By Grace Lyden | Inforum

Tweet by tweet, Minnesota State University Moorhead’s new president is trying to tear down the ivory tower.

Minnesota State University Moorhead President Anne Blackhurst runs with students Sept. 24. David Samson / The Forum
Minnesota State University Moorhead President Anne Blackhurst runs with students Sept. 24. David Samson / The Forum

Nine months into her tenure, Anne Blackhurst has charmed students, faculty and local business leaders with her personable attitude and Internet aptitude. It’s part of a conscious effort by Blackhurst to personally raise MSUM’s profile.

“She’s very, very good at kind of being one of the people,” Student Body President Cody Meyer said. “She’s very much a part of the student body.”

Blackhurst made her first impression on students when she helped them move into dorms last fall, and since then, she’s continued to interact with them daily – via Twitter.

“She’s a rock star,” said Meyer, who added that he doesn’t go a day without seeing a student in a red #Annefan T-shirt. “People love that she’s on social media and embraces that presence, and I think it kind of humanizes her.”

The shirts recognize a popular hashtag that emerged around her inauguration last fall and continues to be used today. Last week, a student tweeted, “it’s crazy awesome that I can just be walking around my college and see the president just chilling in the cafe. #annefan.

 File photo from Friday, Sept. 26, 2014. Dave Wallis / The Forum

File photo from Friday, Sept. 26, 2014. Dave Wallis / The Forum

Blackhurst often retweets or congratulates students on Twitter. On a couple of occasions, she’s tweeted back at students asking her to cancel classes so they can follow the basketball team on the road, replying, “I wish!”

Tim Borchers, dean of the College of Arts, Media & Communication, said he follows many college presidents on Twitter and “she’s probably one of the few” who uses the tool so effectively.

“I don’t see too many that are as engaging and interactive as she is,” he said.

But for Borchers and other faculty, her presence in person is just as notable as her presence online.

“She comes to concerts and plays and art exhibitions and lectures,” he said. “I think it’s helped her to understand some of our needs, some of our visions and aspirations, that she’s been there to see what we do.”

Visibility No. 1

In a recent meeting with The Forum editorial board, Blackhurst said visibility was her No. 1 priority when she took office July 1, replacing Edna Szymanski, who had been president since 2008.

“The thing I heard most often from the community was that MSUM had been invisible, and I think that rightly or wrongly, the president is the face of the institution,” said Blackhurst, who had been provost at MSUM since 2011.

So, she has embraced social media, accepted speaking invitations and gone with Marsha Weber, dean of the College of Business and Innovation, to meet with about 50 business leaders. Weber would say the work is paying off.

“She has established and re-established many connections with the local and regional community, with alums, with businesses,” Weber said. “I just think that she, by doing that, is really raising the profile of MSUM in the region.”

File photo from Monday, April 28, 2014. Michael Vosburg / Forum Photo Editor Michael Vosburg / Forum Photo Editor
File photo from Monday, April 28, 2014. Michael Vosburg / Forum Photo Editor Michael Vosburg / Forum Photo Editor

Alumni interaction

The university recently announced it’s having its best fundraising year ever, and many have said Blackhurst is the reason.

“Her approach to alumni is so refreshing,” said Gina Monson, director of alumni relations. “She’s approachable, she wants to hear them, and alumni of all ages have felt comfortable with her.”

Like current students, young alums appreciate that the president is tech-savvy, but also “she’s researched the history of the university,” Monson said. “She knows we are where we are today because of people who laid the groundwork before, and she values those people.”

For Weber, who’s been at the college for 25 years, it’s a good day to be a Dragon.

“I would say that right now I’m probably the most optimistic that I’ve ever been at MSUM about our future and the direction we’re going,” she said.

Readers can reach Forum reporter Grace Lyden at (701) 241-5502