Alumnae Spotlight Archive

 Finding the right path
Elizabeth Deziel

“Deciding on a career path is incredibly challenging. Some people chose a major in college, find a job in their field and remain happy and satisfied forever. The rest of us have to spend a decade (or two, or three) discerning our paths.”

These wise words from Elizabeth Deziel ’01 will undoubtedly strike a chord for many. But Liz is uniquely qualified to speak on the subject considering she is one of the banking industry’s youngest, high-ranking women executives in the Twin Cities — without ever taking a single business course at Saint Ben’s.

After earning a bachelor of arts in liberal art studies, Liz moved to the Twin Cities and led YMCA after-school programs for at-risk youth in Downtown Minneapolis. After a few years working in the non-profit sector, Liz finally had her “aha” moment and recognized that what she really craved from a job was regular intellectual and analytical challenges. It was time to take her career in a completely new direction.

In 2005, Liz entered the corporate world by landing a job with U.S. Bancorp Foundation as a community relations specialist. Within a year, she knew she had found the right fit.

At age 29, Liz became a vice president at U.S. Bank and at 31 she became managing director of The Private Client Reserve of U.S. Bank. In this role, she oversees 10 bankers and associates in the Reserve’s Twin Cities’ offices and advises clients whose net worth is at least $3 million. This impressive climb is a tribute to Liz’s hard work and dedication, but she remains thankful for the women who paved the way so her generation could compete in the business world.

“We still have a lot of work ahead of us, which is why Saint Ben’s mission to foster leadership and personal development is vital,” says Liz. “Women hold such a small number of the senior leadership roles in the business world, and many companies still have no women on their corporate board of directors. It is important to be well-rounded, poised, articulate, passionate and know how to get things done. Saint Ben's helps foster all of that, as well as a unique blend of warmth, confidence and ambition.”

While it’s not uncommon for students to change their major while in college, Liz stands as an example to young women that their first job may not be something they stick with forever. “I would encourage young women to think about what they are really good at and what satisfies them. Pick something, try it for a year or more, and learn from it. Everything you try will teach you something about yourself."

Student club becomes a nonprofit
Danielle Liebl

At the age of 6, Danielle Liebl '14 was asked by her parents what she wanted to be when she grew up. Without missing a beat, she responded, "An orthopedic surgeon at Gillette." That's a pretty specific answer for a 6-year-old and one that would surprise most people. But Danielle, who was diagnosed with cerebral palsy when she was 5 months old, had become very familiar with doctors and their titles at a young age.

Although a formidable biology class in high school made her admit that being an orthopedic surgeon wasn't in the cards, her childhood dream wasn't lost. Danielle reevaluated what she felt called to do and realized that while she wouldn't be Dr. Liebl, she could be just as influential in helping people with intellectual and cognitive disabilities - and she credits the Special Olympics and the College of Saint Benedict for helping her do just that.

"When I joined the local Special Olympics team, my life changed dramatically," says Danielle. "They gave me the skills to be an advocate and to recognize the issues that were important to me. They helped me realize that my disability doesn't define who I am or what my limitations are. The only person who can define that for me is me."

Danielle brought that perspective with her when she started her first year at Saint Ben's. She got to work right away by hosting a Spread The Word To End The Word campaign on campus, which seeks to educate young people about the misuse of the word "retard(ed)." Danielle had been a member of the team who started the campaign at the Special Olympics World Youth Summit in Boise, Idaho.

The following fall, armed with incredible on-campus results from the campaign, she co-founded Students for the Advancement of People with DIFFERbilities (now DIFFERbilities Club) in partnership with Special Olympics Minnesota. The club provides advocacy and awareness campaigns for students, faculty and staff on how to interact with and treat people with disabilities. Under Danielle's guidance, the club quickly grew and began offering inclusive sports and mentoring opportunities.

Toward the end of her junior year, a mentor nominated Danielle for the Peace First Prize - a two-year fellowship and grant awarded to young peacemakers who demonstrate compassion, courage and collaborative change. During the six-month interview process, she was asked the question, "What do you see as the future of the club you started at your college?" To her surprise she answered, "Growing it into a nonprofit."

That answer was one of many reasons why Danielle was one of the 10 receipts of the inaugural Peace First Prize. Shortly after, it was decided that during her fellowship, she would focus on growing the club she started at Saint Ben's into a nonprofit. Soon, DIFFERbilities Experience was born.

The mission of DIFFERbilities Experience is to provide friendship and inclusion-building opportunities to high school and college students both with and without disabilities in a controlled environment. With a focus on each individual's abilities and interests in art, education and sports, students foster communities of inclusion, acceptance and mutual respect.

"Saint Ben's is a special place to me," says Danielle. "It is the place where the idea of DIFFERbilities Experience was conceived and where it was born. Because of the emphasis around community and service, my classmates were all very supportive about my dream, and they were very open and receptive about my ideas. I honestly do not believe that DIFFERbilities Experience would have existed if I had chosen a different college."

Transforming the world
Jessica Slattery

Many Bennies describe their study abroad experience as life-changing. Jessica Slattery '02 characterizes her experience as transformative. As a foreign affairs officer at the State Department in Washington, D.C, that is a fitting reflection for someone who fights for human rights around the world and works to transform lives for the better.

Jessica credits her Saint Ben's education - and study abroad experience in Australia - to initially opening her mind to internationally-based thinking, something discussed less frequently in her small Nebraskan hometown.

"For the first time I was a global participant. I saw and felt the world and the people in it. I believe people around the world share many needs, dreams and desires. They deserve the freedom to realize their dreams and the opportunity to share in prosperity," says Jessica. 

The experience left a profound impact and encouraged Jessica's wanderlust back to Australia as a CSB/SJU study abroad resident/program assistant following graduation. She began taking graduate-level courses in business and aboriginal studies and later obtained a Juris Doctor degree from the University of Saint Thomas. A few years later, armed with corporate law experience and a deeper understanding of her calling, Jessica took a personal and professional risk and went back to school for dual master's degrees in International Relations and History through the "Atlantis Program" - a transatlantic program that took her from West Virginia to Tartu, Estonia, to Warsaw, Poland.

The risk paid off and led Jessica to the State's Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor, Office of International Labor Affairs, as a Presidential Management Fellow where she works to promote international labor standards and eradicate forced and child labor. One significant area of her work is in Bangladesh, where two tragic factory disasters (the Tarzeen Factory fire and the Rana Plaza building collapse) brought international attention to the garment sector in Bangladesh and the supply chain that runs to western brands and consumers. Jessica worked with a variety of stakeholders, including the companies who source garments and the government itself, to improve working conditions and establish workers' rights in Bangladesh and beyond.

"The most important aspect of my job is ensuring that the perspectives of those without power in this world are taken into account when the United States makes its foreign policy. In other words, to stand up for those that are left out or marginalized. We must continue to fight, on behalf of our common humanity, to ensure people across the world have the dignity to live with human rights and a government and a society that recognizes and respects them," explains Jessica.

From a transformative experience as a Saint Ben's student, to a career in diplomacy dedicated to transforming the world, Jessica encourages others to find their vocation. "Ask yourself: What are your gifts? What was the last thing you were doing when you totally lost track of time? Be honest and overcome the temptation to invent obstacles to your dreams or rationalize not pursing them. This is your life. Live it authentically and make contributions you can be proud of."

A personal melody
JoBeth Ranfranz

JoBeth Pike Ranfranz '80 won't hesitate when asked what her favorite class was at Saint Ben's - the Physics of Music and Composition with Dr. Phil Welter. "I hated it at the time and now when I look back I think, oh my gosh, this man was brilliant," she recalls.

The class studied sound waves and how they work with instrument and voice, culminating with an invitation to compose music for the dedication of the Benedicta Arts Center Sculpture Garden. Although the curriculum was demanding, JoBeth used the lessons and skills developed in class to create a one-of-a-kind performance. "There were dancers among the pieces and musicians at each window playing something I had given them. The sound echoed throughout the building and trickled into the Sculpture Garden. It truly was a highlight of my time at CSB."

This experience, along with four years in the Chamber Choir, served as the overarching theme of her Saint Ben's education - Benedictine spirituality mixed with dedicated faculty, like Dr. Welter, who challenged students to push past their comfort zone. She now reflects that this lesson shaped her into the woman she is today and gave her the tools she needed to become the founder of the Holy Name Handbell Choir.

"I had been directing the youth choir at Holy Name when a young man in our parish passed away. His parents wanted to leave a lasting gift in his memory and, since he was a music lover, they decided to donate handbells. The church asked if I would be willing to take this on even though I knew nothing about handbell choirs. But I learned the basics in the beginning, along with everyone else, and then took extra classes until I became an expert. We have now been together for 15 years!"

In addition to directing the choir which performs around the Twin Cities, JoBeth trains cantors across Minnesota and is an executive assistant at General Mills. "The Benedictine values have been the core of my life since I left Saint Ben's," explains JoBeth. "I think that's why my voice students have been so successful - because I've been able to teach them in a Benedictine manner with love and humility."

As a teacher and a mentor, JoBeth brings music and transformative leadership into the lives of those around her. She is passionate about her work and now gives that same passion to Saint Ben's as a member of the CSB Alumnae Board. "There's something about Saint Ben's and the community that makes me want to give back in every way that I can. I want to see Bennies continue to thrive as women of distinction. I certainly received a well-rounded liberal arts education at CSB, but I also really believe that's where I got my leadership abilities - from being a Bennie."

Creating a spark

A spark is all it takes to change the world. For Desirée Palmen Brazelton '99 it was a combination of two life-changing experiences that introduced her to holistic care and inspired her to open her own clinic in South Minneapolis, fittingly called Spark Wellness.

The first spark came during her time at the College of Saint Benedict and two study abroad opportunities. "My education at CSB opened my mind to a greater view of the world. I learned that although I was one person, it was possible for me to make an impact that would matter," says Desirée.

She earned degrees in biology and economics and after graduation began working as a technology consultant. At that time, holistic medicine was not on her radar. But a few years later, a second spark changed all that forever - motherhood. After exploring different health care options during her pregnancy, a friend who was enrolled in the Northwestern Academy of Homeopathy in St. Louis Park connected her to a homeopath for care.

"It was my daughter's first ear infection that turned me forever onto homeopathy," recalls Desirée. "She was nine months old and was diagnosed with a double ear infection. I received a prescription for a homeopathic remedy from our homeopath and within hours of her first dose she was feeling better."

It was this experience and many like it that inspired her to open Spark Wellness in 2009. Her company strives to bring "holistic healing and wellness to the world, guiding people to experience their own power and purpose and to find peace." Benedictine values are also at the heart of the company's mission, including strong beliefs in listening, respect for all and the preservation of the earth.

"The welcoming community at Saint Ben's and the empowerment that I experienced during my time there has given me the confidence and positive outlook that I need to be a successful business owner," explains Desirée.

Spark Wellness continues to grow, expanding its clientele base and services to include yoga programs, chiropractic care, shiatsu massage and naturopathy.

"The most important lesson I've learned in owning a business is that you can't ever quit. There are cycles to every business but it's those who stick to it, innovate, continue seeking and growing that succeed."

Shine like a Bennie
Jen Scheffler The College of Saint Benedict caught the eye of Jen Scheffler '02 at an early age. "I went to Saint Ben's for leadership camp in middle school," she recalls. "I loved it so much I went back the following year." So when she graduated from New Prague High School, it was no surprise that she became a Bennie.

Jen earned her degree in Spanish and then moved to Japan to teach English. She returned to the United States and worked a series of jobs before she eventually felt pulled to go back to school for her masters in education and teaching certification in ESL (teaching English as a second language). "I've worked as a teacher, as an administrator and as a professional development and programming consultant for school districts." She's a successful professional...

All this, of course, is when she's not busy making the world a little more fabulous. You see, since 2008, Jen Scheffler has been creating and selling her own line of jewelry - Realia by Jen.

"In the beginning, for two years, I was fortunate enough to be part-owner of a boutique. And I would sell my jewelry there," explains Jen. "It was great experience and gave me insight into that side of the retail equation."

In 2010 though, Realia by Jen won its first wholesale account, selling in Bachman's flagship store on Lyndale Ave. in Minneapolis. Jen's jewelry is now found in fine boutiques throughout the Twin Cities, in San Francisco and online at her website.

Her latest introduction, the Venus Collection, has seen tremendous initial success, kicked off by a lavish launch party. The party, held at the downtown Minneapolis Cambria Showroom, was packed with glitz, glam, Bennies and Johnnies.

"The most impactful and enduring part of my Saint Ben's experience," declares Jen, "has been the connections and the relationships. When you're a Bennie, you know people and they know you and want to support you - especially as an alumna. It's helped my personal growth and my professional growth. There are people out there who want me to succeed!"

Breaking boundaries

Sharon Bartels '72  has broken boundaries in every facet of her life. She has never let her gender stand in the way of her education, career or ability to raise a family. She has exceeded expectations of what a woman in science is capable of, and hopes to pass that on to other women pursuing science- and math-related fields.

Sharon graduated with a degree in Math Education. With full intentions of enriching young minds, she set out into the job market in search of a teaching position. But, having little luck finding a job in education, she stumbled upon a position in a physics lab at the University of Minnesota. From there she obtained a position working at 3M as an engineer, and began a 30-year career.

"I was the first woman in the lab - the only other women in that division were secretaries. It doesn't seem that long ago, but it was groundbreaking. It's kind of crazy to think about that," says Sharon.

Even though she was well educated and qualified for her position, she had to fight for equal treatment because of her gender.

"I was stubborn and would stand up for myself when I needed to," she says. "The first year I was there all the guys got invited to the annual golf outing and I didn't get invited, so I went to the director and said 'How come I didn't get invited?' and he hemmed and hawed and stammered and finally said, 'Well, we just thought you might slow down the golf game.' I said, 'Well, I'll go last then.' And he had nothing to say to that, so I said, 'Well, I think you should invite the secretaries to come too!' So even though I am a quiet, shy person, there is a part of me that really has trouble with injustice."

Her belief in equal treatment and her abilities to perform just as well as her male counterparts were reinforced during her time at Saint Ben's. Under the guidance and leadership of S. Joanne Muggli, Sharon learned to hold herself to the same standards as her classmates.

"She expected you to be just as good as the guys," says Sharon. "Now that seems like no big deal. Of course she would. But at that time that wasn't necessarily the norm."

What Sharon learned from S. Joanne, she has continued to instill in her own students in her second career as a math teacher.

"Education was the foundation of my success, but at all stages of my life there was a teacher or mentor who took an interest in encouraging me. You cannot underestimate the influence of a teacher or mentor. Now as a teacher I get goosebumps when a student (or parent) tells me that math is now their favorite subject because of me. My biggest accomplishment is instilling confidence in young students, especially young women, so they know they are smart, capable, and able to handle the challenges presented to them."

Sight and success
Gina Wesley

 For 2002 alumnae Gina O'Neill Wesley, it's been a challenging road but success is definitely in sight. Gina recently was awarded the inaugural Early Professional Achievement award from The Ohio State University College of Optometry. This award is given by the alum board to a doctor who has graduated from the school within 15 years. The award is meant to honor the recent alum who has demonstrated advancement within the profession, dedication to the betterment of patients' vision, and activism within optometry.

This recent award adds to the long list of Gina's accomplishments. She was also the 2006 Graduate of the Year at OSU, graduating with a Master's degree in Vision Science and a clinical doctorate in optometry. In 2011, Gina was the recipient of the Young Optometrist of the Year award given by the Minnesota Optometric Association. This award honors a doctor who has graduated within ten years and has shown promise and dedication to the profession especially within the association. Basically, her shelf is filled with awards and honors given to her by her peers and professors.

After graduating from Ohio State, Gina married Alex Wesley (SJU '01) and moved back to Minnesota to open her own practice in 2010, Complete Eye Care of Medina.

Between taking care of her two sons, Quinn and Rhett, and working at her own practice, she still finds time to speak and publish within the industry as well as consult for a number of large ophthalmic corporations.

Working alongside fellow Bennie alumna Kelly Denne Minnich '06, Gina knows the importance of the Bennie connection. "Saint Ben's gave me my start, not only with education, but with relationships and connections. It gave me the foundation for building the sort of career and life that I want, and the ability to define my goals and know they are achievable. The support network is like no other, and to see my fellow alumnae come to see me and support me is fantastic."

Her advice to young women entering the science field: "Let others help you; don't go it alone. A support network and professional mentors are important to success."

Standing up
Karen Ernst

"My four years at St. Ben's taught me to stand up for what I believe," explains Karen Ernst '96. "Social justice at CSB is not just something taught from the altar, but something students are encouraged to live in their daily lives."

So when the time came, Karen stood up.

"Voices for Vaccines began in 2008 when groups of doctors, scientists and other public health advocates had grown increasingly frustrated with how much attention the increasingly vocal anti-vaccine movement was becoming," says Karen.

Today, Voices for Vaccines is the nation's first and only parent-led organization that advocates for immunization. And Karen Ernst is its leader. A mother of three, Karen has worked closely with the Minnesota Department of Health and the Immunization Action Coalition with the strong belief that parents must help lead the charge in advocating for on-time immunization.

Leading a medical advocacy group may seem an unlikely role for an English major to some. But not to Karen. Her professors, especially Dr. Cindy Malone and S. Mara Faulker, and Jane Opitz, her mentor at the Writing Center, taught her to think critically and to communicate clearly. But she also learned much more than how to write and edit.

"As a parent, I saw a problem in need of a person to solve it. Saint Ben's students are not taught to sit and watch in hopes that someone will come along to find solutions. They are taught to be the person who finds the solution. Every Sister, every student, every professor who was on campus with me is part of a solution somewhere. It's who we are inspired to be."

Serving education to the underserved
Julie Murphy

Katie Hayes '04 was a political science major, but ever since working in a preschool in Port Elizabeth through her study abroad program in South Africa, she's known she was meant to be an educator. Driven by her dreams of serving underprivileged students, Hayes has inspired countless minds and brightened the lives of thousands of students, all before her 30thbirthday.

Hayes got her start in education through the Teach for America program, teaching social studies in a school just south of Memphis. That experience fueled her fire to continue serving underprivileged students, which led her to her involvement with KIPP Austin public schools. KIPP (Knowledge is Power Program) is a system of public charter schools nationwide that is dedicated to educating underserved children and preparing them for college.

"The mission of KIPP is to prove the possible for underserved students in our country. One in ten underserved students graduate college, while nine in ten students from affluent backgrounds graduate," says Hayes. There is a perception that students that come from certain backgrounds cannot succeed, and I believe that is 100 percent untrue. We are working to bridge that achievement gap."

Hayes spent her first year at KIPP Austin teaching, and became assistant principal the following year. She held that position for four years before applying for the Fisher Fellowship which allowed her to found a brand new KIPP school, KIPP Austin Beacon Prep. Her new role as principal wasn't always smooth sailing, but her tenacious spirit and love for her students kept her motivated.

"The transition from assistant principal to principal was really tough, because I was the end of the road for really big decisions that impacted students and teachers," says Hayes. "Knowing that I had a lot of adults, kids and families that depended on our schools was a pretty big weight to bear."

While there have certainly been a lot of challenging moments throughout her career, the tough times make the successes that much sweeter.

"My first class at KIPP Austin was the class of 2012 and I was a 7th grade social studies teacher," she recalls. "They graduated from high school the year I opened Beacon Prep. Ninety-one percent of these students had been accepted to four-year colleges. It's a really tough job, and when I got to see them all holding their diplomas up, it was really amazing."

Hayes' passion for her students and service makes moments like that possible. While her love of service motivates her to move forward with her career, it is also what motivated her to attend Saint Ben's.

Hayes was originally drawn to Saint Ben's because of the school's emphasis on the Benedictine Value of service. She has been passionate about serving others since her middle school years, and continues to instill that value into her students.

 "The Benedictine environment really fostered my desire to be of service and to give all the blessings I had in my education back," says Hayes.

Hayes has continued this tradition on within her own school by requiring students to complete two service projects a year. Through these values, as well as her strong academic background, Hayes aims to create well-rounded students who are well equipped to handle anything that college and life have to throw at them. 

Let the girls play
Julie Murphy '02

Maybe the only thing more painfully awkward than being a seventh grade girl is being an eighth grade girl. Dealing with peer, societal and parental pressures while trying to find out who are you is not a time many would choose to relive.

Girls in middle school are in need of someone to show them how to be successful leaders and positive role models for others. At St. Cloud Cathedral High School, that person is Julie Murphy '02.

Cathedral Athletic Director Emmett Keenan explains Murphy's influence, "There is a steady stream of students who come into our office every day who come for advice. She has a gentle way of helping guide them in a non-judgmental way with decisions they make."

Murphy dedicates her professional career to encouraging girls to participate in athletics. From her start as the St. Cloud Park and Recreation Youth Program director to her current position as the St. Cloud Cathedral Activities Assistant, Murphy has been a strong advocate for women in sports.

"She's had an exceptional impact on young women as they come through our school," Keenan says.

Her positive contributions to the St. Cloud athletic community have made her a recipient of the 2014 Breaking Barriers Award. Murphy is one of ten award recipients statewide, and will be honored Feb. 5 as part of the 28th Annual Minnesota Girls and Women in Sports Day.

Opportunities for girls in sports have always been important to Murphy. But that passion really took shape during her years at Saint Ben's. "It was my experience working in a variety of athlete-focused jobs on campus that inspired me to pursue a career that would allow me to help girls and women have the same opportunities I had growing up," says Murphy. She attributes the leadership of coaches Mike Durbin, Denny Johnson, Marcia Mahlum and Robin Ruschmeyer-Courchane as fundamental to her career.

"Athletics was the platform that I wanted to use to help young women learn to succeed, fail, work hard, listen, be a good friend and be a leader. Saint Ben's opened my eyes to 'the other stuff' athletics teaches and equipped me for my career in which I now have the opportunity to prepare athletes for life every day."

CSB will honor Murphy's contributions to women in athletics and her award at the next home basketball game on Wednesday, Feb. 12 with a half-time presentation and post-game cake.

Raising her voice
Tiffany Vang '13

Tiffany Vang '13 hasn't been an alumna for long, but she's certainly not wasting any time. The peace studies major is passionate about human rights, social justice and about her Hmong community. And, thanks to a recent opportunity from the Twin Cities Daily Planet, she has a lot more opportunities to raise those issues and start discussions.

"The Twin Cities Daily Planet serves as a community-based online newspaper that provides an outlet for diverse voices that would otherwise not be heard in mainstream media," says Tiffany. This fall, as a member of the Daily Planet's 10-week Media Skills Fellowship program, funded by the Bush Foundation, "I wrote stories about the Hmong community, created traffic for my organization's Facebook page and also learned about a variety of social media tools."

According to the Twin Cities Daily Planet, "The fellowship program focused on improving media skills with the specific goal of using these skills for better communication in/about/on behalf of each participant's community." And Tiffany excelled. "Her post on the Hmong 18 Clan Council and bride price policies got an all-time high of more than 67,000 page views and more than 700 comments, as well as responses posted as blogs and articles."

"It has been an enlightening and eye-opening experience," says Tiffany. "One of the largest benefits from participating in this fellowship is the number of opportunities that I've received from my writing. In the past year, I have gotten offers to host radio shows, write for different outlets and speak with people about activism and social justice."

"Through the fellowship," explains Tiffany, "I mainly wanted to spark conversation in the Hmong community about the taboo issues such as sexism and patriarchy. I wanted to challenge some of the norms and traditions

Alumna Spotlight Archive Page 3 >>