Saint Mary's Newsroom / Campus Notes

Winona Campus Newsletter

McClure named dean of the School of Education, Hines to lead Ed.D. program

Saint Mary’s is pleased to announce that John (Jack) McClure, Ph.D., has been named dean of the School of Education. McClure has served as interim dean since March, following the departure of Michael Lovorn.

Before coming to Saint Mary’s in 2006, McClure worked as counselor and manager in the healthcare industry for sixteen years. At Saint Mary’s, he began as an assistant professor in the Ed.D. program, then was named to associate professor and core faculty in 2011, and in 2013 became professor and program director for the Ed.D. program. During this time, McClure has published many works in the field of education, served on numerous committees and administrative appointments, and received many awards and recognitions for his contributions to Lasallian education, including Distinguished Lasallian Educator for Midwest Region in 2018.

McClure has a BFA from Drake University, an MS from the University of Wisconsin, and a Ph.D. from the University of Minnesota.

“I am pleased to announce the appointment of Dr. McClure as our permanent dean of the School of Education. After a nation-wide search in which we reviewed highly qualified candidates with impressive backgrounds, it became clear to us that Jack was the best fit, not only for his strong support of the Lasallian Catholic mission at Saint Mary’s, but because of his experience with the educational landscape in Minnesota, as well as his leadership qualities. I am grateful to Jack for stepping up to take on the interim role, but more so for stepping forward to lead the School of Education as our new dean,” said Dr. Max Bonilla, provost and dean of faculties.

With McClure being named dean of the School of Education, Sue Hines has been appointed program director for the Ed.D. program. Hines has been a part of the Saint Mary’s community for 18 years, serving as director of CELT, an Ed.D. faculty member, and interim director of curriculum and instruction.

Saint Mary’s welcomes Dr. Liz Gulliford for Cardinal Virtue lecture

On Tuesday, Sept. 19, 2023, Saint Mary’s will welcome Dr. Liz Gulliford for a Cardinal Virtue lecture on “How Gratitude and Related Virtues Help Students and Teachers to Flourish.” This lecture presents gratitude as central to the other virtues and human flourishing. The Cardinal Virtue lecture will be at 7 p.m. on Tuesday, Sept. 19 in Aquinas 200 and is open to the entire Saint Mary’s community.

Earlier in the day, Dr. Gulliford will facilitate a conversation with faculty on the virtues of servant leadership. The faculty conversation will be at 4:15 p.m. in the President’s Room in the Toner Center.

On Wednesday, Sept. 20, Dr. Gulliford will facilitate another conversation on the virtues of servant leadership on the Minneapolis campus. This conversation will be at 3:30 p.m. in Brother Louis Hall room 105, and is open to all faculty, staff, and students.

Dr. Gulliford is an associate professor in psychology at the University of Northampton (UK). She is also an honorary research fellow at the Jubilee Centre for Character and Virtues at the University of Birmingham as well as a senior psychology advisor with the Oxford Character Project.

Saint Mary’s experiences historic philantrhopic year

As the financial books closed this summer, it’s time for the Saint Mary’s community to celebrate a number of record-breaking donations in FY ’23 that were acquired through the work of the Office of Advancement.

In FY ’23, the university saw a historic $47.2 million raised – the most money ever committed to the university in a fiscal year – donated through gifts, pledges, in-kind donations, and estate commitments. The previous record for gift commitments was set in 2014, with $19 million committed.

“With a historic philanthropic year for the university, one thing has been made clear: our alumni and benefactors believe in Saint Mary’s and our mission and vision,” said Gary Klein, vice president of advancement. “With these transformational gifts, many generations of students will benefit from a Saint Mary’s education — and, in turn, society will benefit from graduates who are both skilled and demonstrate strong moral and ethical character.”

As a part of this historic year, Saint Mary’s received its largest gift commitment to date of $25 million. While the benefactors wish to remain anonymous, they shared they felt compelled to invest in Saint Mary’s, stating how much they appreciate the hard work of the president and administration to boldly address the future course of Saint Mary’s. They see the university as one of the few that have a clear plan to steer through the turbulent waters facing all in higher education today.

As a stipulation of the gift agreement, in order to inspire others to step forward to provide support, the family challenged the university to raise an additional $100 million beginning June 1, 2022. This also marks the largest philanthropic challenge in university history, surpassing the $5 million challenge for Aquinas Hall on the Winona Campus.

The Saint Mary’s Fund also saw the most money committed in a single year in FY ‘23, with more than $1.8 million committed. In addition, the Office of Advancement secured the final $4.5 million to complete the fundraising for Aquinas Hall.

Staff and faculty announcements

Ayers departs from Saint Mary’s for dean position at Edgewood College

Carolyn Ayers has accepted an appointment for a new position as dean of the School of Arts and Sciences at Edgewood College in Madison, WI. While she will be greatly missed at Saint Mary’s, we wish her heartfelt congratulations and blessings as she takes on this new and more expansive leadership role.

Dalle to join Saint Mary’s as professional advisor for bachelor completion programs

The Saint Mary’s community is pleased to welcome Jullie Dalle as the professional advisor for bachelor completion students within the School of Graduate and Professional Programs.

Dalle comes to Saint Mary’s with extensive expertise in the areas of student support and success. Her previous experience includes teaching for Groves Academy, where she instructed and mentored students with diverse learning challenges. At Saint Mary’s, Dalle will replicate this student-focused support approach by providing advising services to our online adult learners, including course selection, program completion, academic resources, and individual coaching.

Faculty members from B.S. in Criminal Justice Leadership receive promotion within MPD

Two faculty members from the B.S. in Criminal Justice Leadership program received promotions to assistant chief of police with the Minneapolis Police Department. Christopher Gaiters was promoted to assistant chief of community trust, while Katie Blackwell was promoted to assistant chief of operations.

Mastin publishes book

Justine Mastin, M.A., a course-contracted professor in the M.A. in Marriage and Family Therapy, recently had a book she co-authored with Larisa Garski released by Penguin Random House. In The Grieving Therapist, Mastin and Garski explore what it means to be a therapist during tenuous times that may feel like the end of the world.

Bedtke to assume interim senior vice president role; departments divided into three tracks

With an eye on stability and proven leadership skills, the Very Rev. James P. Burns, IVD, Ph.D., Saint Mary’s president, announced James (Jim) Bedtke will assume an interim senior vice president role October 16. On August 23, Benjamin (Ben) Murray’96 announced he had accepted the role as CFO of the Minneapolis Institute of Art (Mia) and has since worked closely with key leadership to prepare for his October departure. The office of the president will launch a national search for a permanent chief financial officer by the end of the month.

Murray currently leads the finance, human resources, IT, institutional effectiveness, facilities planning, and campus operations teams. Upon his departure, departments will be divided into three tracks. Bedtke will oversee the departments of finance, IT, facilities

James Bedtke

planning, campus operations, and geospatial services, while the departments of human resources and strategic planning will report directly to the president’s office. Institutional effectiveness will report to the provost’s office.

“It is a bittersweet time for us as we show appreciation for all that Ben has done and been about. As he begins this exciting next chapter in his vocational journey, we know he will be greatly missed at Saint Mary’s. That is why, when determining the next best steps about this time of transition, we turned to Jim Bedtke. Jim has provided us with interim leadership through various transitions in the past and will provide stability for our university today. He knows what needs to be done and is devoted to the success of Saint Mary’s and our faculty, staff and students.” said Father Burns. “Jim is a loyal and trusted leader, who has consistently demonstrated his love for Saint Mary’s and our mission. I am personally grateful to him for stepping into this role while we embark upon a formal search for a chief financial officer at Saint Mary’s.”

“I am honored to serve the president and the university with the accumulation of experience that I have gained during my 40 years at Saint Mary’s. I actually started as a faculty member in the Business Department, where I taught marketing and international business. Brother Louis DeThomasis, the president, promoted me to be dean of the School of Business, Computer Science, and Social and Behavioral Sciences. Later, I served as vice president for Winona-based graduate programs, associate vice president for academic affairs of the College, associate provost, and vice president for SGPP,” said Bedtke. “For decades, the alumni of our university have demonstrated the value and impact of the Lasallian Catholic education they receive at Saint Mary’s. That remains at the core of what makes Saint Mary’s special to all of us.”

Graduating senior aims for Ph.D. and career in cancer research

Graduating senior aims for Ph.D. and career in cancer research

Larkin Clem came to Saint Mary’s University for volleyball but she’s leaving with a fulfilling career path.

The Elk River, Minn., native came to campus knowing she was a future Cardinal athlete and also that she was interested in biology. Now retired faculty member Randy Krainock told her about all the research opportunities she would have, and his enthusiasm both rubbed off on her and sealed her academic future.

He wasn’t mistaken about research opportunities.

Her sophomore year, Clem worked with her adviser Dr. Matthew Rowley on optimizing the university’s flow cytometry protocol. The flow cytometry equipment, which is used in large and smaller scale labs to identify certain characteristics of cancer cells and normal cells, had sometimes been yielding unexpected data, so Clem did cell growth and death rate tests to optimize how the machine is used and to make it easier for all students in the future.

She’s also been working on various research projects including analyzing the expression of epiregulin in response to TBX2 transfection.

It’s when she can talk about things like epiregulin and TBX2, without having to explain what that means, that she excels.

“Research matches my personality,” she said. “It’s a lot of independent benchwork, but it’s also about being part of an intellectual community. I’ve always thrived where advisers have viewed me as an equal and talked about science at the highest level.”

Clem said she’s been grateful for all the hands-on research she’s been able to do as an undergraduate. “It prepared me to do my research at a high-capacity research institution,” she said.

This past summer, for a 10-week internship, she did full-time research at the University of Minnesota in their life sciences summer undergraduate program in the cancer research wing. Working alongside a second-year Ph.D. student, Clem studied how estrogen affects breast cancer growth – a topic she is using for her senior thesis.

“In general, if you have invasive lobular carcinoma and treat it with estrogen, certain genes are more highly expressed as a result, which correlates with higher growth rates, tumor burden, and more aggressive phenotype,” she said. “If you treat mice with estrogen, they grow tumors faster, bigger, and more resistant to drug therapy.”

Next year, she will be enrolled in the cancer biology Ph.D. program at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. For the next five to seven years, she’ll be doing research, and publishing papers on her way to obtaining her doctorate. Eventually, she would love to run her own cancer research lab.

She’s had quite a few family members and friends battle the invasive disease. “Everyone sadly has known someone who has gone through cancer or lost the battle with cancer,” she said. “I’m glad I can enter a program that is aiming to make a difference.”

Although Clem won’t be going into patient care, she is excited to know that the work she does in the lab will affect patient outcomes. “Finding the cure to cancer is a large, massive task that no one person, lab, or university will do. It’s about translational research, making sure it has applications to patients and to actual people. Making biomarkers and having translational research will be driving my career in the future.”

Clem says she genuinely feels prepared for the next step of her academic journey. “Going into the internship last summer, I was really nervous; I was working with doctoral students,” she said. “But I think Dr. Rowley’s mentorship style has really helped me. He’s hands off. He provides guidance but also gives you freedom. I’ve been able to succeed without him being over my shoulder which has really been beneficial. Everyone in biology has been great. It’s a close knit community of advisers who are all looking out for you and trying to help you get to where you want to go next.”

Degree prepares grad for accounting, military experiences

Degree prepares grad for accounting, military experiences

Ephrem Eshete B’23 is excited about his future.

First, he has enlisted in the Army Reserve and is headed to basic training, excited to serve the country he has called home since 2017 when he moved here from Ethiopia.

When he returns, he has a dream job waiting for him with a Big 6 accounting firm — a pinnacle career aspiration.

He credits double majoring in Accounting and Business Administration in Saint Mary’s bachelor’s completion programs for helping him get where he is today. “Because of my degree, I have had so many changes in my life, including my language,” he said. “My grammar has improved, my writing has improved. I now have an understanding of business communication skills and how useful that is, and because of my degree, I got the best offer from the best accounting firm, a Big 6 firm that has the best culture and good diversity. This is a huge opportunity for me.

“I wouldn’t see myself in this position unless I got this degree,” he adds, explaining that he has worked with the accounting firm as an intern since last fall.

He believes internship experiences, coupled with his education, have prepared him for his career. “I’m ready,” he said. “I already tested myself with two internship opportunities, and they believe in me; that’s why they gave me the position.”

Eshete also says the educational knowledge he acquired helped him pass the required exams in order to qualify for military service.

In Ethiopia, he had also earned a degree in business management, and accounting was his minor. He found he especially enjoyed his accounting courses, but unlike the U.S., he says, it’s difficult to change majors once you’ve made progress in a program.

“If you get in, either you like it or not; you have to finish,” he said. “So I didn’t get the chance to switch from business management to accounting. So when I came here, I liked accounting and saw it as a great opportunity for me. In 2020, I needed another course for my CPA exam, so when my credit was short, I had a discussion with my adviser. She gave me three options: continue on toward my master’s, take electives, or double major. It thought double majoring was the best solution at the time. Double majoring in Business Administration paired well with Accounting.”

Eshete chose to apply to Saint Mary’s because one of his wife’s best friends had obtained her master’s degree from the university and had recommended it. Although Eshete had applied at multiple schools in the U.S., they chose to move from Tampa, Fl., to Minnesota, to be closer to family.

When questioned what Eshete liked the most about his experience, his answer was simple. “I think … everything.” He elaborated: “I enjoyed my professors. I enjoyed the course. The curriculum is good, especially for working people like me. I have to work 40 hours to support my family, but I was working while I was studying. I liked the flexibility. Professors understand when you are in a time crunch and will be flexible as long as you communicate with them. They understand that we are adults with family responsibilities and work. They are also very knowledgeable. Their feedback is timely and constructive.”

Eshete, who also has a nearly 2-year-old daughter, says obtaining a degree — despite being a busy adult — is doable, you just can’t procrastinate.

“You can do it,” he said. “We all have 24 hours. It’s all about how you use your time. I spent my whole time on family, career, and school, that’s all. I didn’t waste time on social media or things like that. Stop telling your mind you don’t have the time. It’s all about prioritizing. My wife was also helpful and supportive.”

He recommends Saint Mary’s because of the quality of the education and professors who understand their students. “They understand our situation, and the curriculum is designed for busy adults. The price is good too. Whether you want your master’s or to complete your degree, they will provide all the support you need.”

‘Top-notch’ program helps Saint Mary’s grad thrive in marriage and family therapy field

‘Top-notch’ program helps Saint Mary’s grad thrive in marriage and family therapy field

Equipped with a juris doctorate, Dinyar Mehta had spent years climbing the ladder at a major Twin Cities-based corporation when he felt he needed to make a career change.

Rather than going to a competitor for a new job title and a little more money, he decided to look beyond the corporate world.

“After I decided to change, I simply asked friends, family, and colleagues one question: How does my presence make your life better?” Mehta said. “When they would respond, it always came back to three things: You motivate me, you inspire me, and you help me heal. So I knew that’s what I needed to do.”

Those answers helped Mehta make the decision to go back to graduate school and enroll in Saint Mary’s M.A. in Marriage and Family Therapy program. With his degree, Mehta became a staff clinician at the Los Angeles LGBT Center, where he works in the STOP Violence Program, which provides services to members of the LGBT community who are experiencing intimate partner violence.

At the time Mehta was looking at graduate schools, he said he lived extremely close to Saint Mary’s Minneapolis Campus; however, proximity did not play a role in his decision.

“Saint Mary’s afforded me a top-notch, accredited program for significantly less than what I would have paid for if I had returned to California to receive my degree,” he said. “And I really resonated with the Lasallian commitment to a high-quality education that I absolutely received from start to finish.”

He also says he felt the community at Saint Mary’s was invested in his education even before he applied. At the time, Metha was torn between obtaining an M.A. in Marriage and Family Therapy or a Doctorate of Psychology in Counseling. Knowing this, the admissions office had him meet one-on-one with Samantha Zaid, the program director for the Marriage and Family Therapy program.

“Samantha sat down to meet with me to help me understand the difference between the two and whether they aligned with my way of thinking about the world of psychology and therapy,” he said. “She really helped me make the right choice for me, between the two programs. And this was before I even formally applied, so that really spoke to me because that lets me know they were invested in my education, regardless of where I applied.”

And that investment in his education, and every other student’s education, is something that Mehta says makes Saint Mary’s Marriage and Family Therapy program stand out.

“At Saint Mary’s, there is a commitment to intellectual rigor and inquiry,” Mehta said. “And there was a caring community that believed in us, and that believed in me so that I could be the best student and have the potential to have the best career I could have.”

Thriving at the Los Angeles LGBT Center, Mehta has goals to expand his practice in California, and he expresses great gratitude to Saint Mary’s for preparing him to do so.

“When I got out to California, I was eminently prepared for my licensure exam. And now, I’m looking to open my own practice as well,” he said. “And I could not have done it without Saint Mary’s. My education made me feel so confident. I chose Saint Mary’s and I made the best decision.”

Update on Saint Mary’s undergraduate recruitment and enrollment

With students arriving on campus for a new school year, Saint Mary’s is pleased to welcome 310 new undergraduate students to its Winona Campus. Of the 310 new students, 31 are transfers. These new numbers put the College ahead of where it was at this time last year. At the beginning of the 2022 school year, the College welcomed 220 new students. For more information about potential enrollment, visit admissions.

“This success testifies to the wisdom of many decisions made prior to my arrival last fall,” said Michael McMahon, Ed.D., vice president for enrollment management. “Many worked tirelessly through challenging times to achieve these results, and they deserve to be celebrated. A hearty ‘well done!’ to all who contribute to recruiting students to Saint Mary’s University’s campus in Winona, with special acknowledgement to Dr. Tim Gossen and the team in College Admissions.”

Timothy Gossen, Ed.D., senior director of admission and dean of summer programs, also shared his own remarks and gratitude: “At a time when many similar institutions continue to struggle with recruitment, we are thrilled about surpassing our goal for first-time freshmen and transfer students. With the help of faculty and staff, the team has done a tremendous job sharing the value of the human and Christian education we offer.”

For more information about potential enrollment, visit admissions.

The woman behind the music

The woman behind the music

Ree Guyer B’81 makes a name for herself in the music industry

As a young woman, just starting out in the music industry in the mid ’80s, Ree Guyer B’81 walked into the office of Billy Sherrill, a big name record producer who ran Columbia Records. Sherrill was intimidating, not necessarily in stature, but certainly because of his surly nature, coupled with his intimidating history with music artists like George Jones, Tammy Wynette, and Charlie Rich — even writing the famous Wynette hit, “Stand by Your Man.” 

Taking one look at Guyer, he said, “You seem like a nice midwestern girl. This is a ‘good ole boy’ business, and you’re going to get eaten alive. You’ll never make it. Be a nurse and go back to Minneapolis.”

Guyer met his chauvinism with determination and chutzpah, telling him, “You know what, just because you said that, I’m going to prove to you I can do it.” And after she got her first Broadcast Music Inc. (BMI) most performed song award for “Little Things,” by the Oak Ridge Boys, Sherrill told her, “You did it. I’m so proud of you.” 

Since then, as a music publisher, she’s earned two Song of the Year awards and over 30 No. 1 hits in country and one in pop. 

Guyer has loved music since she was a little girl singing commercials in Minneapolis. Additionally, music runs deep in her blood; her dad, Reyn Guyer, is a songwriter who works with talented songwriters in Minneapolis. His goal was to help his clients get their music out into the world and recorded by major recording artists. 

After Guyer graduated from Saint Mary’s (with a degree in studio arts and child psychology, which she both jokes and admits with some seriousness came in handy in the record business), she searched for a sales job. “I sort of raised my hand and said, ‘I would love to try to be their agent.’ ” Ree and her dad started Wrensong Publishing with a lineup of 20 songs. 

Guyer knew in her heart and soul that she could help turn a particular jingle writer named Billy Barber into something big. 

Under her father’s encouragement, she traveled to Nashville to pitch the songs in the capital of country music, and she instantly loved the thrill of it all, saying, “What’s not fun about running around all day and playing songs?” 

She began some aggressive networking, beginning with Michael Johnson, a Minneapolis artist who made all his records (including “Bluer than Blue”) in Nashville. “I called him and said, ‘You don’t know Billy Barber, but I want to know more about Nashville and wondered if you would have lunch with me,’ ” Guyer recalls. “I left with six names of people who were music publishers, which is what I ended up becoming. I cold called them all. I started going back and forth between Nashville and Minneapolis, met with writers, and found more writers. I knew Billy Barber’s ‘Little Things’ was a hit. Everybody I played it for loved it.” 

Those original six contacts would go on to be Guyer’s best friends and advisers. 

Her big break happened when a friend from Nashville, Bob Doyle, called her and said he loved the song and that the Oak Ridge Boys’ bus was outside his office. He told her she should bring the song to them, and they would listen to it on the road. 

Two days later, the Oak Ridge Boys told her, “We love it. We’re going to record it.” 

“That was my first cut,” Guyer said. “They took me to lunch and tried to own half the song, and I said no. It had taken me about a year and a half to go through this whole process. I said, ‘I’m not giving away half the publishing.’ It was their first radio hit off that record, a No. 1 record.” 

Duane Allen of the band inquired if she had any more songs they might want to record. She gave him “Gonna Take a Lot of River,” which became their second No. 1 hit (both in 1985).

With these successes under their belts, the Guyers purchased and renovated a building on Music Row in 1985. They signed their first staff writer in 1986, Jon Vezner. Vezner had his first two singles including the award-winning song, “Where’ve You Been,” recorded by his wife, Kathy Mattea.

Today, Wrensong is one of the top independent publishing companies on Music Row. Ree credits her father for being her partner through it all. She took over the business from him about 10 years ago but says, “We did it together. He supported the whole thing and was wonderful.” Their catalog now contains over 3,000 copyrights with five staff songwriter/artists. 

The list of country music artists she hasn’t worked with might just be shorter than those she has. Her additional two “Song of the Year” accolades include “Where’ve You Been” and “Whiskey Lullaby” (both Country Music Award, Academy of Country Music, and Grammy-winning Songs of the Year). Wrensong received its third Song of the Year, One Man Band (by Old Dominion) at the 2020 American Country Music Awards. Additionally, “How Can I Help You Say Goodbye” (Patty Loveless) was nominated for a Best Country Song Grammy. 

Under Guyer’s direction, Wrensong has enjoyed over 30 No. 1 hits, including Guyer’s very first cut, “Little Things” (Oak Ridge Boys), and “Am I the Only One” (Dierks Bentley), “Ask Me How I Know” (Garth Brooks), “Better Dig Two” (The Band Perry), “Break Up With Him” (Old Dominion), “Drink On It” (Blake Shelton), “Gonna Take a Lot of River” (Oak Ridge Boys), “Heart Like Mine” (Miranda Lambert), “Hotel Key” (Old Dominion), “I Met a Girl” (William Michael Morgan), “Make it Sweet” (Old Dominion), “No Such Thing as a Broken Heart” (Old Dominion), “One Man Band” (Old Dominion), “One That Got Away” (Michael Ray), “Sangria” (Blake Shelton), “Say You Do” (Dierks Bentley), “Snapback” (Old Dominion), “Take it From Me” (Jordan Davis), “The Truth” (Jason Aldean), “Wild One” (Faith Hill), “Written in the Sand” (Old Dominion), and album cuts by major label acts like Ray Charles, Keith Urban, Carrie Underwood, Dixie Chicks (now The Chicks), Tim McGraw/Faith Hill, Reba McEntire, Toby Keith, Miranda Lambert, Norah Jones, and Kenny Chesney that have sold in excess of 130 million albums.

She knew Garth Brooks, Tricia Yearwood, and Joe Diffie before they were famous as she hired them to record demos of songs so she could pitch them to producers. Brooks told her, “I could feed my family because you were employing me.”  

“It’s a small community and a supportive community. We compete but everybody knows everybody because we all interact in those ways,” Guyer said. “Tricia and Garth are normal, down-to-earth sweet people; they haven’t changed at all.” 

What has changed, Guyer said, is radio; because of streaming, it is much more difficult to build connections. “I got to know Sherrill’s secretary, and she liked me,” she said. “That’s how it worked. Now everybody hides behind email. They don’t talk to each other. It was smaller and more intimate and so connected. Back in the day, I would read the trade magazines and look up what people looked like and would go to a party and go up to them and say, ‘I’m Ree Guyer and I have this new company, and you need to know about my writers.’ ” 

Guyer says Nashville is still a “good old boy network,” in many ways, but women have made some big strides in publishing. “I think women listen to music differently,” she said. “They listen more to the lyrics. I think I had the confidence in the music. The songs opened the doors for me. Once I got in the door, I used being a woman to my advantage.”

She said in the music business, you have to learn to take rejection well and persevere. “Reject me 100 times. I’m just looking for that one ‘Yes’,” she said. 

Guyer’s passion is evident,  “I love what I do, taking a writer and molding them, setting them up with a manager and their record label and getting them their first cuts and their first No. 1s. They go on to work with somebody else, but I love working with them in the beginning,” she said. “I don’t know how I instinctively know incredible talent and songs. I just know and that’s a God-given gift,” she said. “But that’s everything.”

Several degrees of connection

Several degrees of connection

Renee Thompson B’03, M’07 is earning her third degree from Saint Mary’s

Renee Thompson B’03, M’07 is hoping to add another degree from Saint Mary’s after her name this year as she earns a Doctorate of Business Administration.

Thompson will soon have seen the university from every angle: as a bachelor’s degree completion student, an adult learner (earning both a master’s and doctorate); an adjunct instructor; a member of the alumni board and the business advisory council; and soon as a parent.

Her daughter, Madeline, is enrolled in the nursing program at Saint Mary’s Winona Campus in the fall and plans to run track.

Though she says she never pushed her to be a Cardinal, she is pleased her daughter’s choice is keeping the Saint Mary’s legacy alive. She details, “We toured 10 colleges, and she told me she applied to Saint Mary’s nursing program and got in, and I said, ‘Let’s check it out!’ We met with one of the professors, and my daughter said, ‘This is where I want to go.’ They also reached out to her about being on the track team. The coach was a great influence. And the students who walked around with us, they were great!”

The only thing left to complete her Saint Mary’s connections? Thompson jokes that if she was asked to be a trustee, she probably wouldn’t turn it down. “I can never leave Saint Mary’s,” she said.

Thompson’s first introduction to the university was when she was looking at where to complete her bachelor’s degree. “Some coworkers went there, and they loved it and said the teachers and professors were wonderful. I went down there and fell in love with it,” she said. “Once I graduated, I thought, ‘I’m so used to studying, I might as well keep going.’ ”

Thompson said taking the next step and getting her MBA helped make her more marketable. “It helps you get noticed as a job candidate,” she said. “And it helped me understand the full circle of business as a whole. After I graduated with my MBA, I moved onto another position two months later, which was great. It gave me the skills and qualifications that I needed to move into a different kind of business.”

Thompson, who works in accounting, worked for Best Buy for seven years, and before that, the United Way, GMAC (Graduate Management Admission Council), Minntech, and Carquest. Since 2020, she’s served as a senior accountant with United Natural Foods (UNFI). 

She joined the alumni board in 2010 — largely because a Saint Mary’s friend encouraged her to be another voice for graduate students. For the next six years, she learned more about the undergraduate side of Saint Mary’s and worked toward building a network between the two groups of alumni and students. 

“I would say it’s a different bond graduate alumni have than at the undergraduate campus,” Thompson said, adding that she still talks with some of her MBA professors and others who went through the program with her. “That connection is there. You work in groups and you just kind of stay connected,” she said. “We all had lives, so you also knew about their kids. You get to know all their families, where they work. You use them for networking.”

After finishing her MBA, Thompson took a break from school, but she always knew she wanted to get her doctorate. When she finished her term on the alumni board, she started school again, just two months later, after some encouragement from a former MBA professor. Thompson recalls, “He told me, ‘This is going to be way intense, but you can do it.’ I said, ‘You’re one of the toughest teachers I’ve ever had, so if you’re saying I can do it, I must be able to.’ ”

Now a teacher in the MBA and the accounting program, Thompson hopes she can pay it forward and inspire her students, particularly when they aren’t feeling confident. “Hopefully I can pass that encouragement onto others,” she said.

She also stays connected through the university’s business advisory board and enjoys getting to know current students through events. In her current position at UNFI, she’s always excited to see a Saint Mary’s graduate apply and get hired.

“I love accounting,” she said. “That’s why I teach. It’s about helping future generations.”

One thing’s for sure, Thompson will stay connected to her alma mater any way she can for the foreseeable future. “I just can’t leave Saint Mary’s. I just keep coming back,” she said.


Saint Mary’s executive vice president and chief financial officer Benjamin Murray to depart for nonprofit arts executive role

Saint Mary’s executive vice president and chief financial officer Benjamin (Ben) Murray (B‘96) has accepted the role as CFO for Minneapolis Institute for Art (Mia). Murray will work closely with the Saint Mary’s leadership and finance team until his October departure.

Murray currently leads the finance, human resources, IT, institutional effectiveness, facilities planning and campus operations teams. Among many accomplishments during his 12-year tenure, Murray co-led strategic plan development and implementation with internal and external stakeholders. He co-led COVID operations and planning, as well as BRAVE initiatives to strengthen financial sustainability. He also provided interim leadership through various transitions in enrollment management, advancement, and communications areas.

Benjamin (Ben) Murray, B‘96, executive vice president and chief financial officer

“We are very happy for Ben as he begins this exciting next chapter in his vocational journey. At the same time, we will greatly miss the personal integrity, honesty, and loyalty he brought to his work, along with his sincerity in his relationships. He has been a thoughtful leader, a superb planner, and an excellent communicator. His financial acumen and unwavering commitment to our mission and vision will also be sorely missed. It goes without saying that during perhaps the most challenging time in higher education, his steady and principled leadership was an integral part of Saint Mary’s ability to generate growth and financial sustainability through strategic plan alignment,” said the Very Rev. James P. Burns, IVD, Ph.D., Saint Mary’s president. “I am personally grateful to Ben for serving as a trusted advisor and consistent voice of reason, as someone truly knowledgeable about so much of our operations and who consistently executed and delivered high-quality performance on the goals we set. He will remain a beacon of all Saint Mary’s strives to affirm as he works for the common good, deeply rooted in his good character and ethical leadership skills.”

“As a proud alumnus, it has been an honor to serve Saint Mary’s University and to advance its Lasallian Catholic mission in Minnesota and beyond,” said Murray. “I would like to thank Father Burns, the Board of Trustees, and my colleagues across the university for their hard work and dedication as they have inspired and strengthened me through both times of challenge and celebration.”

Murray holds a Bachelor of Arts in Accounting from Saint Mary’s and a Master of Public Affairs from the University of Minnesota Humphrey School of Public Affairs. He serves as a board member and Audit Committee Chair of the Christian Brothers Services Employee Retirement Plan. Murray also co-founded and served as both Director of Mission Advancement and President of San Miguel Middle School of Minneapolis, an innovative Lasallian school that operated from 2000-2011.

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