May 2019 newsletter
Read a Q&A with Dennis Olson Jr., our higher ed commissioner, who talks about his career, colleges and the needs of the state. Or peruse story excerpts on six younger alums who kept their end goals in mind while remaining open to unanticipated opportunities. Then dive into a speech given by Minnesota Supreme Court Justice Natalie Hudson at last month’s Minnesota Campus Compact Summit and Presidents’ Awards Luncheon. Also — see the latest on how the State Grant program fared in our Briefs section.
As of January of this year, Minnesota has a new commissioner of the Officer of Higher Education: Dennis Olson Jr. Olson was born and raised in Cloquet, Minnesota and is an enrolled member of the Fond du Lac Band of Lake Superior Chippewa. He holds a Bachelor of Arts from the University of Minnesota Twin Cities in American Indian Studies, Sociology and Communications. He also holds two master’s degrees in Liberal Studies and Education from the University of Minnesota, Duluth.
Previous to his current appointment, Olson was the executive director of the Minnesota Indian Affairs Council. He has spent much of his career in education and previously served as the director of the Office of Indian Education for the Minnesota Department of Education.
We had the opportunity to talk with Olson about his career, higher education and the needs of the state.
What stands out in your own higher education experiences?
“I attended the University of Minnesota Twin Cities as an undergraduate and had an amazing opportunity there to join the college of education’s team working with at-risk youth as an undergraduate research assistant. I helped coordinate federally funded grants working with American Indian high school students around the state, helping them prepare for life after high school. I had the opportunity to work with all 11 tribal nations in Minnesota and was able to continue some of that work as a graduate research assistant when I attended University of Minnesota Duluth, where I completed two master’s degrees. I then served as the Mille Lacs Band of Ojibwe’s commissioner of education which was a political appointment. I oversaw the entire tribal education department from early childhood to higher ed.”
How has higher education impacted your life and career?
“For me higher education has been an opportunity to improve communities and in particular my own community. I recognized early that education was a key to opening numerous doors that wouldn’t be open for underserved youth. My mom was in higher ed her whole career. She started at the University of Minnesota in the early 1970s and retired as the assistant director of the American Indian Learning Resource Center and was a tireless advocate for native students. I always looked up to her. I knew that if she was working that hard, it was a path that I should be on as well. I not only wanted to continue that legacy but I also wanted to open doors and pave the path that has been paved for me.”
What excites you about higher education?
“What excites me the most is also something that troubles me and it is that overall Minnesota is one of the most well educated states in the nation and we do incredibly well with overall performance metrics — what troubles me is that there are underlying race and ethnic gaps and there are a lot of predetermined outcomes for those who have been historically underserved. What excites me about that troubling information is that we can do something about it. I am really looking forward to the Walz’s administration giving us the ability to propose some really unique, innovative and courageous proposals to start tackling these gaps.”
How do you think higher education should address the state’s attainment gap?
“When we see that there are these troubling attainment gaps we know that we can no longer propose just equal opportunities for everyone. We need to get serious about equitable funding distributions. Only about 22 percent of our American Indian adults statewide have a higher education credential. This means we need to put a higher proportion of our resources into addressing those specific issues. There are programmatic answers, there are budgetary answers — there are also some things that we need to have the ability to try.”
What makes the State Grant program a good investment for Minnesota?
“When we put money in students pockets and remove potential barriers — that’s one less thing those students and families have to worry about. The student can then focus on what they need to focus on which is their studies and completing their higher ed program. Many Minnesotans are stressed out about the cost of college and the more we can insure that families have to borrow less and we have more money in students pockets — all the better. And that all comes from the State Grant. It’s certainly something the governor believes deeply in.”
What is the future of higher education?
“I think we have an opportunity to reimagine a little bit. Higher education has looked the same for centuries and there are new ways to think about higher education. I’m looking forward to working with my colleagues in other state agencies. The governor has asked specifically for us to work more closely with the corrections system. Can we think differently about standardized tests and about admission requirements? One thing I’m most excited about is taking advantage of strong community partnerships. Early on, when I brought people to the table I recognized that there were some people missing — really getting out into the community and hearing from students and providing a space at the table for those who haven’t had a chance to be heard historically.”
Sometimes the career path after graduation flies like an arrow — a direct route to an identified end goal. Other times, it’s more like a meandering river that twists and turns as new opportunities present themselves. And it’s not uncommon for it to be a little of both. This month we’re happy to share story excerpts of several younger alums who knew when to stay the course and when to run with the unexpected.
- Tony ’08 and Alex Ducklow ’10, Bethel University, escape room entrepreneurs
- Noelia Rodríguez Quiñones ’10, Carleton College, immigration lawyer
- Kyle Maxwell-Doherty ’08, Concordia College, professional musician
- Kaolee Vang ’12, Concordia University, St. Paul, television production manager
- Ashley Farrington ’11, Saint John’s University, middle school associate principal
- Maimon Queeglay ’15, St. Catherine University, police department community liaison
When you enter the “Quest for Excalibur” escape room found in Lock and Key Escape in Minneapolis, a sudden chill greets you through the excitement of what is to come. As you walk around the throne and into the gray, cinderblock ambiance, you’ll find a row of flickering LED candles and then the sword of Excalibur itself resting firmly in a pile of stones, immovable per the legend. The doors close. Now, your group must solve several puzzles within 60 minutes in order to “escape.”
The only thing that beats the magic of the room is to encounter the brothers who created it.
Tony ’08 and Alex Ducklow ’10 started Lock and Key Escape in October of 2016 to fully sink into their belief that “games can actually have a positive impact on lives,” according to Tony. He says that while society doesn’t value play, he and his brother do, and their business rewards and acknowledges “having fun” along with problem solving.
This problem solving can also become a thriving team building exercise, especially since groups have to work together in order to solve each puzzle.
A self-proclaimed loudmouth, Noelia Rodríguez Quiñones ’10 was “born to be a lawyer.” Yet being at the center of one of the nation’s most turbulent issues—immigration—has revealed a harsh reality to the feistiest of fighters: the frontline struggle is often a lonely one.
It's Noelia Rodríguez Quiñones’s day off, but she wants to show a visitor the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services field office in downtown Chicago. A security guard abruptly stops her before she reaches the walk-through metal detectors in the lobby to ask what business she has inside. Her lawyer switch flips on immediately.
Rodríguez ’10 pulls out her Illinois bar card and American Immigration Lawyers Association membership to prove that she’s an immigration attorney who regularly comes to this building to represent clients. When the guard pushes for an answer to his original question, she pushes back. She isn’t doing anything suspicious or soliciting anyone. It’s a public building she visits for work. Why is she being questioned?
After about two minutes of escalating tension, the guard acknowledges that he was wrong to single her out. Rodríguez accepts the apology but is still fired up minutes later. “That’s never happened to me before,” she says, shaking her head. “Look, I know my rights.”
Percussionist and Grand Forks, N.D., native Kyle Maxwell-Doherty ’08 has found success as a professional musician in New York City, most recently as a pit musician for the hit Broadway musical “Hamilton,” which follows the life of founding father Alexander Hamilton.
After moving to New York in 2013, Maxwell-Doherty took the advice of his Concordia teachers and mentors to heart: take every audition, attend as many concerts/performances as he can, and meet as many players as possible.
“My opportunity to play in ‘Hamilton’ came from an unexpected place,” Maxwell-Doherty said. “I was riding a coach bus to Gillette Stadium to perform with the New England Patriots drumline. Sitting next to me on the bus was a colleague in the drumline and we struck up a conversation about what was new and exciting in our lives.”
This contact – established through Maxwell-Doherty’s initiative and happenstance – would result in an opportunity to be a substitute percussionist for a musical in development – a rap musical about one of the founding fathers. You know the one.
“Fast forward four months and I played my first show with the [‘Hamilton’] company while they were still off-Broadway at The Public Theater,” he said. “And I have been subbing for both the Broadway and touring productions since.”
Kaolee Vang started early at Concordia, taking classes as a high school junior as a part-time Postsecondary Enrollment Options (PSEO) student. During her senior year of high school, she took classes at CSP full time. So it was only natural that she’d choose Concordia for her bachelor’s degree.
Vang had planned to attend dental school after college, but an internship her junior year helped her realize dentistry wasn’t for her. Instead, after graduating with a major in biology and a minor in Hmong Studies, Vang enrolled in CSP’s master’s degree program in human services with an emphasis in forensic behavioral health.
“I worked at Concordia in the Office of Diversity Affairs, where I learned strong project management skills and my own personal development and networking skills. That’s also where I heard about forensic behavioral health,” explains Vang. “I really like learning about mental health. There’s a big stigma about mental health issues in the community, and especially in the
Hmong community. The forensics part was due to my interest in kids. I want to help kids understand and better care for their mental health.”
Vang is currently taking classes at St. Mary’s University of Minnesota to obtain her license to do family and marriage counseling and to help teach skills to children.
The new associate principal at Wayzata Central Middle School stood outside the front door on the first day of class, gazing at a dream come true.
“It just felt full-circle. It felt really good,” said Saint John’s graduate Ashley Farrington ’11. “Things like this don’t normally happen to people like me where I came from.”
At age 29, Farrington has realized an ambition born in The Bahamas and cultivated at Saint John’s.
“The education program (at SJU) was amazing,” said Farrington, who started as a third-grade teacher before moving up to a top administrative role at the largest middle school in the Wayzata school district.
“The professors and the team helped me become the teacher and now principal that I am today.”
So did Farrington’s mom. Karen Smith raised two kids as a single mom with tight finances, but still fostered her son’s dream.
“Life wasn’t the easiest always, but my mom instilled some of the greatest things in us,” Farrington said. “That’s been a life model for me, and that’s something I strive for and do in my work as an educator.
When Miamon Queeglay ’15 comes home late from work, it could be because she was leading a neighborhood meeting, riding along with a police officer on evening calls, or talking with residents of Brooklyn Center, a Minnesota city on the northwestern edge of Minneapolis. Since July 2017, she is the new community liaison for the Brooklyn Center Police Department.
Although the position isn’t new, Queeglay, who is Liberian American, says it is undergoing a change in light of Brooklyn Center’s rapidly diversifying population. Indeed, so many Liberian Americans have settled alongside the Hmong and people from other cultures, the area is often called “Little Liberia.” As Queeglay explains, “Part of my job is to help facilitate the shift to an even broader multiculturalism in the community.” Nationally, this function has taken on a certain urgency as police departments across the country grapple with the complexities of serving citizens from disparate backgrounds.
If being a community liaison was not a career that Queeglay had imagined as a student at St. Kate’s, that’s likely because of her own cultural background. Initially, she enrolled intending to complete the nursing program.
Interested in more alumni stories? Check out these past spotlights of alums whose studies cover a wide range of academic disciplines:
- From private colleges to State Capitol, Feb. 2019
- Alumni spotlight: Contributing to the state workforce, Dec. 2018
- Alumni spotlight: Embracing possibility, March 2018
- Alumni entrepreneurs: Farm fresh food to craft brewed, June 2017
- Alumni spotlight: Tapping into talent, March 2017
The role of higher education in working to preserve our democracy at a time when society is so fractured and polarized was one of the topics raised when Minnesota Supreme Court Justice Natalie Hudson spoke in April. She was addressing the Minnesota Campus Compact 2019 Summit and Presidents’ Awards Luncheon, where hundreds of college students, staff and community partners heard her first-hand. Read the full speech; below is an excerpt.
“Our country desperately needs its institutions of higher learning, and organizations like the Compact who are committed to civic engagement and preserving our democracy, to lead the way. To lead the way out of the polarization, divisiveness and meanness that dominate much of our public discourse today. We are in a social upheaval reminiscent of the 60’s as our country is engaged in fierce debates over immigration, health care, voting rights and our criminal justice system; indeed, battles over core, fundamental – and what many thought were enshrined – ideals about who we are as a country. In the 60’s, it led Harry Belafonte to say: ‘we are in a struggle for the soul of this country; it is a struggle for America’s moral center.’ We are in no less of a struggle today. We thought, for example, that we had entered a ‘post-racial’ world after President Obama was elected; only to find that that was not so. In a recent Vox article by P.R. Lockhart, entitled ‘Living While Black and the Criminalization of Blackness’ – Lockhart describes the myriad ways black people are viewed with suspicion, profiled and threatened with responses from the police – like the black co-ed at Yale who was sleeping in the lounge area of her dorm until a white classmate called the police because she wasn’t sure if the black student ‘belonged’ there. Even after unlocking her dorm room to prove she lived there, she was still asked for ID. Or the two black men arrested for trespassing in a Philadelphia Starbucks while waiting to meet with a business partner. The manager claimed they ‘refused to make a purchase or leave.’
“As disturbing as these incidents are; I’m encouraged and I want you to be encouraged, as well. Because in the midst of these troubling events, I see a new age of citizen engagement, and it’s coming from people across the political spectrum; and young and old alike. People of all ages are energized and motivated to act, to speak up – even people who have previously been silent. Kamala Harris kicked off her presidential campaign by encouraging us as a country to ‘see what can be; unburdened by what has been.’ I think that’s good advice regardless of where you land on the political spectrum. . . .
“My point is this: This community – this Compact – needs to be an integral part of these local and national discussions. Higher education must continue to play its unique role in encouraging and training a new generation of young people who will speak up and be actively involved – be that through voting, lobbying, or educating themselves and others about these important issues. Democracy is not a spectator sport. In the Declaration of Independence, Thomas Jefferson said that ‘We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal . . . and have certain inalienable rights . . . ’ But I assure you that while our rights may be self-evident; they are not self-executing! In other words, they are capable of being eroded, if only through neglect and apathy. Thurgood Marshall said we have to ‘dissent from indifference.’ And so we have to engage one another on these critical issues; but we have to do so in a manner that respects competing viewpoints and experiences that may be foreign to us.”
Each year the Council surveys our member institutions about the post-graduation outcomes of recent graduates. Looking at the most recent data for the class of 2017, 94 percent were employed, pursuing additional education or doing volunteer (e.g., Peace Corps or mission work) or military service within a year of earning their bachelor’s degree:
- 74 percent of graduates listed employment as their primary activity
- 16 percent listed continuing education as their primary activity
- 3 percent listed volunteer service as their primary activity
- 1 percent listed military service as their primary activity
In addition, 71 percent of our recent graduates stayed in Minnesota — adding to the quality of the state’s workforce and tax base.
Mechanical engineering becomes Bethel’s fourth engineering program
In fall 2019, Bethel University will launch a standalone Bachelor of Science (B.S.) in Mechanical Engineering program, building on the university’s existing physics and engineering programs.
Six Saint Ben’s and Saint John’s students receive awards from Fulbright Student Program
Since 2013, 35 students or graduates from the College of Saint Benedict and Saint John’s University have earned Fulbright ETA awards.
St. Scholastica choir releases CD
For the first time in over 40 years, The College of St. Scholastica has released an album of choral music.
Raie Gessesse named Truman Scholar
Raie Gessesse is the second consecutive Hamline University student to be awarded at Truman Scholarship and the school's first woman of color and first first-generation student to receive the academic honor.
Carleton receives rare, first-edition collection of books
Carleton College alumni Carolyn Nelson ’63 and Bob Nelson ’62 recently donated their collection of rare, first-edition books to Carleton’s Laurence McKinley Gould Library.
Bethany Lutheran College student production team earns national nomination
Bethany Lutheran College’s award-winning production studio has been nominated for a College Sports Media Award for their work directing and producing Minnesota State University Maverick Hockey broadcasts.
Opus College of Business and Twin Cities Business magazine launch new podcast
The University of St. Thomas is partnering with Twin Cities Business magazine on a new weekly podcast spotlighting faculty experts and local entrepreneurs.
Macalester professor and student talk about anxiety over climate change in Star Tribune story
The article, about “climate grief,” included comments from both Macalester College Environmental Studies and Psychology Professor Christina Manning and student Helen Meigs '21.
Baring the struggle for climate change justice
Gustavus Adolphus College first-year Nathan Baring is suing the federal government in landmark climate change lawsuit Juliana v. United States.
The Forum on Workplace Inclusion® announces move to Augsburg University
Augsburg University will be the new home of The Forum on Workplace Inclusion®, effective July 1. The Forum is the nation’s largest workplace diversity, equity, and inclusion conference.
Students, area businesses benefit from Saint Mary's co-op program
Saint Mary's University of Minnesota's new Cooperative Education Program is like an internship, only more intense.
Concordia junior earns Goldwater Scholarship
Concordia College junior Andre Schaum ’20, an ACS chemistry and biology major, is one of only 496 students from across the country to receive the prestigious Goldwater Scholarship.
St. Olaf College launches new podcast
"From the Hill to Real Life" is a new podcast from St. Olaf College that dives deep into the Ole experience and shares what it really means to make a difference with a liberal arts education.
Still time to register for late-June college visits
Now is the time for high school students and families to register for Minnesota Private College Week, which is held June 24-28. The event involves all 17 of our colleges.
Students win with increased state funds for need-based grants
Urged on by many college students and their supporters, legislators agreed to increase funding for the State Grant program by $18 million in legislation that passed the House and Senate at the very close of the 2019 session. State Grant awards help more than 80,000 low- and middle-income students afford college, whether they attend public or private institutions. When Gov. Tim Walz signs the legislation into law average grants will increase by $188 next year. In addition, by 2021 about 3,000 more students will receive the awards.
New issue of parent newsletter available
The summer issue of The Bridge: Parent News is now available online. Please share this useful resource with parents of college-bound students.
The 2019 undergraduate commencements continue into June; you can find a list of dates and commencement speakers on our website.
New student cohorts selected for three program scholarships
Thirty-one African-American men have been identified as new Eddie Phillips Scholars and Ciresi Walburn Scholars, program that combine funds for students to use to cover tuition costs in their junior and senior years with a set of leadership and personal development opportunities. Five students also were selected as new Phillips Scholars, a program that involves scholarship support and a student-directed summer community engagement project.
Two Minnesota private college students awarded Truman Scholarships
Karinna Gerhardt of Macalester College and Raie Gessesse of Hamline University were among 62 students nationwide selected to receive the scholarship. Institutions nominated students based on their records of leadership, public service and academic achievement.
Homelessness in high school bodes ill for college, study finds
Minnesota Public Radio, April 19, 2019
Even borrowers agree, student debt is worth it
Forbes, April 19, 2019
Can the liberal arts navigate poverty, diminished opportunity and robots?
The Hechinger Report, April 30, 2019
The student debt crisis isn't what you think it is
The Hill, May 5, 2019
‘Born to win, schooled to lose’
Inside Higher Ed, May 15, 2019