MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — No matter what’s decided with schools, education will look a lot different this fall, and one Minnesota university is going to great lengths to make life as normal as possible for students.

Like most schools, Southwest Minnesota State University in Marshall tolerated distance learning because they had to.

“They have been looking forward to this experience their whole lives,” Southwest Minnesota State’s Marcy Olson said. “The on-campus experience is really what students look for.”

But as soon as spring semester was over, the university knew they wanted students back. So they decided to spend their summer days at the sewing machine.

“They are like our own kids,” associate professor LeAnne Syring said. “We are a tight-knit family here.”

Tight knit and handmade. In June, a group of faculty decided to make 400 “Mustang masks” for incoming students, as a way to safely get them back on campus and in the classroom.

“You have to be able to meet each other and have a personal connection, even if it is 6 feet apart,” Syring said.

Instead of working on lesson plans, they are working with custom fabric. They can reportedly crank out a mask every 15 to 20 minutes.

“I started making face masks when the pandemic started,” associate professor Mark Fokken said.

Fokken and his colleagues will work until this is done, because they know the real fabric of the community is education.

“It’s just a great sense of camaraderie and feels like we are back again as a university, and the pandemic is not going to beat us,” Fokken said.

Southwest Minnesota State received the fabric from donors, and they plan to hand out the Mustang masks at orientation in August.

John Lauritsen