Take a Virtual Campus Tour Schedule a Visit Request Info

CST Advisory Council

The Advisory Council of the Center for Small Towns (CST) exists to support the CST staff and programs by serving as advocates, identifying resources, and participating in discussions designed to improve the organization’s structure, services and external relationships. Please take a moment and get to know our talented Advisory Council which provides insight, guidance, and support for our work.

Cindy Bigger

Cindy Bigger

Bigger Associates

Cindy M. Bigger is owner, educator and consultant for Bigger Associates. She is a retired Extension Educator and Associate Professor for the University of Minnesota Extension. During her 27-year career, she worked in three Minnesota counties working primarily in 4-H Youth Development and Leadership Education. She has had her consulting business, Bigger Associates, for 10 years and resides in Alexandria MN. Her work focuses on leadership programs for adults, organizations and civic engagment in the region. She is also a faciliator who has worked for numerous non-profit and local governments across the state.


Pat Conroy

Pat Conroy

Widseth Smith Nolting

Pat Conroy, raised in Hancock, is currently a local area grant writer. He helps small communities with grant writing and applications to finance a variety of local and regional needs. These include public water and wastewater infrastructure, community buildings, housing, economic development, fire department grants, educational, community development programs, and poverty programs. He has carried out this work from the public, nonprofit, and private sectors during his 35-year career, securing almost $200 million for communities and organizations across the region.

Conroy is currently employed with Widseth Smith Nolting, an engineering, architecture, and land survey firm serving Minnesota and North Dakota. He is a graduate of St. John’s University (1972), with additional coursework from the University of Minnesota, Morris, North Dakota State University, and the University of St. Thomas.


Bart Finzel

Bart Finzel

University of Minnesota, Morris

Bart D. Finzel is currently the Vice Chancellor for Academic Affairs and Dean at the University of Minnesota, Morris (UMM). Finzel is also a Morse-Alumni Distinguished Teaching Professor of Economics and Management. He received his Ph.D. and M.A. in Economics from Cornell University and was the long term coordinator of the economics, management program at UMM and former director of its Honors Program, as well as former director of the Center of Small Towns. He is a member of The Association for Evolutionary Economics, The International Association for the Economics of Participation, and the Industrial Relations Research Association, among other professional organizations. His research has been published in the Employee Responsibilities and Rights Journal, the Global Economy Journal, the Journal of Cooperatives, the Journal of Economic Issues, and by The Industrial Relations Research Association.


Les Heen

Les Heen

Pioneer Public Television

Les Heen is President and General Manger of Pioneer Public Television in Appleton, Minnesota. Before joining Pioneer in 2007, Les served as Communications and Public Affairs Director for Minnesota Farmers Union in St. Paul. His experience in media and government relations also includes four years as director of the University of Minnesota Alumni Association’s Legislative Network, and six years as a Committee Administrator for the Minnesota State Senate. He began his broadcast career in journalism more than 20 years ago as a writer and reporter for KARE Television in the Twin Cities. Les lives near Maynard with his wife, Barbara, and two sons, Christopher and Erik.


Dawn Hegland

Dawn Hegland

Upper Minnesota Valley Regional Development Commission

Ms. Hegland has a Bachelor of Arts degree in Biology, Environmental Science, and Secondary Education from Concordia College in Moorhead. She has been with the Upper Minnesota Valley Regional Development Commission since 1994 and has worked with many program areas including community development, economic development, natural resources, transportation and tourism development. She continues to work on new initiatives throughout the region as requested by the RDC’s governing board which is made up of city, township and county elected officials. Some of the recent projects include renewable energy, local food development, bike trails, parks, entrepreneurship, interpretation, and community revitalization.

Dawn lives along the Minnesota River in beautiful Lac qui Parle County on the family farm with her husband Ed and three children; Grace, Evan, and Elias. They love to travel, hike, garden, cook, golf, play music and camp.


Blaine Hill

Blaine Hill

City of Morris

Blaine Hill took over as the City Manager of Morris in September of 2007. Prior to that he was the City Clerk Treasurer in Breckenridge, Minnesota from 1990 to 2007. Hill grew up in Morris, Minnesota and graduated from Morris High School in 1977. He attended Willmar Vocational School and graduated with an associate’s degree in accounting. He then went to work for the City of Morris as an accountant. Hill began attending classes at the University of Minnesota Morris and graduated in 1987 with a bachelor’s degree in political science with a major concentration in local and state government. Hill has served as a member of the Minnesota National Guard and Army Reserves, currently holds the rank of Lieutenant Colonel, and teaches military leadership and operations at the Command and General Staff College at Ft. Snelling. He has served as the President of the League of Minnesota Cities and the UMM Alumni Association. He is married and has two daughters.


Muriel Krusemark

Muriel Krusemark

Hoffman Economic Development Authority

Muriel Krusemark is currently the coordinator of Hoffman Economic Development Authority. Prior to this position, she has been a deli manager of a major food chain, owner and operator of a bridal shop, a clothing store, and grocery store. She has also functioned as secretary and bookkeeper for Hoffman Public Schools, youth director at a local church and as a Horizons local organizer. In addition, Muriel is active in Hoffman Lions, Commerce and Ag, her local church, and is the local coordinator of Minnesota Intelligent Rural Communities (MIRC). Muriel also works in her small business in Hoffman’s Main Street Galleria.


Melissa Persing

Melissa Persing

4-H Program Director, Minnesota Extension Service

Melissa Persing is the University of Minnesota Extension 4-H Program Director in Traverse County. She has worked in youth and community development for 24 years in west central and southwest Minnesota. Melissa graduated from the University of Minnesota Morris with a BA in Liberal Arts for the Human Services and an MA in Education with a concentration in Youth and Family Studies. She enjoys living in Wheaton with her husband and four children.


Melissa Persing

Ryan Pesch

University of Minnesota, Extension

Ryan Pesch, an Extension Educator in Community Economics based in Fergus Falls, MN, has developed and delivered Extension Community Economics programming in northwest and west central Minnesota since 2004. He has delivered business retention and expansion programming, retail trade analysis and small stores success workshops. Pesch has also developed public finance programming with Department of Applied Economics faculty, and adapted the Access ECommerce program to the needs of direct farm marketers. At the Humphrey Institute of Public Affairs, he researched case studies of rural knowledge and industry clusters, and researched and hosted regional planning meetings for economic development planning coming from the West Central Initiative. In addition to experience in teaching and rural development, Ryan has experience in sustainable agriculture as an intern, an independent farmer/business owner and a grocer.


Roger Rose

Roger Rose

Associate Professor of Political Science, University of Minnesota, Morris

Roger Rose received his Ph.D. from the University of California, Davis. He is a 2007–2008 American Political Science Association Congressional Fellow, where he worked for former Rep. Jim Oberstar. Besides Congress, his primary research centers on student interest in public service and volunteering, volunteering in the public sector, congressional involvement in human rights, and Supreme Court decision making. He has published in the American Review of Public Administration, Presidential Studies Quarterly, and the Journal of Social Psychology. Roger teaches courses in American politics, state and local politics, research methods, environmental policy and international human rights.


Dale Umlauf

Dale Umlauf

West Central Initiative

Dale Umlauf is the Vice President of Business Development for West Central Initiative (WCI), a hybrid community foundation that serves nine counties of west central Minnesota. Dale joined WCI in 2007. He previously worked as the EDA director in Crookston and as the director of the NW Small Business Development Center. He has twenty years of experience in the banking industry. Dale holds a Bachelors degree in business and economics from Bemidji Sate University. He was born and grew up in the Fergus Falls area.


Holly Witt

Holly Witt

Lakes Country Service Cooperative

Holly Witt graduated from the University of Minnesota, Morris in the 1980’s with a BA Degree in Liberal Arts for the Human Services and a minor in Communications. Since her graduation from UMM, she has served in a number of nonprofit organizations most notably as Executive Director of the Morris Area Chamber of Commerce for 6 years. She also has experience in the business arena as a mortgage lender and as a real estate agent. Holly is the Assistant Manager of Member Services at Lakes Country Service Cooperative, focusing on nonprofit, city and county members. She is a graduate of the Blandin Community Leadership Program and a member of the Morris Library Foundation Advisory Committee.