Cathy Brennan is a 1970 St. Kate’s alumna and a member of University’s Campaign Cabinet. She majored in occupational therapy and has been engaged in the field for 51 years, recently retiring from multiple leadership roles at the Minnesota Occupational Therapy Association.
Brennan held many positions during her occupational therapy career, and many therapists and patients have benefited from her advocacy for the profession. She became engaged in both state and federal advocacy and developed the peer review system for the Minnesota Occupational Therapy Association, working with insurance companies to bring fairness to the review process. Brennan has received numerous awards in her field, was co-chair of the 2012 Opus Prize, which St. Catherine University spearheaded that year, and was honored to receive the St. Kate’s Alumni Award in 2013.
“I initially became engaged with students from St. Kate’s as they were completing their practice internships,” she said. “I found that St. Kate’s students were ‘a cut above’ in how they sought to further their education. They understood that therapy was more than just teaching daily living skills. The importance of becoming compassionate leaders with cultural competency in the growing field of occupational therapy was also a significant piece of their learning.” Brennan also served as an adjunct faculty member for the University, teaching courses when occupational therapy faculty members were on sabbatical. She also earned a master’s degree in instructional design from the University of St. Thomas.
“I began my first donations to St. Kate’s through the influence of my mother, Jane Keefe Clifford, who at the time was alumna fund director at St. Kate’s and an emerita member of the Board of Trustees. She was an ardent supporter and believed in giving back to the institution that enabled her and me to grow both in our professions and our faith. My sister and I decided to honor our mother by establishing the Jane Keefe Clifford Endowed Scholarship Fund for students majoring in Spanish (her major), and we continue to support it.”
Scholarship aid, in fact, is a major priority of Lead & Influence: The Campaign for the Next Level of Excellence. “I’ve chosen to continue my support as I have seen how the education I received was transformational in my life, and also is transformational for the current students who receive scholarships,” said Brennan. “Receiving letters of heartfelt thanks from students who have benefited from our scholarship fund is truly gratifying.”
As a member of the Campaign Cabinet, Brennan has spoken with many alumnae about the campaign’s priorities, and especially the importance of ongoing gifts through scholarship funds. “The impact of scholarship dollars is truly a blessing for the many diverse students from middle- and lower-income backgrounds. The future remains strong with the generosity of gifts that prepare Katies to thrive in our complex society.”
Morgan Batiste-Simms, a biochemistry major from Houston, Texas, transferred to St. Kate’s from Normandale Community College as a sophomore. She is currently president of the Chemistry Club and plans to apply to MD/PhD programs as she continues her path in science. Her goal is to earn a PhD in biochemistry and specialize in a surgical field.
Her goal — along with the goals of the 2,000-plus STEM students on campus — is why St. Kate’s is embracing an effort to develop more BIPOC women leaders in science. Titled “Expanding HERizons,” the goal is tied to the campaign priority of upgrading Mendel’s spaces and facilities. Batiste-Simms articulated the visible-yet-invisible obstacles she has faced already on her path at a Town Hall event that St. Kate’s hosted last fall: “ ... being in high school, in a co-ed class. I was extremely intimidated because I was one of the only girls in my chemistry class or in my physics class. In the back of my mind was always the fact that I'm female. Being at St. Kate’s, everyone is female ... so when I’m in lab, I'm focused on being a good scientist, not a good female scientist. It’s such a liberating feeling.”
Considering her own career prospects, Batiste-Simms would choose a path that would help minimize the obstacles that women of color in STEM fields face by working in the field of academic medicine. “While I would still be a practicing physician, being in academic medicine means I would be teaching, and thus influencing, students. Being in academic medicine means purposefully taking on a leadership/influential role,” she said. “It is my hope to influence colleagues and future students about the importance and awareness of social justice. It permeates all areas of life, especially healthcare. It is important to teach relatability, patience, and understanding in what tend to be the most vulnerable instances in people's lives.”
In regard to improving the University’s science spaces, Batiste-Simms commented, “My hope for Mendel is that some of our instrumentation around the building, particularly in labs, is updated. In order to truly excel as scientists and as women of science, we need more time to focus on projects and practicing the process of being a scientist, rather than trying to work around some of the obstacles that come with a more dated science building.”
“I think the University has done a wonderful job balancing the importance of science, religion, and cultural diversity,” she said. “It is so common to see one of the three dominate the others. The way the university unites all three is both refreshing and inspiring. This balance is what I hope to emulate as I transition into my own career.”
Minda Suchan is a 1995 St. Catherine University alumna and a member of the University’s Board of Trustees. She is at the top of her professional field, serving as the executive officer and vice president of geointelligence for MDA, Canada’s largest space technology developer and manufacturer.
Suchan double-majored in chemistry and mathematics at St. Kate’s, then earned a doctoral degree in chemistry at the University of Southern California. “But it was my liberal arts background that best prepared me for the leadership challenges I face today,” she said, citing her Katie LEAD-team experience, her collaborative Honors course, and campus conversations about women in leadership as valuable foundational elements for her career.
“These unique St. Kate’s experiences positioned me for success, beyond just the need for academic knowledge, which is why I continue to support St. Catherine University today.”
A strong supporter of the Katie Fund priority of LEAD & INFLUENCE: The Campaign for the Next Level of Excellence, Suchan appreciates “the direct impact my campaign contributions can make on both students and the campus.” The wide range of support that the Katie Fund provides is important to her:
“I have been a recipient of St. Catherine alumnae scholarships, and I recognize how important this was to my ability to access higher education, as well as gain a global perspective. The faculty were very impactful on how I thought about leadership and my place in the world, and I will always remember St. Catherine’s beautiful campus being the true deciding factor in choosing which university to attend — the scent of lilacs still brings me back to campus. I still remember fondly Mendel Hall and the many science courses I took there, as well every Sunday playing flute in Our Lady of Victory Chapel. I am truly grateful for my experience at St. Catherine, which has brought me far in my career, and I find it very satisfying to be able to give back today.”
Her prominent role in business and science makes Suchan’s opinion of a St. Kate’s education important to both prospective students and prospective donors.
“As a woman in the STEM field, I ... find the most impactful problem-solving occurs with bringing in different perspectives, enabling true collaboration and encouraging outside-the-box thinking, which is encouraged at St. Catherine University. For example, at other universities, scientific laboratory experiments are completed on an individual basis, but at St. Catherine, lab experiments are done in teams or at minimum with another partner. This trained us to be more collaborative about problem-solving in science, which is a major part of how science evolves today, and ultimately develops better solutions for today's most challenging issues."
The St. Catherine community is grateful for Minda Suchan and her open-hearted service to the University. Generations of Katies will benefit from her generosity.