Mary is a finalist for the 2021 Golden GOVIT Awards in the Individual Leader category. She was nominated by Kristi Karels. 

Mary was able to build a cohesive administrative team with members representing three colleges, one university {Northland Community and Technical College, Alexandria Technical and Community College, Bemidji State University, with a fiscal host of Northwest Technical College} and the system office. She focused on the positive outcomes for individuals in the state of Minnesota in the contract work and leadership she provided. During COVID-19, she served as a sounding board for new support initiatives hosted by Distance Minnesota, as well as provided leadership to the Distance Minnesota Management Council.

During COVID19, she was instrumental in creating a student continuity line, working with the Distance Minnesota admin team and the Minnesota State system office to define the systems and then turning it over to MNIT and the analyst/IT teams at Distance Minnesota and Bemidji State University. The project started as a brainstorming session with Academic and Student Affairs in the Minnesota State system office. In order to make this project succeed, the collaboration efforts of Minnesota IT Services, the Minnesota State Info Hub, and IT Services for 30 colleges and 7 universities needed to work simultaneously. The IT/analyst team were able to work with MNIT and set-up remote routers so that seventeen agents could access private data behind the firewalls hosted by Bemidji State University IT Services. While the agents were getting their offices transitioned to remote workstations, the admin and IT teams were busy adding work to their plates. A new toll-free number was initiated and advertised on the COVID-19 informational pages at 30 colleges and 7 universities {} { For technical support related to StarID, D2L, Kaltura, Zoom, Office 365, or other inquiries, visit for instructional guides, how-to videos, and more}. This phone number was designed to ring into two separate offices as the hours of services did not overlap 100%. Daytime and early evening calls rang into the Minnesota State Info Hub. After 8pm, the calls rolled to the Minnesota State IT Service Desk. This programming was completed by MNIT practically overnight. Students and faculty across the system had access to additional personalized support in a trying time.

Agents in the Distance Minnesota “Info Hub” quickly acclimated to the role of online trainers and cheerleaders for students, faculty, and staff functioning in a remote learning environment with Mary Fontes and other members of the Management Council cheering for them from the sidelines.

Distance Minnesota also collaborates with the Minnesota Department of Veterans Affairs (MDVA), providing phone support to Veterans and military family as a resource and referral line (also identified as the LinkVet Linkage Line {}). During COVID, the MDVA initiated several grant projects to provide funding to Veterans and their families going through difficult times. Agents also provided IT Support, guidance, and referrals to County Veteran Service offices throughout Minnesota for online forms created by MNIT services. which were available on the MDVA website: {}.

These projects would not have been as successful without the small department hosted within Northwest Technical College called Distance Minnesota and the leadership of Mary Fontes. She has been instrumental in encouraging collaboration between the colleges and universities in the Minnesota State system, the Minnesota Department of Veterans Affairs, and County Veteran Service Offices, and Minnesota IT Services (MNIT).