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Campus Connection

An update from the president to alumni and parents

Saint Mary’s collaborates with Bloomington Police Department on Brain Health Services program

Saint Mary’s collaborates with Bloomington Police Department on Brain Health Services program

Saint Mary’s University of Minnesota is excited to partner with the new Bloomington Community Brain Health Services program. This innovative mental health pilot program will provide in-home, telehealth, and in-office mental health services to individuals and families in need following a mental health crisis and police intervention with the Bloomington Police Department (BPD). Booker Hodges, Bloomington police chief and 2007 Saint Mary’s alumnus, has envisioned improving access to mental health resources for those in crisis for many years. He reached out to Saint Mary’s because of the quality education he and his wife received as students and the fact that our Lasallian mission of respect for all persons, inclusive community, and concern for social justice rings true in the service of our students.

Lindsey Teigland, Ph.D., counseling psychology program director, and Sara Heinzen, marriage and family therapy associate and clinical director, have been working with Chief Hodges and his team this year to consult on best practices and create a unique practicum experience for students from both programs. Two members of the Saint Mary’s community, former Marriage and Family Therapy faculty member, Janet Yeats, and a 2021 graduate of the program, Luke Campbell, were referred to and selected as the licensed and administrative supervisors who will lead the students in this program.

Up to eight students from both programs will work as mental health counselors in the pilot program, which launches in December. Following a referral from the BPD after a mental health crisis call, our students and their supervisors will provide free mental health care and treatment to individuals and families for up to 10 weeks – something that has been unheard of until now.

Luke Campbell shared, “I am incredibly excited and thankful to be a part of the new mental health pilot program with Bloomington City Police Department. Since graduating from the Marriage and Family Therapy program at Saint Mary’s in 2021, I have realized that we are at a critical point in terms of mental health and well-being as a result of what we all have endured in the last couple of years with a limited number of providers. Our hope with the Bloomington Community Brain Health Services program is to alleviate some of the burden and increase accessibility for those needing mental health services and support.”

Eliminating barriers to mental health services can be the first step in creating systemic change for families in our community and beyond. This is a fantastic opportunity for our students to be on the front line of doing community support work and offering resources to those in need.

Learn more about this exciting new program from KARE 11 news: 



Saint Mary’s community announcements

Thompson presented with Saint John Baptist de LaSalle Teacher award

Saint Mary’s University of Minnesota has awarded Renee Thompson the Saint John Baptist de LaSalle Teacher Award. Thompson is a longtime course-contracted faculty member in the M.S. in Accounting and MBA program. She received the award at the annual Fall Faculty Conference on Sept. 23.

Each year at this conference, The Saint John Baptist De LaSalle Teaching Award is presented to a course-contracted faculty member in the SGPP who has sustained excellence in teaching and contributed to Saint Mary’s y by serving as a model of the Lasallian spirit in the classroom. Among other criteria, this award recognizes faculty for demonstrating excellence, effectiveness, and integrity.

Ratajczyk discusses AI at international Lasallian conference

Michael Ratajczyk, associate professor and director for the Business Intelligence and Data Analytics program, recently took center stage at an international Lasallian education conference to discuss artificial intelligence. He addressed a diverse gathering of over 200 attendees from Central and South American Lasallian schools and universities, shedding light on the current and future implications of artificial intelligence (AI) on society, international trade, culture, and sustainability.

Kabara Institute announces Innovation Scholars team

Four Saint Mary’s students have been selected to take part in the Minnesota Private College Council’s Innovation Scholars program. The four students include Francis Perroud, Nicholas Kiemel, Noah Haidar, and Seth Peterson.

Through Innovation Scholars, Saint Mary’s students from across academic disciplines have an opportunity to research and make recommendations on innovative medical technology that is in development at Mayo Clinic.

Saint Mary’s has been participating in this program for well over a decade, and previous participants have been very successful at merging the fields of business and science to address an external challenge.

Benefactors, philanthropic trust awarded Heritage Award for Transformational Philanthropy

Saint Mary’s University of Minnesota recognized the generosity of a benefactor family and a philanthropic trust that have been longtime supporters of the university with the Heritage Award for Transformational Philanthropy on Oct. 12.

The two recipients of the award included the Riebenack Family – Walter, his late wife Mary Ann, and two daughters Kristen and Angela – and the Otto Bremer Trust.

The Riebenack Family

When Kristen began attending Saint Mary’s in the mid-90s to pursue a master’s degree in Philanthropy and Development, Walter and Mary Ann Riebenack began making contributions to the university. As a passionately inspired student and professional in the field of philanthropy, it was Kristen who encouraged them to take things a step further. As such, their first scholarship, The F. Walter and Mary Ann Riebenack Scholarship, was formed in 2003 to benefit students in the M.A. in Philanthropy and Development program.

Sadly, Kristen lost a battle with cancer in 2013. To honor her work, Walter and Mary Ann established a second scholarship, in 2015, the Kristen A. Riebenack Memorial Scholarship.

These scholarships have impacted the lives of every single recipient in deep and meaningful ways, supporting their dreams to pursue an advanced degree at Saint Mary’s.

The Riebenacks also funded the 10 Commandments monument on the Winona campus, lifting the Lasallian Catholic Heritage of the university.

Otto Bremer Trust

The Otto Bremer Trust is a private charitable trust based in Saint Paul. Created in 1944 by Otto Bremer, a dedicated community leader involved in civic, financial, and corporate life, the Otto Bremer Trust invests in people, places, and opportunities in our region.

The philanthropic relationship with Saint Mary’s University (then College) originated in 1981. The Otto Bremer Trust has since generously given over $1 million to support Saint Mary’s students, faculty, programming in ethical leadership, and its Lasallian mission.

The Otto Bremer Trust established two endowed funds in honor of inaugural trustee Lawrence A. Carr and his son-in-law and trustee Robert J. Reardon. The Robert J. Reardon Memorial Scholarship supports full-time undergraduate students of color on the Winona Campus with demonstrated financial need. The current Otto Bremer Trustees include Charlotte S. Johnson, Daniel C. Reardon, and Francis M. Miley. The daughter of Robert J. Reardon is Saint Mary’s alumnae, Catherine Reardon B’83.

A message from the chairman of the Saint Mary’s University of Minnesota Board of Trustees

Dear Friends,

Many of you know that the Saint Mary’s University Board of Trustees had its fall meeting this past Thursday and Friday (Oct 12 and 13) on our Winona campus. Many of the Trustees are graduates of the College, as are some of their spouses, children, and now grandkids! We all marveled at how beautiful Winona and our campus are during autumn.

I am writing this note to share with the entire Saint Mary’s community the Board’s sincere and profound gratitude for all you have done and continue to do to fulfill our educational mission, on all our campuses and online.

The past 18 months have been incredibly challenging for all of us. As you might recall, the Board of Trustees mandated Father Burns to create and carry out a plan to help ensure Saint Mary’s could continue its mission for decades to come. That called for many very difficult decisions with unavoidable and admittedly painful outcomes across the university that affected both people and programs. Most of that was directed at the College level, though previous significant adjustments had been made at the graduate level before that. I know he is now working with his team to further explore ways to streamline processes and develop a new way to generate greater interest and increased student numbers in the Graduate Programs, applying some of what we learned at the college to the Minneapolis environment, because this new direction is working!

Now, nearly a year and a half later, we can be grateful and relatively sure that we have turned several necessary corners. Happily, we can celebrate welcoming more than 300 new students (first-year students, transfers, and international) to the College. This is a higher number than we have had for a number of years and nearly 25% above what we had cautiously budgeted. With this news to buoy us, and lessons learned as I said previously, we are in the midst of a similar effort to “turn around” enrollments (head-counts and credit-counts) of our graduate, bachelor completion, and online programs.

Another very positive indicator of our efforts over the past 12 months is our record-setting fund-raising efforts in virtually every category: annual fund, major gifts, pledged commitments, estate gifts, and so on (the most in a single year ever $47 million). We are well on our way to meeting the $25 million dollar challenge to raise (in addition) $100 million. Clearly, people believe in what we are doing. People believe in what YOU are doing.

In the name of the Trustees and all of our past, current, and future students, I want to offer a sincere and profound thank you to all of you for all you have done to support these efforts and carry out our Lasallian Catholic educational mission.


Mr. Terrance Russell, B’76
Chair, Board of Trustees

Hoping to help others on a large scale

Hoping to help others on a large scale

Dr. Gideon Nyakundi B‘16, M’17, senior manager of clinical engineering at the University of Maryland Medical System, will tell you he was born to work in healthcare — and especially to help others.

Back in his community in Africa, where healthcare is a challenge, he watched as his mother dispensed free medicine and herbs to those in need. As a young boy, emulating the service and empathy he saw, he would remind his mother when it was time to take her diabetes medication. 

“That humanity developed in me to be a people person, to help out,” he said. “When I ask others why I went into healthcare, they say, ‘You were born to be a helper.’ ” 

Dr. Nyakundi attended college in Africa, but he longed to work in clinical engineering and was frustrated by the lack of opportunities in healthcare and technology, so in 2005, he came to the United States to pursue his dream of helping others on a larger scale.

In the U.S., he soon began working in technology and manufacturing, gaining valuable experience with the manufacturing of pacemakers and endoscope reprocessors and working as a medical ventilator forensic analyst. “When the recession came, I lost my job, and I found myself with a lot of experience but no formal educational training, so I struggled,” he said. 

After working at Mayo Clinic as a healthcare technologist, Dr. Nyakundi joined Hennepin County Medical Center as an open heart surgery technologist. Because of a desire to grow into a leadership role, he began studying at Saint Mary’s, earning a bachelor’s degree in Healthcare Management in 2016 and then a master’s in Health and Human Services Administration in 2017.

He originally chose Saint Mary’s because it was flexible. During the day, he continued  to gain technical training. And in the evenings, he could attend class and study.

He found the research he was doing as part of his coursework was very applicable to his future career endeavors in leadership. And, he uncovered a community of supporters within the faculty, staff, and administration of Saint Mary’s, all working together to help him succeed.

I had wonderful teachers. Those teachers are very close teachers, advisers, and friends,” he said. “In any area I had a challenge, they were there with me to support me. I feel indebted to Saint Mary’s. It has that family touch.”

After finishing his master’s, individuals at Denver Health Medical Center reached out to Dr. Nyakundi. They wanted someone with hands-on experience in clinical engineering but also leadership training. In 2017, he was hired as director of biomedical and clinical engineering. While working in Denver, in 2022, he obtained his doctorate in Healthcare Administration from Walden University and did his doctoral research on the use of Hester Davis Falls Risk Assessment Scale in medical surgical patients.

“I did all my coursework for my doctorate in one year,” he said. “I was prepared because I had learned a lot from Saint Mary’s, which prepared me very well.”

He also returned to his home in Africa to help slow the spread of COVID-19. 

“Back where I was born, they faced a big challenge during COVID-19; it took a long time for the vaccine to reach Africa. There was also a stigma attached to the vaccine,” he said. “People were dying, and I felt I had an obligation to do something.”

With the help of Delta Airlines which airlifted supplies for free, he shipped medical equipment and supplies to Africa. “We did four airlifts of 20 containers,” he said. For a year and a half, Dr. Nyakundi conducted massive meetings, where, in their native language, he advised individuals to get the vaccine. “I told them how to prevent the spread. There was a stigma that if you get a COVID-19 vaccine, you’re all going to die,” he said. “We had great, great success with immunizations and with education,” he said. “It was a great achievement.”

Now in his current role at Maryland Medical Center, Dr. Nyakundi is working to improve healthcare systems for better patient outcomes. 

“I want to envision a healthcare system where everyone has access to healthcare,” he said. During COVID, a lot of people died; many people didn’t have access to the vaccine for many months. There was an inequality. I would like to have a future where we all have access to healthcare.”

“Second, technology has to change,” he added. “We should tap into machine learning and artificial intelligence to improve healthcare. If IT is used in the right way, we will be able to save so many lives. A lot of inventions are yet to be discovered. The old school of guessing is gone. We need to use data analytics to improve patient care. That’s the healthcare of today and tomorrow, and that’s what we should be working toward.”

Dr. Nyakundi said he appreciates that Saint Mary’s is founded in Christianity and its mission has deeply resonated with him. “It aligned to me very well, the ethics and service to community, I found it spoke to me,” he said. “It was very important to me, because that’s what I’m doing with my life.”

Business alumnus excelling in area of ESG consulting

Business alumnus excelling in area of ESG consulting

Scott Song B’10 grew from an undergraduate international student, unsure and a little overwhelmed in a new country, to working nationally and internationally for a Big Four accounting firm, where his diverse background and experiences are an advantage.

“We talk to stakeholders from different cultures, and within the U.S., our colleagues also have different backgrounds. Nowadays, the world is flat and everyone is connected,” he said.

The Xi’an, China, native had taken one year of university courses when he transferred through a cooperative agreement to Saint Mary’s undergraduate campus in Winona.

“At the beginning, the first semester was really tough with the language and culture barrier, and I didn’t know anyone there,” he said. “But Saint Mary’s is super friendly so it’s almost like a safe bubble for international students to practice social skills and learn about the culture.”

Gradually, Song, a marketing and sport management major, immersed himself in college life, serving as a resident assistant, starting the international student club, serving as a student senator, and getting involved in mission and volunteer work — for starters.

“The opportunities provided by Saint Mary’s broadened my horizons and helped me grow in leadership and see education in a different way,” he said.

When Song applied to the MBA program at William & Mary right out of college, he discovered they required two years of work experience, and he didn’t meet that criteria. They asked Song how he could compete with others who did.

“I was able to articulate what I did for student engagement and compare it to a real-life work experience and how it gave me a mindset of servant leadership and helped me grow my management skills,” he said.

Once accepted, Song said he felt academically prepared for graduate school as well. “I felt like I had an advantage compared to a lot of other students. What I learned at Saint Mary’s was 100 percent aligned with my coursework, and in some ways, what I was learning in grad school was somewhat repetitive,” he said. “If it weren’t for my Saint Mary’s experience, I would have never been able to go to William & Mary and be where I am today.”

Song earned both an MBA and a Master of Accounting degree from William & Mary and soon began working at EY, which provides audit, consulting, tax, business risk, technology and security risk services, and human capital services worldwide.

Working from Washington, D.C., Song now serves as the senior manager of climate change and sustainability services through which he consults with clients on technical sustainability and ESG reporting and advisory capabilities.

ESG stands for environmental, social and governance, which is often called sustainability. Jobs revolving around ESG work are increasing dramatically as
businesses are being asked to publicly disclose progress being made on goals and commitments on environmental sustainability, social issues, and corporate governance.

“ESG is one of the big topics for the coming years,” he said. “Climate change, human capital, and sustainability governance are on the agenda for government regulations. Universities are beginning to offer ESG related fields as a new major. The ESG strategy has to link to business strategy.”

Song, who returned to campus in October, spoke to Saint Mary’s business students about the growing market and how it’s tailored to finance and accounting students.

“A new trend is impact investing, such as investing in infrastructures, DEI (Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion) projects, environment projects, and the social impact businesses bring to society,” he said. “A methodology is in place and there are industry regulations. Gen Zers are more passionate about the environment. Being a CPA isn’t that sexy anymore, but the area, including carbon accounting, pulls students back into their interests.”

Song, who has worked in both Amsterdam, Netherlands, and Frankfurt, Germany, tells business students there are many opportunities for career choices, and though he wasn’t an accounting major, he’s a CPA now. “You never know where life is going to take you,” he said. “No matter your business major, marketing, finance, accounting… It gives you a basic skill set. The important part is to be well rounded.”

His advice to international students? “Be comfortable being uncomfortable and work outside of your comfort zone,” he said. “Embrace the opportunities Saint Mary’s will offer.”

Saint Mary’s awarded National Science Foundation Enabling Partnerships to Increase Innovation Capacity Grant

The Saint Mary’s community is pleased to announce that it has received an Enabling Partnerships to Increase Innovation Capacity (EPIIC) Grant from the National Science Foundation (NSF) that will be used to launch the university’s Center for Business Analytics.

Faculty, staff, and administration worked tirelessly to secure the grant since March and learned the university would be a recipient of the $400,000 grant in September.

With business analytics being among the most sought-after majors and programs within the School of Business and Technology, Saint Mary’s leaders see launching the Center for Business Analytics as an opportunity to embrace the university’s goals to build distinctive, mission-aligned programs that raise our visibility.

“This is very exciting as we look at what’s next for Saint Mary’s when it comes to areas of study that focus on technology, business intelligence, and artificial intelligence and how we can raise our profile and be seen as thought leaders in those areas,” said Michelle Wieser, dean of the School of Business and Technology.

According to Michael Ratajczyk, program director for the M.S. and B.S. Business Intelligence and Data Analytics program and associate professor in the School of Business and Technology, the Center for Business Analytics will focus on two main areas: workforce development and strengthening the regional economy.

“The center will focus on providing workshops, seminars, and webinars from industry leaders and experts, and will also partner with regional businesses to provide vocational training opportunities for our students,” Ratajczyk said. “We see this as a win-win for our students and the communities we have campuses in.”

With the NSF grant secured, Ratajczyk says the university is positioned to pursue grants to help move the Center for Business Analytics forward.

“The NSF saw the vision behind the center to be very strong and they loved our project,” he said. “There is an expectation that we will be applying for more NSF grants.”

Efforts are underway to begin the launch of the Center for Business Analytics. Questions about the center and the process of the launch can be directed to Ratajczyk.

New partnership with Benedictine allows Saint Mary’s nursing students on-the-job work experience

A new partnership between Saint Mary’s University and Benedictine will allow the university’s students to train as certified nursing assistants and work at the health system’s local senior living facility.

With the new partnership, Benedictine will be able to use the Sandy Adducci Nursing Skills Lab on the Winona Campus to train certified nursing assistants and offer CPR certification courses. The first certified nursing assistant training program that will use the nursing lab will begin on Oct. 9. The courses are open to both the general public and members of the Saint Mary’s community.

“This is a win-win situation for everyone involved,” said Sister Agnes Mary Graves, RSM, DNP, director of the nursing program at Saint Mary’s. “Our nursing students will have the ability to experience work in their vocation prior to graduation, and our top-notch nursing laboratory will truly be a community asset.”

She added, “As a Lasallian Catholic institution, we’re also pleased to partner with a Catholic healthcare organization like Benedictine, which shares our mission and understands the importance of comprehensive healthcare, which means looking at the whole person, body, soul, and mind.”
For more than 30 years, Benedictine Living Community-Winona has offered a certified nursing assistant program onsite. The program, which has graduated just over 6,000 students, offers an instructor-led track with 75 hours of class completed in person with a registered nursing instructor and a blended learning option with 40 hours of class completed independently by the student online and the remaining required hours completed in person with an instructor.

“We are excited to collaborate with Saint Mary’s University and provide an excellent educational experience for those looking to enter into the nursing field beginning with certified nursing assistant training,” said Carol Ehlinger, executive director of Benedictine Living Community – Winona. “Our focus is to continue the hands-on experience of learning and developing nurses with our mission in mind.”

The Sandy Adducci Nursing Skills Lab offers an advanced nursing suite that includes access to hospital beds, patient manikins, and other top-notch training technology.

Father James P. Burns

The Rev. James P. Burns, IVD, Ph.D.
Saint Mary's University of Minnesota


Email: chahn@smumn.edu

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