Major: Political Science
Year of Graduation: 2005
Graduate School/Location: Hubert H. Humphrey School of Public Affairs (Expected 2020)
Current Position/Location: Director of Alumni and Development Relationships, University of Minnesota Rochester (UMR)
Please give a brief description of your current position.
Unique to the University of Minnesota system, my dual role is responsible for building UMR’s alumni and development programs from the ground up. This means establishing a network to connect and serve UMR’s seven graduated classes of some 750 alumni; on the development side, to create a sustainable program for individual philanthropic support of UMR and establish public-private partnerships within the health and life sciences industry of which UMR students specialize in academically.
What path did you follow to get to your current position (describe other work/volunteer experiences)?
Looking at my resume you would notice three things: a post-college cup of coffee with Target, six years living in China, and time served in Minnesota state politics and policy.
Though brief, my first real job provided me an invaluable lesson - how to recognize what I didn’t want. In reaction, I swapped Minneapolis for Chongqing and a cubicle for a classroom.
For six years, I taught English; first at Southwest Normal University in the Beibei district of Chongqing, then in Chengdu at Sichuan University. Along the way, I dabbled in the startup world from tourism to education.
Returning to Minnesota in 2013, I pursued a career in state-level politics and public policy. This led me to the basement of the Minnesota House of Representatives as a Committee Page (still the best job I’ve ever had!). From there, I joined the House DFL Caucus as a Field Organizer and notched a couple of key wins in the horrendous 2014 election cycle. Following a brief return to the House, I joined Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Minnesota (BCBSMN) in its legislative affairs department.
For three years as Legislative Affairs Coordinator, I read, tracked, and analyzed bills aimed at and impacting BCBSMN and Minnesota’s healthcare and insurance industries. In 2018, I left BCBSMN for LeadMN, a small non-profit tasked with representing Minnesota’s two-year public community and technical college students. As Policy Manager, I designed the organization’s positions on issues including food insecurity, use of Open Education Resources (OER), and student transfer accessibility.
In early 2019, I joined UMR as its first Director of Alumni and Development Relationships.
What advice/suggestions would you have for students who might be interested in your career?
As my professional journey is divided into two unique experiences, I offer the following:
1. If possible, go away! Not only was my time abroad a life-altering adventure, the skills and perspectives gained over those six years have routinely come in handy since returning home to Minnesota. Living outside of my culture - and more importantly my comfort zone, was fantastic preparation for the ever-evolving environment of politics and public policy.
2. Pick a side and carry water. Borrowed from a Bennie alumna, this piece of advice taught me that any meaningful career in politics starts at the bottom and requires you to advance someone’s goals and objectives before you can advance your own.
3. Work for candidates and individuals, not parties. Helping an individual candidate instead of a party unit exposes you to all facets of a campaign operation instead of a siloed component of a larger enterprise. The more local the candidate, the better.
What skills are important in your field?
As I am new to my role, two skills have proved useful thus far: 1) asking the right question(s) and 2) active listening. While you can certainly pepper anyone with questions willy nilly, it’s important to be mindful of their and your time. Knowing the right questions to ask cuts down on superfluous chit-chat and demonstrates earnestness. Additionally, compounding well thought out questions with active listening illustrates to the multiple audiences (students, alumni, community leaders, corporate partners, UMN system administrators, and colleagues) I engage with, that what they are sharing with me is as important to me as it is to them.
What is the most satisfying/rewarding part of your position?
The opportunity to build something from its foundation.
Being tasked with building something from its foundation.
What activities/experiences were helpful at CSB/SJU (and elsewhere) in preparation for this career?
The absolute best preparation for my current role was the countless interactions I had with Bennie and Johnnie alums along the way.
The late Professor John Brandl (SJU ‘59), Jim Sieben (SJU ‘77), former congressman Mark Kennedy (SJU ‘79), Christine Zimmer (CSB ‘88), Joe Rogers (SJU ‘89), Mike Wilhelmi (SJU ‘92), and Adam Herbst (SJU ‘99) are just a few of the Bennies and Johnnies I have worked with, leaned on, and sought advice from as I navigated my career.