair last week, I planted a few pea seeds in a Dixie cup and recently transplanted them to a pot. They’re growing steadily next to the cactus on my windowsill.

Give Back to the Local Economy

As college students, we tend to buy anything cheap and easy–i.e. pasta, pasta and more pasta with some frozen pizza thrown in for good measure. However, buying from local food sources will help sustain the local economy as well as help you avoid all of those nasty pesticides found in grocery store produce and high-fructose corn syrup in pretty much everything else on the store shelves.

The Winona Farmer’s Market runs 7:30am – 1pm every Saturday until October. On special days, the Winona Artisan Market is there as well. I went a couple times this summer and got really great food for cheap (an ear of corn was $0.50 and four cucumbers cost $1). The Bluff County Co-Op is a great place to buy local and organic food all year round. When you buy local, you support members in your community and you get great food out of it too!

Give Back to Your Wallet

Drop your thermostat a few degrees lower. Turn off the lights when you’re not in the room. Stop using paper towels. Quit buying bottled water and use a stainless steel or glass reusable bottle instead. Wash your clothes with cold water and line-dry them (at least during the summer anyway). These little things can help you save money on your energy and grocery bills. At the same time, you’re making a positive impact on the environment.

–Kim Schnieder

How Art Improves Our World

Monet 's "La Siene a Vetheuil"

“La Siene a Vetheuil” by Monet is one of my favorite pieces at MMAM. Photo found at

Bright lights, silky oil on canvas, gilded frames intricately carved—there is something so wonderfully magical about art. Earlier this summer, I decided I wanted to get more involved in the Winona community, so I ventured to the Minnesota Marine Art Museum to sign up to be a volunteer greeter. For two hours a month, I wander around a gallery in the museum and do whatever I must to make people feel more comfortable. However, my favorite part of the gig is definitely getting to spend time with all that beautiful art for free.

Growing up in the suburbs of the Twin Cities was a godsend for me. The Minneapolis Institute of Arts, The Walker Art Center and a few high school teachers exposed me to so much art, from the impressionist painters to Japanese pop art. Through all forms of art including music, poetry, dance and painting, I’ve learned so much about myself and about the world as well. Many people see different forms of art as self expression—and it is—but art is so much more than that.

I know it’s cliché to say but I really do believe that art dramatically improves our world.

Art has the power to cross cultural, social, racial and economical boundaries. Consider for a moment, the kinds of diversity we have here in our own homeland.  America is a melting pot and art can be a common place where our many differences disappear. Art is like it’s own language that anyone can speak. Furthermore, art provides an opportunity for authentic cultural experiences. From the traditional dances of an African tribe to impressionistic European paintings, each is a lens for a view into another culture.

Art is also a window into the past. It’s a visual record of what people in the past thought and experienced. While written and oral histories can provide a fully story, artists like Van Gogh and William Turner put a picture of the past directly into your mind. And that’s much more exciting than history textbooks, eh?

Not only that, but art is great for the local economy. Just like buying local food at the farmers market, supporting local arts is healthy for the community. Events like Winona’s monthly Downtown Art Project  bring a lot of people to local businesses. It’s also a great opportunity for people in the community to get to know each other. During orientation week my freshmen year, I went to a music night at Some Sum Studio and ended up chatting with the artist and the owner of the studio. As a result of that night, I decided to volunteer for Midwest Music Fest in the Spring and I’ve met so many wonderful people through that event.

Art fosters community and, while one person can make a difference, an active and engaged community can really change the world.

–Kim Schneider

The Importance of Preserving Artifacts

16th Baptist Church,

We visited the 16th Baptist Church, rebuilt after the 1963 bombing.

When I was young, I used to think that museums were boring and I suppose a lot of other kids my age did too. But as I got older, I started to appreciate the preservation of artifacts that were part of history.

We visited the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute and the its on-site museum. The exhibits were very realistic instead of just using pictures or only one or two actual pieces from the time period. It was like immersing yourself into a 1950s classroom. I think this is a good way to bring history to life. They also had the piece of brick that embedded itself into church-goer Denise McNair’s head during the bombing at the 16th Street Baptist Church.

Museums can be really interactive. The Birmingham Civil Rights Institute was limited on interaction but right next to the museum was Kelly Ingram Park and the 16th Street Baptist Church, which are essentially museums themselves even though the church is still in use today and people use the park for various activities. I think those provided enough interaction just because of the history that happened there.

The 16th Street Baptist Church was the site of a bombing in 1963 and killed four young ladies and one boy and injured another boy and girl. Kelly Ingram Park is the sight of many protests, the largest and most notable one being on the 5th day of the Children’s March in Birmingham. Eugene “Bull” Connor ordered police to spray high-pressure water hoses on people, including children, and to make dogs attack people.

It’s also hard to believe that we were walking in the same places  as Martin Luther King, Jr., Rev. Fred Shuttlesworth and every important person in the movement, including the children who marched there (well, they didn’t walk in the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute of course since it was built in 1992).

We visited Meridian, Miss. and went to the Council of Federated Organizations (COFO) and the Freedom School, but all we had to look at was the overgrown grass lots where the buildings once stood. COFO was a coalition of organizations that encouraged blacks to vote and ensured that no one stopped them from voting. The city of Meridian decided to take the buildings down because they were not well kept and stood empty.

Our tour guide, Roscoe Jones, said that a few a people tried to save the buildings by registering them on the National Historical Society list but they were too late. Jones was a civil rights worker during the movement and still is for issues in the Meridian school system. Meridian schools are placing young kids under arrest for insignificant things like the wrong color socks with their uniforms.

It’s important that we preserve artifacts from history so that future generations learn how movements, laws and social change affect them and how they can go about changing things.

–Jordan Gerard

What Makes Social Change Happen? Courage!

two buttons showing support for the SNCC

Members of SNCC wore buttons like these to show their support for civil rights equality.  Image credit:

Throughout the course of this trip, we’ve met some pretty amazing people with amazing stories of what it was like living in the 1960s. The Civil Rights Movement was a hard time to live through for black and white people. The violence was staggering and it’s a good thing that Martin Luther King, Jr. and the other leaders told people to be nonviolent.

It must take a lot of courage to be able not to defend yourself when someone is hurting you. Self-defense is a natural reaction to any situation. We either decide to fight or flight. The veterans we’ve talked to said that some of the situations they were in were terrifying, but in the end it was worth it.

So how can today’s youth and young adults get involved to make social change? It’s actually not that difficult. All you have to do is find something that you’re passionate about, join the corresponding organization, participate and then spread the word about your cause.

A lot of the Civil Rights veterans worked for the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee and Roscoe Jones, our tour guide in Meridian, Miss. said that adults were not present for most of the committee’s activities. Adults helped guide them, but the teenagers were the driving force.

I think that goes to show that any group of people can have power and make social change. If people stand their ground and keep fighting for they want, eventually it will come.

–Jordan Gerard