John Andrick, who in September became the first dean for student academic success at the College of Saint Benedict and Saint John’s University, grew up in Crosby, North Dakota, a town of about 1,000 people in the extreme northwest corner of the state.
It’s about 120 miles northwest of Minot and 2 1/2 hours south of Regina, Saskatchewan, and he often played youth hockey just over the Canadian border, a few miles north.
“There are a lot of little towns up there that basically had a bar and a rink,” said Andrick, chuckling at the memory recently before he returned to Crosby on a deer hunting trip. “When I went to college, I wanted something big. I wanted the Division I athletics experience – Big Ten football and hockey as a fan – so I went to the University of Minnesota. But after I got there, I realized I was just a small fish in a gigantic pond. My dorm had 650 people in it.”
He knew no one. It was overwhelming and he found it difficult to find friends or connect with faculty.
“My advisor had no idea who I was until he saw my name on his calendar and pulled out my file,” Andrick said. “There was just no human connection. It was a big driver for what I’ve gone on to do with my life.”
After one year, he transferred to North Dakota State University and didn’t particularly care for that, either. But he decided it didn’t make sense to transfer again because he didn’t want to waste any more time and money getting his degree with concentrations in education, child development and family science, and communications. Surprisingly, he succeeded as an orientation leader – showing students how the school could be right for them, even if it wasn’t necessarily what he wanted. And as he did so, his eyes opened to his own future.
“I had no idea you could work at a college and not be a professor or a coach, no concept of all the other types of jobs there are,” Andrick said. “I figured everybody in an office was either an administrative assistant or a graduate student. Once I realized there were other professions, that was eye-opening to me, and I fell in love with the idea of helping students.
“I’d always felt a draw to education, like it was my calling,” he added. “But I didn’t want to be in the classroom. I thought I’d get a teaching license, work a few years and then get an administrator’s license and become a principal. As time went on, working in higher ed appealed to me a lot more.”
That turned out to be his destiny, although there wasn’t a straight line to get there.
Climbing the higher ed ladder
Andrick's first job was as a hall director at a small institution in South Dakota. He lasted one semester, moved back to Fargo and managed an ice cream shop, worked for an apparel company doing embroidery and screen printing and making deliveries. But none of that ever felt right.
Then he took a job answering phones and greeting visitors at a small for-profit college. That led to academic advising, and he eventually got his master’s degree in organizational leadership for higher education. After stints at two other small schools, he served six years in a newly developed role at Concordia College in Moorhead as director of the Center for Student Success and assistant dean of students, leaving there to come to CSB and SJU.
“I was a good high school student, top of my class with a strong ACT score, but I struggled to make the move from high school learning to collegiate learning,” Andrick said. “I fit the profile of most first-generation students – low socioeconomic status, Pell eligible and a lot of those kinds of things that we now look at as high-risk factors for incoming students. No one helped me once I got to college. I had to navigate on my own and, if I succeeded, it was all up to me. If I failed, it was all on my shoulders. There was no one reaching out and offering help. I never felt like anyone at an institutional level had my back.”
And, ever since, Andrick has vowed no other student will experience what he did, if he can help it.
“This position was written for someone like me,” he said of his role at CSB and SJU. “It’s about helping students start well and finish well here. Academic advising, which is at the crux of what I do, has evolved into a holistic practice. I want us to focus a lot on relationship development, network building and discovering a love for learning.”
Supporting students with the resources they need
Andrick also will oversee the libraries and writing centers on both campuses as well as the math center, The Study, disability support services, orientation and first-year experience. Although much of his work won’t be student-facing, his job is to make sure the resources exist outside the classroom for students to succeed within it.
“We don’t want anyone to fall through the cracks,” said Andrick, whose wife remains in Fargo, where they have a home, because she’s in a master’s degree program at the University of North Dakota and works in behavioral health for the state. He also has a 16-year-old son from another relationship who lives in St. Cloud.
“We want to benefit students of low socioeconomic status as we do those who are wealthy, those who are BIPOC in addition to those who are white, and our Muslim and atheist students the same way we benefit our Catholic students,” Andrick added. “Much of their success is in how they navigate the social fabric of this place. If they’re not able to do it well, that can prevent them from the academic success they want to achieve. That can lead to impostor syndrome, where they won’t ask for help because they don’t want anyone to think they don’t belong. We want every student to be comfortable asking if they need mental health counseling or help with financial literacy or tutoring. Our intention is that all Bennies and Johnnies get to be the best version of themselves.”