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Current and former CSB student leaders discuss impact of CSB Senate experience

Clair Moonen says she’s far more confident and assertive than she was when she first arrived on the College of Saint Benedict campus four years ago.

And the Delano High School graduate said a lot of that change has come from serving on CSB Senate.

“I joined Senate my (first year) and I didn’t speak once at a meeting,” the current CSB Senate president recalls. “I was too scared to ask questions. I felt like I wasn’t important enough to speak up. And now I’m the president. I feel like it’s given me communication skills, leadership skills and people skills.

“A women’s college gives you a unique experience of being surrounded by women who want to show up, want to show out and want to make a difference. Being on Senate, you’re not the only woman in the room. You’re not the only Bennie in the room. Being a member of the CSB Senate means advocacy, inviting people to the table. And if there’s not a table, you’re going to build it together.”

Giving more women the opportunity to build that table is the purpose behind the College of Saint Benedict Senate/Student Administrative Board Endowed Scholarship Fund.

And it’s an effort many of Moonen’s predecessors also believe is worth supporting.

“The reason the scholarship continues to be important, and the reason why there was such a commitment to endow it, is that we want to make sure Saint Ben’s is available to all young women who want to go to a school like this that will prepare them for the real world, prepare them to take on leadership roles and give them the opportunities for whatever they want to pursue,” said Jen Goering Tonder ’95, who served as president during the 1994-95 school year and is now the Director, Member Governance and Shared Services for Land O’Lakes Inc.

Tonder was one of the driving forces behind changing the body’s name from the CSB Student Administrative Board to the CSB Senate during the 1994-95 school year.

“There was this perspective on campus that because of the word administrative board, we weren’t the same as the Saint John’s Senate, even though we had the exact same function,” she recalls. “We weren’t administrative, we were a governing board, just like at Saint John’s. So we wanted a name change that would reflect that.”

Tonder continued to advocate for CSB Senate even after graduation, joining with other graduates to create the scholarship fund nearly 25 years ago.

“It’s important that we continue to develop women leaders to drive change and to ensure all voices are being heard and are part of the narrative when it comes to things going on in the world,” she said.

“We talk about concepts like servant leadership and principal-based leadership. Those are all things that are important, and I think Saint Ben’s provides a very strong foundation in those areas to continue to build upon after you graduate.”

That sentiment is shared by other former student leaders from across generational lines.

Donna Coyne Rajkowski ’46 served as all-college president during the 1945-46 school year and still looks back on that time with great fondness.

“We had meetings to talk about things happening on campus and plan events,” said Rajkowski, now 100. “I definitely think it developed a lot of leadership skills. After that, I went on to belong to a lot of organizations (in the community) and I was able to draw on that experience.”

Ashley Ver Burg Soukup, a 2010 graduate, served as CSB Senate president during the 2009-10 school year and is now a senior brand manager of the fruit snacks portfolio at General Mills.

She credits her time as a senator with expanding her perspective and social circle.

“What I experienced on Senate was all of the best parts of Saint Ben’s and Saint John’s,” she said. “People talk about these campuses being known for their sense of community and people coming together. And it was so empowering to see women from so many different backgrounds doing just that.

“I was from River Falls, Wisconsin. One of my best friends on Senate was Tiffany DeLeon, who came from Los Angeles County in California. We bonded over our shared love for our community.”

Those are the kind of experiences Moonen wants to see made available to even more students.

“I think investing in student leaders shows that you’re investing in a better future,” she said. “If we had even one less Senator than we have now, we would be poorer for it.

“I say we should have a million billion Senators if possible. Every voice matters.”