Leaving a Legacy of Transformation
Nothing in Anne Blackhurst’s early academic life suggested she would one day become a university president.
In high school, adults told her she wasn’t living up to her potential. In her first year of college, she failed several classes. And then, something changed. A treasured teacher told her she was capable of doing so much more.
That encouragement transformed her life.
Blackhurst has served as president of Minnesota State University Moorhead since 2014, when she was named its 11th president. She stepped into the role after three years of serving as the university’s provost and senior vice president for academic affairs.
She will retire in June.
Blackhurst never dreamed that she would join this elite calling in higher education. Every experience prepared her for the next. “I just did the next thing in front of me,” she says.
But she also never forgets what it took to get there.
“It’s important for students to hear these types of stories,” she says. “It’s important for them to hear that you can struggle and not be defined by that.”
As a new university president, Blackhurst wanted to rebuild MSUM’s reputation and increase its visibility. She accomplished this by encouraging the campus to focus on what makes it distinctive and building stronger relationships with the community.
The university’s values – grit, humility, and heart – were always part of a Dragon identity. During Blackhurst’s tenure, however, emphasizing those values became key to building pride and embracing what it means to be part of the MSUM community.
Blackhurst lived out those values early on. She saw one of her roles as being a walking, talking logo for the university. At first this meant wearing splashes of red. Then she slipped on a signature piece of clothing: her red blazer.
But this also meant connecting with others through humor. In the days before her installation as president, President Anne bobbleheads showed up. An early adopter of social media, she willingly stopped to take selfies with students as she strolled through campus. The #Annefan hashtag became part of her story as she shared MSUM’s.
“Humility is about not taking yourself too seriously and that’s important when interacting with students,” she says. “It’s about trying to have fun while getting work done.”
These were small but visible steps that established pride throughout the campus. “That’s where you need to start. If we don’t feel pride in our institution, we can’t portray that externally,” she says. “This is a special place.”
Next, Blackhurst worked tirelessly to demonstrate how central the university is to Fargo-Moorhead’s social, cultural, and economic well-being.
She stepped into community leadership roles with the United Way, the local Chamber of Commerce, Greater Fargo Moorhead Economic Development Corporation, and Downtown Moorhead, Inc., among others.
She led efforts to establish strong partnerships with businesses like Essentia Health and Forum Communications. These relationships provide expanded experiences for students and well-educated employees who can fill local workforce needs.
In addition, Blackhurst built an infrastructure to sustain fundraising by the university. During her tenure, MSUM completed its first comprehensive campaign and raised more than $60 million to support student success, academic programs, and a new alumni center to be completed in the summer of 2024.
“Clearly, she has put MSUM on a sustainable path both programmatically and financially. She will leave behind a lasting legacy and a strong forward-looking institutional momentum,” said Minnesota State Chancellor Devinder Malhotra in a statement about her retirement.
After retirement, Blackhurst’s plans are simple. She has a son and two grandkids in Tulsa, Oklahoma, where she plans to spend more time. She expects to move to the Pacific Northwest.
What will never change is that she believes that higher education has the power to change lives. She’s seen it happen in her own life; she sees it happen on campus every day.
MSUM is home to students who are hard-working and gracious, she says. They often have no idea of what they’re capable of achieving until someone believes in them. And that’s where the transformation happens.
“I’m not directly responsible for that, but I witness it and it’s been an honor to be part of it,” she says.
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