Big Things Await

Being a Bennie or Johnnie doesn’t end at graduation. In fact, it’s only the beginning. Our alums take the lessons they’ve learned around the world and succeed in fields they may have never even heard of before coming to campus. Get a closer look at where our recent alums are at.

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March 14, 2017

By Mike Killeen as seen in the CSB/SJU Magazine

Corie BarryCorie Barry '97

Changing majors at CSB helped Corie Barry ’97 change the direction of her career after she graduated.

Barry started as a chemical engineering major at CSB, but “it wasn’t clicking for me,” she said.

With the help of Ernie Diedrich, professor emeritus of economics at CSB/SJU, she realized she was drawn to more math-based, linear problems “that had an answer.”

That sent her full-bore into the accounting major, and it has worked out pretty well for the native of Cambridge, Minnesota. In June 2016, she became chief financial officer at Best Buy Company.

Prior to joining Best Buy, she completed audits at Deloitte and Touche. “I knew pretty quickly that audits was not going to be the life for me,” Barry said. “Thank goodness for the opportunity that Saint Ben’s afforded me, to switch majors. It was kind of the same mental process.”

She moved to Best Buy in 1999, and held various financial roles before being named CFO.

“There was something really important for me going to an all-women’s school and having it juxtaposed with the classes being co-ed in nature. I got this amazing ability to really focus on women’s leadership and women’s issues, but at the same time I had this balance with discussions on an average day that included both men and women,” Barry said.

“It jolted me a great deal, and gave me a great deal of confidence and passion around this idea that you really as a woman can do anything.”

Mark Vande HeiMark Vande Hei '89

Mark Vande Hei will have to wait just a bit longer for his big adventure.

Vande Hei, a 1989 SJU graduate and a NASA astronaut, was scheduled to fly to the International Space Station in March 2017. But NASA and its international space partners have updated the assignments for several crews.

That schedule change pushed Vande Hei’s flight with Roscosmos cosmonaut Alexander Misurkin back to September. They’ll launch aboard Soyuz MS-06 from Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan.

When Vande Hei visited SJU in 2012, he was asked how a liberal arts education prepared him to become an astronaut. “Quite honestly, I think the liberal arts education was more important than any technical education (he received),” said Vande Hei, who majored in physics at SJU. “I taught physics for a bit at West Point, and some physics students asked me, ‘Of your education, what did you use the most?’ I told them, my English. My ability to communicate with people. Even in the Army, you have to write a lot of things. Your reputation can be established a lot based on how you communicate, and how people perceive you, based on how you communicate.

“I also think that there’s a strong ethical component to the education that Saint John’s gives you. That was incredibly important. Especially in the Army, because when you’re potentially going to give soldiers orders that may cause them to put their lives at risk, every interaction you have with them, reinforcing that they can trust you, is really important. That helps out,” Vande Hei said.

Emily BinaEmily Bina '11

Each day in New York City brings a sense of adventure to Emily Bina.

Bina is a creative executive and producer for Katie Couric Media. She researches new projects, reads scripts and pitches, develops and produces large-scale, long-form projects like documentaries, scripted television, podcasts and Web series.

“Each day in this job – and in New York City – is thrilling and different than the last,” Bina said. “But many years ago, without ever needing to leave campus, I learned to love the adventures each day might bring.”

That came while she was a student at CSB from 2007-11. The cum laude graduate received a degree in communication.

“Four years at Saint Ben’s instilled in me a profound sense of adventure; the kind that didn’t necessarily require leaving campus to find,” she said. “After graduation, this same spirit prompted – to my parents’ chagrin – my move to New York City for an unpaid internship.”

She worked as an intern for The Onion, an entertainment newspaper and website featuring satirical articles reporting on world news. Bina then took on a role as an intern for The Huffington Post, an online news site, then was hired as associate producer for HuffPost Live. Ten months later, she was promoted to producer.

“A friend helped me land my first job as an associate producer for The Huffington Post during the launch of HuffPost Live,” Bina said. “A few fast-paced years and promotions later, I landed my current role as creative executive and producer at Katie Couric Media.”

KesangKesang Yudron '08

Kesang Yudron is empowering a marginalized economic community in her native country of Nepal.

The CSB graduate runs a company called Padhma Knits. The Himalayan artisan knitting brand based in Virginia and Nepal takes more than 50 women knitters from socio- disadvantaged backgrounds and offers them a holistic approach to development by providing a steady income. Padhma knitters can also receive low-interest loans and educational scholarships for children (35 children are enrolled in an education program).

The knitters come from three communities in Nepal – Nepalgunj, Lolang and Kathmandu. The women have become the drivers of the economy and leaders in their communities.

“Running Padhma Knits … I have been able to push myself in fields I never thought I would be involved in,” Yudron said. “From sourcing the yarn from New Zealand for hand knitting to marketing, I have been able to push the boundaries of learning and to keep challenging myself in the process.”

That sense of learning was developed while earning a degree in accounting at CSB. “Attending CSB/SJU was a wonderful experience, and I am grateful for the supportive community I am still in touch with,” she said. “Being able to take classes on Islam, history or social work at college has helped build a foundation of learning for life.”

Jeff MuntiferingJeff Muntifering '99

There are roughly 5,000 black rhinos remaining in the world today. Jeff Muntifering is one person working hard to make sure they thrive in Namibia.

Muntifering is a conservation biologist with the Minnesota Zoo and works directly with Save the Rhino Trust in Namibia as the organization’s science adviser.

He said that only four rhinos were lost to poaching in northwest Namibia in 2016, thanks to efforts to increase community-based protection and improvements in law enforcement. A bigger concern has been a four-year drought in the rhinos’ range.

“We have lost significantly more rhino from the drought than from poaching,” Muntifering said. “Despite the extremeness of the drought event, drought is a part of our natural climate cycle. However, the timing with the increase in poaching has put our rhino at even greater risk of severe decline.”

Muntifering spends much of his time designing new tourism models that specifically improve rhino conservation. This has had a positive impact on both the safety of the rhinos and the value local people attach to saving them, he said. Still, holding the line against poaching continues to be a major concern.

“Despite our recent successes, we certainly cannot become complacent. We need to continue being innovative and bold with our strategies as well as working to ensure that we can maintain the support of local communities, improve law enforcement and keep the rhino rangers motivated in the face of what has developed into an extremely difficult and dangerous job.”

Trent KirchnerTrent Kirchner '00

Trent Kirchner took networking for a job to an extreme level.

Kirchner, the current co-director of player personnel for the Seattle Seahawks, is a former high school quarterback from Fulda, Minnesota. He knew he wanted to get into sports management while attending SJU and began contacting teams in the NFL, Major League Baseball and the NBA.

But football was his first love.

“I just kind of dove into contacting guys in the NFL and simply started writing letters. I didn’t hear back from a lot of people. I would literally write letter after letter. It was borderline crazy,” Kirchner said in a 2014 interview.

His big break came in February 2000, during the annual NFL Scouting Combine. He drove to Indianapolis and wound up outside the security gate — without a pass to get in. Kirchner introduced himself to Marc Trestman, who was the offensive coordinator of the Chicago Bears at the time, and finagled a pass from Trestman.

Inside, he met John Schneider, who was then working for the Kansas City Chiefs. That led to a post-graduate internship working in both the public relations and scouting departments for the Seahawks in 2000-01. He then worked as a college scouting coordinator for the Washington Redskins (2001-02) and a pro scout for the Carolina Panthers (2002-09).

In 2010, he returned to the Seahawks and helped Schneider — now the general manager of the team — completely overhaul the roster. Their moves worked, as the Seahawks advanced to two consecutive Super Bowls, beating Denver in 2014 and losing to New England in 2015.

Kirchner has been linked to a number of recent open general manager jobs in the NFL, including the Lions and Jets in 2016 and — at press time — the 49ers in 2017.