Values and vision
New leaders add vibrant energy, and a wealth of ideas, to the St. Kate’s community.
By Julie Kendrick
The start of the fall semester brought three important additions to St. Catherine University: Bea Abdallah, vice president for external relations; Kimberly Johnson, director of adult learning; and Randall Schroeder, head of libraries.
The three bring a wealth of experience to their new positions and already are busy meeting people and generating fresh ideas.
Bea Abdallah comes to St. Kate’s with decades of experience as a development director and vice president at institutions such as Mount Mercy University and the University of North Dakota, where she ran advancement, alumni relations and marketing for the School of Medicine and Health Sciences, among other roles. Most recently she was senior major gifts officer at Fairview Foundation in Minneapolis.
“Bea is a leader of significant talent and experience,” said President Andrea Lee, IHM, upon Abdallah’s appointment in July. “Her broad-based experience in healthcare, education and business will help extend the reach and visibility of the University and attract new resources to support our 2020 Vision strategic plan.”
As vice president for external relations, a cabinet-level position, Abdallah oversees alumnae relations, development, and marketing and communications. “I feel deeply privileged to have the opportunity to serve the mission of St. Catherine,” she says. “What we do here at St. Kate’s is so influential in fields like healthcare, education and leadership development. We have an opportunity to affect the future of our country.”
In her first visits to campus last summer, Abdallah came away with a strong sense of what sets St. Kate’s apart. “Supporting women and preparing women for leadership has always been my personal philosophy,” she says, “and at St. Kate’s it’s the top priority.”
A graduate of the University of North Dakota at Grand Forks, Abdallah grew up on the land in North Dakota that her father’s family settled after immigrating from Syria (now Lebanon). “When you grow up on a farm you learn how to work hard and to place value in what really matters,” she explains. “I still live my life using the references my father taught me on that farm, and those have guided me down my career path. I have a strong need to invest my energy and passion in things that are meaningful and valuable to the world.”
Meeting with alumnae — “the heart of the institution and the keepers of the tradition” — is a high priority for Abdallah. “They are voices of confidence and goodwill that will move us onto the next step, keeping us true to the mission of who and what we strive to be.”
She encourages visitors to stop by her office on the top floor of Derham Hall. “I’m welcoming by nature,” she says with a laugh. “My door is always open, and what’s better than a cup of coffee and a St. Kate’s story!”
Contact Bea: 651-690-6516 or email@example.com
Personal: Abdallah has a soft spot for stray animals and has been “found” by two dogs and a cat. “The cat was a little kitten stranded in the middle of the highway, and I stopped my car to rescue it,” she says.
With two advanced degrees and a nine-page curriculum vitae, Kimberly Johnson epitomizes the accomplished academic. But this accessible, down-to-earth woman, who has assumed a new position as director of adult learning at St. Kate’s, was once a college dropout herself.
She empathizes with the realities that adult students face. “Adult learners have very real, very busy lives,” Johnson says, “and they are looking for things that make sense and are relevant right now.” She returned to college after she had two children and was working full time. “My decision on which college to attend came down to the one that had affordable day care,” she says. “That’s an example of the ways adults need to weigh their higher education decisions.”
Johnson comes to St. Kate’s from nearby Hamline University and knows a number of people on campus through her involvement with the organization Minnesota Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages.
Her initial priorities include helping faculty and staff members maximize their work with adult learners and collaborating campus-wide to create a vision and plan for the Evening/Weekend/Online program, which St. Kate’s launched in 1979 as Weekend College.
Although the term “adult learner” can be controversial (traditional-age college students legally are adults, too), Johnson uses the description to encompass students who are 25 or older, or who are 18- to 24-year-old students who work full time, or have children, or attend college part time or lack parental support.
Given the shrinking “high school pipeline” of traditional-age students in Minnesota, adult learners are the future of post-secondary education, she believes. And St. Kate’s is poised to be a leader. “Long before other schools were thinking about this topic, St. Kate’s was recognizing that many people can’t go to school in the traditional four-year undergraduate model. We offer alternatives for them.”
Contact Kimberly: 651-690-6910 or firstname.lastname@example.org
Personal: Living in Berlin with her husband at the time of the Berlin Wall’s collapse, Johnson responded to “a massive cry” for English teachers. “Teaching in that setting helped me find my path into adult education,” she says.
LIBRARIES AND INFORMATION
If you’re looking for Randall Schroeder on the St. Paul campus, you probably won’t find him sitting behind his desk. “One of my early mentors always said, ‘If you have a day where you never get out of your office or the building, it wasn’t a productive day,’” he explains. “I’ve always believed that we have to know what our users need and be out there on the front lines, doing reference work and talking to people."
Schroder succeeds longtime head of libraries Carol Johnson, who retired in December 2012. He comes to St. Kate’s from Ferris State University in Big Rapids, Michigan, and says his first priority is to get the library fully staffed.
“Long term, I want the library to be the center of innovation at the University,” he says. “I would like it to be the first place that students, faculty and administrators think of when they are asked about the most dynamic learning space on campus. We can get to that point quickly through a strong partnership with the Library and Information Science program, tapping into the talent and knowledge of the library faculty and students.”
Schroeder acknowledges that the digital era has already had a huge impact on libraries, with more change on the way. “This is an exciting time for information, but librarians also have to accept the ambiguity of not knowing what’s around the corner. You used to know what your library would look like from one year to the next,” he says, “but with so much of the world’s information in the cloud, that changes everything. “
He laughs. “You don’t want to guess wrong about new technology. No librarian wants to be the one who spent his or her entire budget on eight-track tapes.”
Contact Randall: 651-690 6202 or email@example.com
Personal: For 50 years, Schroeder’s father was sports information director at Wartburg College in Waverly, Iowa, which has about the same number of undergraduate students as St. Kate’s. “Being here feels like coming home in many ways,” he says.
Julie Kendrick is a Twin Cities based journalist who writes about higher education, community issues and nonprofits. She blogs at kendrickworks.blogspot.com.