Past University Themes

University-wide themes began in Fall 2007. That year, a flash flood caused extensive damage in our region a week before the start of fall classes and the focus of our work became to facilitate the enormous outpouring of support from faculty, staff and students during the semester and the year.

The flood year resulted in a firm understanding for many members of WSU and the Winona community of the power and responsibility of WSU to teach its students in ways that connect them to relevant and authentic need.

Since then, we have organized our engagement efforts around deliberate theme years of education and celebration.

Each year, we involve thousands of students and community members in a variety of class projects, lectures, common book reading, theatre and dance productions, and community-connection workshops around the theme.

The Career Readiness Theme recognized that the world of work evolves through technological advances, globalization, and workforce diversification; the need for competent, responsible leaders grows; and the value of a liberal arts education is challenged.

The Career Readiness theme team used the National Association of Colleges and Employers Career Readiness Model, which through extensive research identified eight core competencies that employers seek in college graduates.

This model created a framework to assist students to identify, articulate, and advance these eight core competency areas through curricular and co-curricular programming.

The theme also invited academic programs to highlight and share their best practices around competency identification, articulation, and advancement unique to their disciplines.

The Resilience Theme emphasized personal exploration, connections and expression through the arts and community.

These experiences helped WSU community members develop strategies and skills to persist through challenges and adversity so that students, staff and faculty are prepared for the ups-and-downs of life.

The 2017-18 University Theme, Creativity and Innovation, is about how these skills are needed across all fields to achieve personal goals, develop professionally and help solve world problems.

Our Digital Humanity examines human life in the digital age. The 2016/17 theme provided opportunities to reflect on the role of technology in shaping the future mission of the university. This goes far beyond a debate between online and traditional teaching and learning. Rather, the university came together throughout the year to fully experience how digital media, social media and the technology of an “always connected” life impacts the humanistic inquiries of university life and learning.

The theme offered the opportunity to explore the intellectual and cultural impacts on our lives by digital technology via the multidisciplinary framework of Digital Humanities.


  • Cultivate ethical, responsible, inclusive and resilient digital citizens
  • Explore how digital tools have changed the way Winona State faculty, staff and students research, create, communicate, relate, learn and teach
  • Examine disruption across industries, communities, economies, ecologies, and other systems
  • Increase literacy of how everyday digital tools collect, process, harvest and analyze our daily human behavior
  • Consider the human costs of life in the digital age and the futures we want to create

The 2015/16 University Theme, Equity as a Human Right: Building Inclusive Community, is about upholding people’s rights, valuing diversity, challenging intolerance, and making institutional change around issues of social justice.

Sustainable Futures Logo

How will the challenges of this century shape your discipline? Your university? Your community?

Faced with issues like climate change, energy scarcity, and a growing population, can we build a better world not just for our generation but for generations to come? Can we pursue happiness without endless growth? Will the 21st century change the way we think about science, healthcare, education, business, politics, leisure, and the arts? What changes can we already see, and what changes do we anticipate? What resources can help students, faculty and community members prepare for the changes that are rapidly coming their way.

This theme will thread together all we have learned from our previous focus on food, water, wellness, home and place, the big sky and civic action. All of these themes have caused us to ponder how we might think more holistically about our lives, putting them in the context of the environment with its finite resources.

Improving Our World Fist Logo

“Improving our world” requires both an acceptance of social responsibility and an active participation in meeting the challenges of a modern society. This responsibility is borne out through political activity, community service, engagement in leadership roles, advocacy and becoming informed on issues that relate to social change.  The 2013/14 University Theme promoted and celebrated these aspects of civic action.

Fall semester activities focused on motivating students to take civic action on issues that are important to them and on giving them the tools they need to build effective action plans. Throughout the spring semester, students worked to carry out their action plans with help and coaching from their fellow students and the faculty and staff.

logoThe Well-Connected theme engaged the entire campus and local community in collaborative wellness centered activities to achieve and sustain integrated wellness as a foundation for a balanced and successful life. WSU embarked on holistic wellness and comprehensive health to foster lifelong learning and to recognize our role in the larger community. This holistic philosophy has been manifested through the completion of the Integrated Wellness Complex.

Students, faculty and staff, and community members explored the many definitions and meanings of home – a physical place, the university, a neighborhood, town, state, country, geographic area, and planet – and their roles in each. The theme also allowed students to develop a sense of place and gain knowledge of a particular area: Winona, Minnesota, situated in the driftless area of bluff country. Students were encouraged to explore the history, politics, health, culture, geology and geography of this area as well as their particular relationship to their residence hall or neighborhood. They discovered different ways of experiencing “home” and develop ways to appreciate a particular place as members of a distinct community.

Special events included the Minnesota Marine Art Museum’s photographic exhibit during the fall of 2011, Portrait and Place, by Drake Hokanson and James Bowey, both WSU faculty members. The Integrated Wellness Complex sponsored the Duniya Drum and Dance Troupe. The CLASP (Consortium of Liberal Arts and Science Promotion) lecture series, fall Swan Watch tour, Lyceum events, including Shakti Butler, David Kung, and Charles Trimble as well as the Common Book, Packinghouse Daughter, by Cherie Register, focused on different ways to interpret home and a sense of place, and how those interpretations relate to our direct experiences. One student project involved “Absent Narratives,” interviews with immigrants and refugees who work in the area, but who are in many ways invisible in the community. This will be part of The Way We Work exhibit at the Winona County History Center in December, 2012. In addition, the Student Life and Development division completed the development of a restorative justice program aimed at assisting students to develop an appreciation of and respect for their neighbors and neighborhoods in their daily interactions.


"What sculpture in these hard clouds; what expression of immense amplitude of this dotted and rippled rack, here firm and continental, there vanishing into plumes and auroral gleams. No crowding; boundless, cheerful, and strong."

– Ralph Waldo Emerson, journal, May 25, 1843

The sky, like water and food, is both a universal experience and also very particular: we all share the sky, but we all have our own particular piece of it. For the 2010-11 Theme, WSU looked at the sky from a variety of perspectives, to raise our awareness of its significance.

We started the year with an airplane on campus as part of our Fall Sky Fair. Highlights of the year included an "Adopt-A-Cloud" program and a campus visit by Brother Guy J. Consolmagno, S.J., a planetary astronomer from the Vatican Observatory. The Big Sky blog on Winona360 tracked our progress through the year.

Sustainable Foods

WSU faculty and staff members, working with community members involved in local foods and sustainable farming, offered a variety of opportunities throughout the academic year to engage students and faculty in the study of sustainable food systems. These included on- and off-campus events incorporating farms, film, food, literature, science, wildlife, and policy as examples of the multi-disciplinary approach that is at the heart of this effort.

This year was the first year that the Winona Farmers Market was held on campus. It was also the first year of offering Curriculum Grants for faculty to design course components for their classes directly related to the theme. Details of the year's events can be found on the full Sustainable Foods Partnership website.

Our Drinking Fountains, Our Water Graphic

Our first theme was known as "The Water Project." Together with In the Heart of the Beast Puppet and Mask Theatre of Minneapolis, we developed a year-long project to inspire stewardship of our public local water and to promote a broader understanding of regional, national and international water issues. We also refurbished a local drinking fountain in Winona as a public art initiative—one that was enacted and celebrated along with the public educational component of the year. The resulting bronze otters public drinking fountain at the lake serves as an emblematic manifestation of a community committed to the honor, protection, and celebration of clean water as central to the health and wealth of our city.

Please visit the Water Project website for full details of the year.