Attention female graduates of Saint Mary’s: Do you have a story you would like to share about your time while on campus?

Do you have a special photo with that you would like to share that best conveys that story’s sentiment?

We would love to see or watch your submissions. Just include the hashtag #women50smumn — or tag us on Instagram or Facebook. We will then share your content with all of our followers. Scroll below to read a Q and A session from five alumnae!

 

Fifty years ago, full-time undergraduate women were welcomed into classrooms of the Winona Campus of Saint Mary’s University of Minnesota for the first time.

Saint Mary’s decision to create a co-educational learning environment was the start of tremendous growth and change. Currently, at the undergraduate campus in Winona, women slightly outnumber men.

A variety of events are scheduled from Oct. 4-6 on the Winona Campus that highlight successes, provide network opportunities, and are fun for all attendees. To view and register all of the events, please visit the event page.

Nancy Wiltgen ’75 recently retired as the senior development director at Saint Mary’s. As a member of one of the first co-ed undergraduate classes, she worked 11 years on the Winona Campus, in addition to her years as a student.

“I’ve taken with me, everywhere I’ve gone since college, a desire to establish a sense of community where I’ve worked,” Wiltgen said. “That feeling of belonging and being part of a community — and not just for me but to extend that feeling to other people that I have associated with — has been the biggest takeaway from my years at Saint Mary’s.”

Throughout history women have not only made great strides in athletics through Title IX, they’ve also made headlines at Saint Mary’s. The NCAA Division III national champion fastpitch softball team, coached by John Tschida ’90, won the 2000 national title by posting a perfect 7-0 record during their postseason run. More recently, in 2018, Becca Dup ’19 made her third straight national championship appearance, qualifying in both the long jump and the triple jump.

Women from every decade have graduated to serve as recognized leaders: at Mayo Clinic, in schools, in businesses — even within the FBI.

At the Twin Cities Campus, women have been involved in leadership roles since the Schools of Graduate and Professional Programs were formed in the 1980s.

Women have brought their opinions, insights, backgrounds, and perspectives — broadening and enriching this university. And now, it’s time to celebrate. Robert Fisher ’97, M’06, director of alumni relations, said the events that will take place on the Winona Campus from Oct. 4-6 will build off of the 40th anniversary celebration 10 years ago.

“That event focused on the first women of Saint Mary’s, particularly the decade of the ’70s,” he said. “It’s our goal now to honor all of the women who have attended Saint Mary’s and changed this university for the better.”

“Our overall goals with this event are to celebrate this important hallmark in the history of Saint Mary’s and to engage alumnae with the university,” Fisher said. “We also want to create student and alumnae interaction, and build valuable networking experiences. Activities will be centered around professional networking and leadership, as well as creativity and recreation.

“Alumnae from Saint Mary’s have been change agents for 50 years,” he added. “We want to create a weekend that celebrates and elevates this important group.”

Q AND A WITH THE WOMEN OF SAINT MARY’S

So much has happened in 50 years. There’s no doubt women’s experiences at Saint Mary’s in the 1970s are different from those attending in 2019. We interviewed Saint Mary’s alumnae from each of the past five decades at Saint Mary’s to find out their challenges and achievements. We asked what life was like for women during their college years.

These women have seen success in their personal and professional lives, which span careers in medicine, education, arts, business, and beyond. See how women have supported each other for half a century at Saint Mar

Mary DempseyMARY DEMPSEY ’75

Major: American Studies
Current job title, name of business/organization: President, DePaul College Prep, Chicago, Ill.

Did you experience any challenges as a woman as you attended Saint Mary’s?
I don’t recall any women in significant leadership roles at Saint Mary’s during my four years there although there were some women on the faculty. Athletics for women were virtually non-existent. We had intramural flag football, and we could play paddle ball, ice skate, or ski in the bluffs, but no organized collegiate sports that I recall. Because our class arrived so early in the transition, I think Saint Mary’s was still trying to figure out how to engage women when I was there.

Were there any strides or successes made by women during your time at Saint Mary’s?
I think the women students contributed significantly in the arts and in raising the overall academic profile and GPA of the school.

What successes did you experience as a student?
My roommates and I were academically successful. We went on to graduate school and law school and enjoyed successful careers in business, law, and not-for-profit work.

How did you, as women, support each other? We were friends, classmates, confidantes.
As successful alumnae, how did your time at Saint Mary’s help you grow into the roles you have now and the people you are now? I think Saint Mary’s was the first of many steps for us on the road to success. It gave us a good foundation on which to grow through post graduate education and in the working world.

How do you feel women enrich the educational experience of the university?
I think intelligent and caring women enrich society as a whole. The same would be true in any educational setting.

How have you seen women’s roles change from when you were in school to today?
I imagine that at Saint Mary’s, as at other schools which had previously been all male, today women play significant roles in leadership, teaching, learning and in shaping the values and spirit of the university. Just as in any functioning society, a university benefits when both women and men are treated as equal and essential contributors to living the mission of the institution.

Kathleen (Lucas) Reding

Kathleen (Lucas) Reding ’83, right, and her sisters Ann Therese Lucas ’75 and Mary (Lucas) Karnick ’73 (now deceased).

KATHLEEN (LUCAS) REDING ’83

Major: Political Science and Marketing
Current job title, name of business/organization: Retired director of center store merchandising, SuperValu/Cub Foods

Did you experience any challenges as a woman as you attended Saint Mary’s?
I graduated Saint Mary’s exactly 10 years after my sister Mary (Lucas) Karnick. Mary was in the first class of women to graduate in 1973. I would say her class experienced many more challenges than ours did. Life was grand as a student! I lived in Skemp my first two years and developed friendships that have stood the test of time. I am blessed to still be the best of friends with 13 other women with whom I graduated. Intramurals were big for my class. We all participated in flag football. Our favorite though was floor hockey in the old gym in Saint Joe’s.

What successes did you experience as a student?
The opportunity to have a double major, and to be able to expand my education in two different fields. This was exactly what my father Daniel Lucas ’47 wanted for all of his children. Five of my siblings are also alumni.

How did you, as women, support each other?

With such a small college community it was so easy to get to know all of the women in our class and to support each other through the years. That was and still is the biggest benefit of attending a small Catholic university!

As successful alumnae, how did your time at Saint Mary’s help you grow into the roles you have now and the people you are now?
Spending four years learning and living the Lasallian Core Traditions helped prepare me to enter a dominantly male grocery industry. At one point in my career I was hired by a Fortune 500 company simply because I was a woman! My education at Saint Mary’s prepared me for the challenges that lied ahead and helped me to become an effective leader.

Laura IshamLAURA ISHUM ’95

Major: Theater
Current job title, name of business/organization: Director of entertainment operations, Mirage, Bellagio, Park MGM, City Center, showrooms and ticketing, MGM Resorts International, Las Vegas, Nev.

Did you experience any challenges as a woman as you attended Saint Mary’s?
I did not. Saint Mary’s cleared all obstacles and allowed me to not feel biases. I was able to feel confident in my career, which can be a male dominant industry, because I had learned, directed, crafted, and performed all tasks at SMU in both workstudy during the year and summer, and my practical studies. Women were very influential during my time there, Dr. Mary Fox, Dr. Kathleen Flanagan, and the peers and mentors in classes above me. I played soccer three of my years there and then missed the last year due to study abroad in London. Life at Saint Mary’s was inspirational and confident building. I was provided many opportunities to lead and grow in a safe and unbiased community.

What successes did you experience as a student?
Participating in soccer, theater, study abroad, work-study in my field, directing, and many more activities allowed me to not only shine but learn the skills I still use daily in my career.

How did you, as women, support each other?
We were all supportive. Although there was competition, it was healthy competition. There was enough work for all if you took advantage of the opportunities.

As successful alumnae, how did your time at Saint Mary’s help you grow into the roles you have now and the people you are now?
Saint Mary’s introduced me to peers who have helped me, hired me, and provided me avenues for my career. I was able to learn how to be successful in my career but also find other passions that I have cultivated and continued throughout my life. I still enjoy teaching aerobics, soccer (more watching than playing now), watching and supporting hockey, traveling, and participating in community arts efforts. I did have the opportunity to teach dance for the local ballet company, but my schedule no longer allows for it.

A Saint Mary’s graduate alum hired me into my first “real” job teaching not only theater but dance at a university on the east coast. That experience greatly helped prepare me for the future. A peer, who is still a dear friend and confidant, introduced me and recommended me for my next job across the country in Vegas. I have remained in Vegas for over 20 years. The Saint Mary’s strong working network of entertainment professionals is astounding. The percentage of students who have been able to continue to make a living in our profession still astounds me.

I believe my male professors played a huge role in my confidence as a woman. They did not discriminate and pushed all of us in all areas. Gary Diomandes, Dr. Larry Gorrelll, Dr. Pevits, Dr. Peake, Dr. Mike Flanagan, Dan Lori, Jim Casey and many more all contributed to the confidence today I have in my career.

How do you feel women enrich the educational experience of the university?

I never experienced women not being accepted, challenged, or thought of differently at Saint Mary’s. Strong, confident, wellrespected women were both mentors and peers. I never felt that I couldn’t do exactly what a man could do. I have always been strong physically and I have felt nothing could impede my future goals and dreams. In my work environment, I have experienced prejudices and biases even more in recent years, but Saint Mary’s gave me the confidence to know what I can accomplish.

How have you seen women’s roles change from when you were in school to today?
Women in the entertainment and corporate world continue to grow and be empowered to new heights. We, as women, have learned to speak up to what we feel is right, and this was a common practice at Saint Mary’s.

Bobbi KochevarBOBBI KOCHEVAR M’08

Area of study: Master of Business Administration
Current job title, name of business/organization: Chief officer of Child & Family Services at Nexus: Youth & Family Solutions, Plymouth, Minn.

Did you experience any challenges as a woman as you attended Saint Mary’s?
I was in the Schools of Graduate and Professional Programs (SGPP) on the Twin Cities Campus. I saw many females in leadership roles (including my program director at the time) and was taught by several females who held high leadership roles in business. My cohort also consisted of a strong female base. It was very inspiring.

Were there any strides or successes made by women during your time at Saint Mary’s?
After graduation I joined the Alumni Board of Directors and I became the first female SGPP President.

What successes did you experience as a student?
I found my education to be practical and immediately applicable. Being in an international MBA program, I had the privilege of traveling to Bangkok, Thailand, for my Capstone. That really broadened by horizons.

How did you, as women, support each other?

We were a very diverse class, and my friends came from all over the world — Russia, Thailand, Japan, Taiwan, and Nigeria. I learned so much from my female colleagues and their home country culture. We supported each other through the rigorous curriculum and I was extremely impressed with their ability to achieve an advanced degree in a second language.

As successful alumnae, how did your time at Saint Mary’s help you grow into the roles you have now and the people you are now?
There is no doubt that my Saint Mary’s education and subsequent Alumni Board of Directors opportunity allowed me to achieve the senior leadership role I am in today. I am more culturally sensitive and feel better connected to people of all backgrounds and to my faith. I am currently doing a book study with my team utilizing a book from my MBA coursework. Despite reading the book over 10 years ago, the concepts are still relevant and are having an impact on a new group of leaders.

How do you feel women enrich the educational experience of the university?
It’s hard for me to imagine Saint Mary’s as an all-male school. My mixed MBA class was representative of today’s workforce. Women approach their work through a different lens and in doing so, complement and can actually bolster a leadership team with their inclusive, nurturing approach to people and problem solving.

How have you seen women’s roles change from when you were in school to today?

I continue to see women taking on increasingly higher leadership roles in the private and public sector. I remember reading about Carly Fiorina while in the MBA program. She had just left her CEO role at Hewlett Packard. Now I feel that female CEOs are present in greater numbers.

Lisa ObasiLISA OBASI’14

Major: Biology
Current job title, name of business/organization: Obstetrics and Gynecology resident physician, Cedars Sinai Medical Center, Los Angeles, Calif.

Did you experience any challenges as a woman as you attended Saint Mary’s?
Being a female science major at Saint Mary’s University wasn’t unheard of, but it was different to see a black female science major. It had been done before, but it was not the norm. I was the only black female majoring in the sciences and considering going into medicine in my class. The curriculum at the time was geared towards creating researchers, not physicians. That being said, it was encouraging to see so many strong, intelligent female professors and department heads contributing to groundbreaking research and furthering innovation in their fields.

What successes did you experience as a student?
I think being nominated for outstanding senior was a very humbling and appreciative moment for me. It was nice to be recognized by my peers in that way.

As successful alumnae, how did your time at Saint Mary’s help you grow into the roles you have now and the people you are now?
Being at Saint Mary’s taught me how to analyze people’s intentions and feelings in order to have a more meaningful interaction. I learned better communication skills. Most importantly, I learned how to be resilient and knew that I had to work hard for what I want — to never give up and believe in myself.

How do you feel women enrich the educational experience of the university?
I was always surrounded by hard working and motivated women. They kept me on track and pushed me to work toward my goal.

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