Alumni spotlight: Making the journey their own
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