Putting Students First

You could say that part of Mark Constantine’s job is to keep 15,000 students happy here. As Director of the Centennial Student Union and Student Activities, he oversees what is essentially the heartbeat of student life. A veteran of such work—he was assistant vice president for student a airs at the College of William and Mary and the director of student activities at the University of Tennessee before joining Minnesota State Mankato in 2013—Constantine gave a quick assessment of the rewards and challenges in his job.

Q: What were your impressions of Minnesota State Mankato in terms of student activities when you took over in 2013?

A: My first impression was the energy and commitment from this area. Our staff, led by Associate Director Greg Wilkins, has the kind of zest for life that any director would cherish. They understand that Student Activities isn’t about them; it is about the students involved in our programs. An area which needed (and still needs) improvement was our lack of programming resources, meaning a larger budget. The staff does a tremendous job of spreading the wealth, but we are behind where we should be when it comes to exposing students to prominent speakers and nationally known cultural attractions.

Q: Generally speaking, what kinds of activities generate enthusiastic turnout and response by the larger student body?

A: They love their concerts, always wanting the newest and best stars of the day! What they don’t realize is the fickle nature of the college music industry. Without large funds, and a venue to make it happen, it is a tough game to play. Dances aren’t in vogue like they once were, but novelty programming is extremely strong. The Student Events Team is very creative in many “home grown” programs, which are highly attended. Family Feud, The Price is Right and Cosmic Bingo are a few examples of good wholesome fun, wonderful student involvement and creative prizes.

Q: How do you view the University’s relationship with the greater Mankato community as it relates to cultural activities on campus?

A: I do think we should continue to form solid relationships with our community partners for the betterment of our students, as well as exposing the community to the broad spectrum of talent we have at the University.

Q: How would you describe the student experience today versus when you were an undergrad?
A: It is so much better today than when I was in school. Student unions and student activities have become so much more of a profession over the last quarter century. Students going into Student Affairs as a profession are being mentored and educated at a very high level. Assessment, student engagement, leadership development and community service are areas that weren’t on our radar like they are today. A building like the CSU is constantly evolving and changing for the better. We don’t wait around anymore for something to get outdated. As a team we regularly evaluate and assess our programs and services with an eye to the future. Students, faculty, staff and the general public are much better served now than ever before. Technology is constantly evolving, and it is our challenge to stay in front of the curve. Our Associate Director of Operations, James Ball, has a keen eye for change and understands what it takes to make it happen.

Q: What kind of legacy would you like to leave from your time as director?
A: My philosophy and mission have been very consistent for my more than 38 years in the field. Students should always come first! Providing students with leadership opportunities is job one. Mentoring a student who potentially wants to go into Student Affairs is the ultimate high. The other important legacy is that we’ve always provided a high level of programs and services. This is clearly one of the missions of a great student union.  —Joe Tougas