Lea B. Olsen, broadcaster, sideline reporter, analyst for the Minnesota Lynx, public speaker and mentor for women and people of color, came to Minneapolis Community College (MCC), before it became MCTC, in 1985. She graduated from Minneapolis South High a year early at the age of 16 and chose MCC in order to anchor herself in a small community college versus jumping into a large university where she may easily have felt overwhelmed.
As most of us know, sports are the heart of many college communities, and without basketball and coach Diane Scovill, one of MCTC’s current Physical Education instructors, Olsen may not have come to MCC. Olsen refers to her relationship with Scovill.
“Diane used to come over to South High,” she said, “and talk to me about what this campus was like, how there was going to be a lot of support for me, and she did it with a lot of BIG enthusiasm. She was a huge influence on why I love the game of basketball. Since then we have stayed in contact and she even helped me navigate the University of Minnesota, and a million things past college. I think the world of her.”
There were many other schools where Olsen could have gone and played basketball, but there was a perfect mix offered to her at MCC of good instructors like Scovill, a good sports team, and a welcoming and diverse community.
“I took all my general courses here,” said Olsen. “I thought, and I still believe to this day, that I learned just as much or more here, then I did at the University of Minnesota. The quality of the classes, the direct contact with my teachers, and the classroom size was a perfect learning environment for me.”
Minneapolis Community and Technical College has a reputation of being a diverse campus in many ways, age being one of them. “I remember being in a class with a woman who was 75 years old, Stella, I believe was her name, getting a degree late in life,” said Olsen. “She was very much a part of my experience here. Sitting and talking with her and with people my own age gave me a true sense of reality.”
As students of a community college, you may have heard people link a stigma to the education you are receiving as below par to four year university standards. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, the single largest group of traditional aged college students is comprised of those who are attending local community colleges.
“I was completely prepared to go to the University of Minnesota,” said Olsen, “and actually thought some of the basic classes I had to take there, like Psychology 101, was actually lacking a little bit in comparison to what I had taken at MCC.”
In her work as an analyst for the Minnesota Lynx – and in carving a career path – solving unexpected problems is key. Olsen knows that having the support she received at Minneapolis Community College helped her to get from A to B, as sometimes you don’t know how to get there yourself and you need the support.
“A lot of people don’t know what their four-year plan is and I am a proponent for what each person needs,” said Olsen. “I have a niece at MCTC, 3 of my brothers went here, and if you are not exactly sure of your path a four year college can be a huge waste of money.”
Everyone has to think about their options now based on the cost of college. “I think the community college should be congratulated for providing an opportunity to educate everyone,” said Olsen, “We say in America that we want to educate everyone, yet the cost is making it impossible to do just that.”
In the end, when you get into the real world, into the job market, no one asks you day in and day out what college you went to, they want to know what experience you have. Olson said, “I have never had anyone question me or not hire me because I went through community college.”
As a person of color, from a mixed, blended family, and being low income, education was a big focus for Olsen and her family. This diversity in her background was something she recognized in other students when she was on campus in the 80’s and even though the campus looks different today, she knows that this diversity is what made this experience so unique then and still makes it unique today.
In a place where students are always on the go, a community college may be a hard place to connect with fellow classmates. When Olsen was on campus, there were very few student clubs. As an alum, she sees the positivity of all the student clubs on campus as a way to provide inclusion and connection in a way that was present for her through sports teams.
There were only a couple of buildings when Olsen went here. There wasn’t a coffee shop. There wasn’t a STEM program. “To me all the changes show the system is working,” Olsen said. Minneapolis Community and Technical College embracing the unknown and and providing more opportunities removes gaps.
Moving from a 2-year college to a 4 year college can be daunting. When asked her advice on this transition, Olsen stated: “If you want to make the big university feel comfortable like the community college was, you have to seek that out as it is not going to come to you. It is about seeking what you need as people often feel isolated at four year universities.”
On the flip side of feeling isolated is the freedom one can have being on a big, sprawling campus. There is a sense of liberation that can come on a large campus. There are so many options available for each student, from clubs to sports teams.
Besides a love of basketball, Olsen was drawn to journalism. She loved the idea that we are all from different backgrounds, and wanted to seek out why things happen with people and how it all converges.
“In general, I think that everything about our lives is rotating, both positively and negatively, in the realm of news and journalism,” said Olsen. “Having an understanding of how journalism works, how it affects us, how instead of having well rounded views of news it is more specific is extremely important. It is our everyday life and we are connected to it.”
The convergence of basketball and journalism was Olsen’s path. As a Journalism and Mass Communications major at the University of Minnesota, she found that she was very interested in her classes, which makes learning a lot more fun.
At first the idea of being an anchorwoman was her goal. But after taking on an internship, she realized that her goal of anchorwoman was not what she wanted. She stated that an internship is as valuable as your school work. An internship helps you to navigate into the right career, not just what job you should get.
An internship is just one key to finding your career. “Networking with people-your counselors, your peers, your professors-people you can sit down with and have an informational interview is one of the biggest things you can do for your career,” said Olsen.
Alumni are an important part of every college campus. They are your second ring for networking. They are able to generate invaluable word-of-mouth marketing about MCTC. By engaging with our alumni, students can benefit from their skills and expertise.
Olsen was inducted into the MCTC Alumni Hall of Fame in 2003. She, among many others, are prominently featured in the class case right next to the financial aid office in the T-building. Perhaps one day you will share this same honor.