June 2011 newsletter
Much is made of the close friendships and connections formed on college campuses, but a truer test of that sense of community might actually come after graduation. Whether it is through a Capitol Hill mixer sponsored by the alumni association or two professionals talking over a cup of coffee, stories abound of alumni from Minnesota's private colleges helping one another make social and career connections. Here are three examples.
Making alumni happy hours happen
When Stefanie Holbrook Meunier '99 moved to Rochester from Washington, D.C. several years ago, there were some things she missed — one was her network of "Ole" alumni. Instead of reminiscing about the past, she got busy. Last fall the stay-at-home mom of two began organizing events to help the more than 500 St. Olaf alumni in the area connect.
"In D.C. we had a very good group and a lot of friendships developed. There were tons of Oles around and by the end of my time there I was both attending and organizing events," she said. "So when I started things here, I modeled them after what I'd done in D.C. and I've tried to see what works in Rochester."
So far, she's held several happy hours with about 20 alumni and the first meeting of a book club. The second book club meeting and a family-oriented picnic event for Oles will take place in July.
The differences between the two cities and their respective alumni groups are many, Meunier said. In D.C., the alumni network consisted of "many single people or people who didn't have kids — they were more on-the-go or city types. Here there's a wider spectrum of people and ages and a slower pace."
A wide range of alumni have come to events — even parents of current students. The connection to the college alone gives everyone something to talk about, including parents. "Oles seem to have an unspoken connection that we all share. We've lived the same life for four years and that seems to put everyone at ease."
Meunier wants the book club and the larger network to be self-sustaining one day and ambitious enough to take on activities like volunteering, participating in St. Olaf fundraising and connecting with current students. She stresses, however, that the group is in its beginning stages and that she's still learning about event planning. "The most fun part is when you're actually at an event and everyone is talking and laughing, and people come up to you to say, 'This is so great! We needed someone to do this!'"
Showing alumni the ropes in NYC
When Richard Smykowski graduated from Minneapolis College of Art and Design (MCAD) in 2000, he felt he had to move to New York City to make use of his degree.
Soon after graduating, Smykowski moved to New York and eventually landed his first job. After working at the SyFy channel and VH1, he's now an art director at Nickelodeon, where he's worked since 2004.
In the years since Smykowski arrived, he's been able to help MCAD alumni in various ways. He's helped select two MCAD students to complete internships at Nickelodeon and also hired several current students and recent graduates to do freelance work. Local artist Andres Guzman '07 got to know Smykowski when he was picked for the Nickelodeon internship, and Smykowski has since hired him to do freelance projects. "He's extremely talented and I think he'll go far," Smykowski said of Guzman.
In addition, Smykowski occasionally meets with an MCAD student or alum who contacts him while visiting New York City and is contemplating moving there; he said he typically agrees to talk with them because "it's always good to meet with people or to pass along information."
Recently Smykowski met with Kevin Wideman '99, a Minneapolis broadcast and graphic designer who is planning a move to New York City soon. They talked about the media world in general and Smykowski was able to give Wideman details specific to making a living as a freelancer there. "I feel now that I have a better sense of what to expect from future prospects and myself once I'm there in New York," Wideman said.
Both Wideman and Smykowski said they've been able to make use of MCAD connections more as they've gotten older and established themselves. "Now more than ever, I've been asking MCAD alums for advice. Richard has always been available to offer sound advice and I would do the same for him," Wideman said.
Climbing the career ladder — and Capitol Hill
It's safe to say that University of St. Thomas alumni Megan Knight '01 and Dennis McGrann '74, '76, '82 have a close connection — in fact, their offices are right down the hall from one another. Both former Tommies are lobbyists at the Washington D.C. office of the law firm Lockridge Grindal Nauen.
The two are part of what McGrann deems an "active and robust" alumni network of about 100 people in D.C. It was that network that helped Knight land her current position.
"I've always wanted to be a lobbyist, ever since I can remember," Knight said. She worked at a Minnesota state senator's office while in college as a work study job, and later landed an apprenticeship with Lockridge Grindal Nauen's Minneapolis office. While working for Tim Pawlenty in 2004, Knight visited D.C. to attend the Bush inauguration.
It was there she had the chance to get to know fellow alumnus McGrann. "It wasn't an 'I need a job' type situation; we just spoke because we were both St. Thomas graduates," Knight said. Months later, McGrann called Knight and offered her a position at Lockridge's D.C. office. "It was a great job and a huge, new opportunity. It was one of those once-in-a-lifetime situations and a life-changing decision. I thought, if not now, when?"
Knight moved to D.C. in September of 2005, and became one of an "unknowingly large" network of St. Thomas alumni in the city and surrounding suburbs, she said. She now helps organize a biannual event, sponsored by St. Thomas, for alumni who work on Capitol Hill. The event is held in October at McGrann's home; President Dennis Dease and other university representatives have attended the gathering.
"It's great because every year there is a whole new crop of students and young alumni in D.C. The event is pretty informal, with 20 to 40 people attending. It's a low-key way to gather and exchange contact information if you don't have it," Knight said.
McGrann's connections to St. Thomas have taken many forms over the years, from planning alumni events (he once helped rent an entire Georgetown restaurant to watch a Johnnie-Tommie game) to conducting "literally hundreds" of informational interviews (many with alumni) and hiring several interns from St. Thomas.
The number of alumni in D.C. from Minnesota private colleges is "stunning," McGrann said, and he's always willing to talk to young people who are trying to get into the field or make connections. "I would talk to anyone from Minnesota, but certainly someone from St. Thomas. I'm particularly inclined to help them."
The graduation rate of Minnesota's nonprofit colleges is the highest in the Midwest, according to a new Minnesota Private College Research Foundation analysis. Almost two-thirds (61%) of students attending Minnesota nonprofit institutions (a group dominated by the Council's 17 members) received their bachelor's degree in four years, looking at the most recent data. As for nonprofits nationally, Minnesota ranks fifth and is the only Midwestern state in the top 10; the next Midwestern state is Indiana, in 12th place. (District of Columbia's nonprofit colleges ranked first with a graduation rate of 68%).
The difference in graduation rates is more striking when comparing private nonprofits and public institutions. The national four-year graduation rate for public institutions is 31% — half of Minnesota's private nonprofit graduation rate. The rate at Minnesota's private nonprofits is higher than any public system nationwide.
Graduation rates are important for a number of reasons. Students who complete their bachelor's degrees in four years or less avoid the costs associated with additional time spent in college. These students are able to begin their professional careers and earn an income sooner than their peers who graduate later. High four-year graduation rates are also an indicator of an institution's ability to recruit, advise and support its student population.
During the 2010-11 academic year, teams from 11 Minnesota private colleges and universities had the opportunity to participate in the Mayo Innovation Scholars Program, a unique interdisciplinary program that requires students to apply both scientific and business knowledge in a real-world setting. Teams of four undergraduate students with backgrounds in science and economics work under the leadership of a business graduate student to analyze the feasibility of potential new products or therapies submitted by Mayo Clinic scientists and physicians.
Here, two scholars share some details of what they learned and what the experience meant to them.
A rare opportunity
By Leon Clark, Jr. '12, St. Olaf College
Collaborating with Mayo Clinic as an undergraduate is something that few students in the country can say they did. Providing recommendations to Mayo technology licensing managers on what they should do with a Mayo invention idea is something that even fewer students can say they did. Luckily, I had this opportunity this past year as a participant in the Mayo Innovation Scholars Program. I worked on a team of four undergraduates from St. Olaf College and one MBA student from Augsburg College to develop a business plan for a forearm positioning device used for CT imaging.
This project was unique to the undergraduate experience in that it involved students from multiple disciplines learning from and working with each other. My team consisted of a math major, biology major and two economics majors. Although we had different levels of experience in science and business, we came into the project with the general consensus that everyone would be doing interdisciplinary work. We had a biology major learning about licensing strategies and how to do a financial analysis, and economic majors in the cadaver lab learning about the wrist anatomy and the concept of torque generation from the forearm.
The majority of the research for this project was done during January, our Interim term. Locked up in a small room in our science building for 40, 50 and sometimes 60 hours a week, we worked diligently to confidently outline the product's strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats, develop a market analysis, make financial projections and formulate a solid recommendation for Mayo Clinic. During the course of the month-long project, there was not only important work done, but strong friendships formed and lifelong skill building tools gained.
This project has caused me to appreciate all the factors that are involved in bringing medical discoveries to the patient's bedside. One has to evaluate the need for the product, take into account legal and regulatory matters that could affect the sale of the product, consider ethical and economic issues and foresee distribution of the product based on demographics and many other factors.
All of the members of my team are in the process of applying for graduate school and jobs and this program has become the focal point of interviews. Being able to improve on oral and written communication skills, critical thinking and self sufficiency are some of the things that a liberal arts education seeks to achieve and this is what the Mayo Innovation Scholars Program has helped me do.
Many backgrounds, one vision
By Rachel Goldenstein '12, University of St. Thomas
At its core, the Mayo Innovation Scholars Program unites innovation with feasibility, medical technology with commercialization potential, science with business. It accomplishes these tasks by empowering undergraduate students to observe, research and draw conclusions about how innovation and its medical potential are able to thrive in the business world. By reviewing a patent proposing a new technology of hypothermic therapy for disease treatment, our team was able to fulfill these objectives.
As a biology major and member of the University of St. Thomas team, I was fortunate enough to work alongside colleagues Shakeyla Barber (Neuroscience), Justin Scharpen (Entrepreneurship, Marketing Management) and Martha McCarthy (Entrepreneurship and Business Communications). With diverse academic and personal backgrounds, we all entered with our own expectations and knowledge base. Yet it was these distinct outlooks which enabled us to comprehensively accomplish our overarching tasks. Together, we were able to draw upon one another's strengths, but more importantly strengthen each other's weaknesses, which provided constant learning opportunities. It was not designed to be easy, but the friendships made, the frustrations and victories shared, the days spent at meetings and the nights spent at the library resulted in an experience I would not change for the world.
With the leadership and constant support of MBA student Sean Elder, our team was able to maintain a clear direction. With the guidance of our faculty mentors, we were able to see for ourselves just how intricately woven the disciplines are and how much one can inform the other. Working closely with the licensing manager and inventor, we provided a thorough review of the technology in a brief presentation and comprehensive written analysis. In return, we unified our vision with theirs — a vision which is ultimately centralized around the patient. In our final recommendation we advised continued research into the technology and identified three potential licensees capable of fully developing the technology's potential.
The Mayo Innovation Scholars Program unifies. The uniqueness of this program lies in its demand that students unite science with business, innovation with feasibility and ultimately student with student.
The Mayo Innovation Scholars Program was designed by retired Medtronic executive and former Minnesota Private College Council board member John Meslow in 2006. It is a collaborative initiative supported by the Medtronic Foundation, Mayo Clinic and the Minnesota Private College Council.
With recently released federal regulations seen as targeting for-profit institutions, the market share of these institutions may not be well understood. Here in Minnesota, looking just at students pursuing baccalaureate degrees, the share attending for-profit institutions has grown from 5% in 1999 to 19% in 2009. In 2009 for-profits awarded 7% of baccalaureate degrees.
- Five Carleton College students have been awarded Northfield Healthy Community Initiative's "Making a Difference" award for their volunteer efforts. While many Carleton students are involved in local volunteer projects throughout the school year, these students were singled out for their work with local high-school students, helping them prepare for college.
- Mai Thao Xiong '13, an English and communications major at St. Catherine University, received a "100,000 Strong" grant to participate in the 2011 US-China International Youth Festival, July 12-Aug. 8, in Beijing. The Education Association for China Tomorrow organized the festival in response to President Obama's "100,000 Strong" initiative.
- The McKeown Center at Saint John's University was awarded LEED® Gold certification by the U.S. Green Building Council and verified by the Green Building Certification Institute. The McKeown Center, the first LEED certified building on the SJU campus, achieved certification for energy use, lighting, water and material use.
- Three College of Saint Benedict Blazer basketball players who graduated in May will be attending law school this fall. They were featured in the St. Cloud Times story "3 Blazers to trade basketball court for courtroom."
- Minnesota Private College Week is happening June 20-24 at all 17 of our campuses. It's not too late to sign up for visits. Students can come with their parents or on their own. Watch our videos — produced by students or recent grads — to find out what makes MPCW great.
- MaryAnn Baenninger, president of the College of Saint Benedict, will chair the Minnesota Private College Council Board of Directors as of July 1. Also, four new members have joined the board — including two new presidents.
- MayKao Hang, president and CEO of the Wilder Foundation, is featured on the LearnmoreMN blog this month. Read her post, "Beating the odds" and consider joining the conversation by adding your comment. Lindsey Alexander, a consultant working with the Citizen's League on its higher education reform project, will be the July guest blogger on LearnmoreMN.