Each year, St. Catherine recognizes outstanding graduates who represent the ideals of the University. These alumnae demonstrate excellence in leadership and service to others, and play an influential role in family, profession, community, church or volunteer activities.
The 2017 Alumnae Award winners — Mary Kuszewski Evert ’67, Sahra Noor M’00, ‘02 and Carmeann Foster ’08, MSW’12— are prime examples of influential leaders.
Mary Kuszewski Evert grew up in a military family; both parents served in the U.S. Army. While the family lived at a base in Alaska, a family friend told her about St. Kate’s, and planted a seed that came to fruition years later.
When accepted to St. Kate’s, Evert’s Army connections helped secure housing near campus and a scholarship through the Army Wives Club. Although interested in math, she eventually majored in occupational therapy (OT).
After graduation, Evert started her career as an OT, working at hospitals in Los Angeles and San Diego. In 1982, she was asked to run for a board position at the Palomar Hospital system, California’s largest public healthcare system. Within months, Evert was the board president.
Evert’s family relocated to the East Coast a few years later. Her husband Richard (Dick), a U.S. Navy captain, had been assigned a new duty station. With connections made through the Palomar Hospital board and the St. Kate’s Alumnae Association, Evert secured a job working for the Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS).
Evert held several DHHS positions during the Reagan administration, eventually serving as director of community services for the Family Support Administration. To this day, she is the only OT to hold a senior leadership position in the DHHS.
Evert has remained connected to OT professional organizations. In 1991, St. Kate’s professor Sally Ryan encouraged her to run for president of the American Occupational Therapy Association.
“I was a dark horse candidate, but I beat an incumbent,” Evert says.
Evert led the AOTA for four years, through a period of health care reform. She also led outreach programs with the World Federation of Occupational Therapists.
Recently, Evert funded the Mary Kuszewski Evert Occupational Therapy Scholarship, which will annually be presented to a St. Kate’s OT student, preferably one with military ties.
“St. Kate’s put its fingerprints on various parts of my life, and I’m forever grateful,” Evert says. “I hope each scholarship recipient gets the message to pass along the gift and help others when she has the opportunity.”
As a teen living in a refugee camp, Sahra Noor watched nurses helping people, and knew she wanted to be a nurse someday. Several years later, while visiting an aunt in Minnesota, she saw a St. Catherine sign on the Minneapolis campus. She applied and was accepted within weeks.
As a student, she was outspoken when she felt things could be better. Noor’s willingness to stand up for herself and her classmates helped St. Kate’s in its effort to become more inclusive.
After graduation, Noor took a nursing job at the Hennepin County Medical Center. In 2007, she earned a master’s in nursing and health systems administration at the University of Minnesota. Over the next few years, she held leadership positions at United Health and Fairview Health.
Along the way, Noor continued to seek education. She did fellowships at the University of Minnesota and George Washington University. She also completed an executive leadership program through Fairview.
In 2014, Noor was hired as the chief executive officer at People’s Center Health Services. The organization operates a network of clinics in Minneapolis.
When it comes to leadership, what resonates most for Noor is inclusivity.
“One of the gifts I got from St. Kate’s was that at a young age, I was told my voice matters and what I have to say is important,” she says. “As I approach leadership, I always think about who I’m not listening to. Who is not at the table?”
Noor is at the forefront of healthcare debates as an advocate for those sidelined from the mainstream. “It’s important for leaders in the industry to be advocates,” Noor says. “We need to tell the stories of those marginalized from our larger healthcare system.”
Learning the stories of patients at her clinics is a priority to Noor. She regularly chats with them in waiting rooms and hallways. She calls those conversations gifts, because they make the experiences of the patients real, and they impact the way her clinics operate.
From the time she was a student at St. Kate’s, Noor has been an advocate for those who need a voice. She wanted to make things better then, and is still doing so today.
Growing up in south Minneapolis, the neighborhood YMCA acted as Carmeann Foster’s family support system. Many friends there, young black men with great aspirations and potential, too often fell into trouble.
“Eventually, many of them ended up in the penitentiary or dead,” she explains.
Racial disparities in the justice system are vast. A report from The Sentencing Project says one in three black American males born today can expect to go to prison in his lifetime — compared to one of 17 white males. Foster knew she had to make a difference for boys like her childhood friends.
“I wanted to be a social worker to help people,” Foster says, “except I didn’t want to do case management. I got a law degree to learn how the system works, but that taught me to apply the law as written, not how to change it. Now I’m in a doctoral program in public administration, where I aim to make systematic change.”
While on maternity leave in 2014, Foster began work to start Rebound. In January 2016, Rebound opened Jordan House, a group home serving boys ages 14–18 who are at high risk for correctional placement, or transitioning home from a detention center.
“Every kid coming out of detention has grand plans about never doing anything wrong again,” Foster explains. “The environment in northern Minnesota, where many detention facilities are, is not the same as home. We help the boys learn to use their new skills in their own communities.”
Jordan House is still new, so it’s too soon to measure success using recidivism rates. Instead, everyday interactions are evidence of impact.
Foster tells of a resident preparing for high school graduation. The staff suggested an open house to celebrate. The young man didn’t think anyone would attend, but they held the event.
“People from the YMCA, his school, and the group home were there,” she remembers. “All of a sudden, this kid realized there’s a whole community that loves and supports him.”
Foster’s doctoral research, funded by a Bush Fellowship award, will aid her work by finding innovative ways to combat issues within the juvenile justice system. Her dissertation concentrates on solutions from black community leaders across the country; she believes the community most affected will also have solutions most readily available.
“Places like Jordan House are the key to changing the system,” Foster believes.
Mary Kuszewski Evert and Sahra Omar Noor will be honored at the President's Luncheon during Reunion on Saturday, June 10. Carmeann Foster will be honored during brunch at Homecoming, the new reunion event for recent graduates, on Saturday, September 23.
Alumnae, faculty, staff, friends and family are welcome to attend in support of these outstanding St. Kate's graduates. Register through the links below or call the Office of Alumnae Relations at 651-690-6666.