Despite interrupted path to graduation, McMurrin found uninterrupted connection to UMN Morris

Lisa Walker

When Linsey McMurrin ’24 left UMN Morris as a student in 2009, just two classes short of earning her bachelor’s degrees in both anthropology and Native American and Indigenous studies, she intended to come back and finish. She did just that, graduating this past May.

“I always had been interested in coming back,” says McMurrin. “It was more so about finding the right timing.”

Ultimately, it was the connections she made while she was a student here previously that prompted her to return. One of those connections was through her involvement in student organizations like the Circle of Nations Indigenous Association where Vice Chancellor for Student Affairs Sandy Olson-Loy got to know McMurrin. Upon reaching out to McMurrin to follow up on her career path, Olson-Loy realized how close McMurrin had come to completing her degrees and encouraged her to consider coming back to finish. And so began conversations about what that would look like and how it would work for McMurrin as a single parent living and working full time three hours away to fulfill the remaining credits she needed.

“Sandy was so supportive through it all in terms of connecting me with folks in admissions again and really taking a look at my transcript and seeing what the … path forward would be for me,” McMurrin says.

McMurrin was able to take one class each semester during the 2023-24 academic year, and both professors were willing to work with her remotely as needed, something McMurrin appreciates and is grateful for. The faculty’s willingness to be flexible to students’ needs and circumstances stood out for McMurrin. Assistant Professor Marissa Holst made a point of ensuring that the elective course in psychology McMurrin took from her to meet her degree requirements could be applied to her current job as the executive director of Peacemaker Resources, a nonprofit organization. So Holst offered to do a directed study with McMurrin.

“She wanted whatever we came up with to be applicable to the work I’m currently doing,” says McMurrin.

McMurrin valued that approach, as it allowed her to really delve into some topics.

When it came time to do her senior capstone project the following semester, McMurrin had a similar experience. Anthropology Associate Professor Cristina Ortiz worked with McMurrin to create something McMurrin could use going forward in her work.

“I really appreciated the outlook of the professors to really ensure that it was something that I could draw upon and use in my work today,” says McMurrin. "Both semesters were such a great experience because, again, [the coursework fed] directly into the work I’m doing now.”

That work that McMurrin does at Peacemaker Resources largely focuses on helping communities cultivate communication, compassion, and connections through social and emotional learning, cultural responsiveness, and mindfulness. One component of this is teaching children and adults how to deal with conflict and cultural trauma, which she believes requires an understanding of and appreciation for other cultures and all facets of people’s identities. This is an area that she’s been able to draw from the Morris experience.

“[UMN Morris’s] emphasis on inclusivity, celebrating diversity, on creating a sense of belonging, on appreciating and understanding other people’s cultures and facets of their identity, all of those things are very applicable,” says McMurrin. “And having that be such a large part of my college experience most certainly has prepared me to bring that forward in the work that I do and the communities I serve as well.”

These things are also what attracted McMurrin to Morris, especially that sense of belonging, which she says she immediately felt when she first interacted with someone from UMN Morris at a college fair in high school and then later when visiting campus.

“I attended a campus visit and I remember thinking how beautiful campus is, how welcoming everybody was, and also about how many opportunities there were to study abroad.” In thinking back, McMurrin says it was these things combined with the programming offered and the school’s history that made a distinct impression on her.

“[It] felt really powerful to me to be able to … attend the university and have such a positive experience, not only in education but as well as kind of a reclamation of culture and reconnecting … as a place to really find friendship and find opportunities ...”

Linsey McMurrin in graduation cap and gown

This stuck with McMurrin through the years and factored into her decision to come back as a nontraditional student. She recalled her time here before when other non-college-age students were fully embraced and immersed in the school culture. McMurrin says it helped her decision to recall how welcoming it always felt.

McMurrin wants others who are thinking about returning or transferring to UMN Morris to know that there is a place for them, that they will be welcomed, no matter what their journeys look like.

“I want to offer words of encouragement for others who might be thinking about coming back to finish their degrees or who might be considering starting their education journey later in life. And to all prospective students of UMN Morris—the community that you are going to find when you become a student here is unmatched. [T]he sense of belonging lasts beyond your years as a student, continuing when you become a UMN Morris alum,” says McMurrin. “I will always feel that connection to Morris and the community there and really hope other people can have the same experience.”