Each year, St. Catherine University recognizes alumnae 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 2016 Alumnae Award winners — Mysee Chang ’13, Mary Ellen Kennedy ’61, June Klaphake ’91, and Judi Druke Teske ’66 — are prime examples of influential leaders. They will be honored during Reunion at a luncheon on June 18.
Mysee Chang ’13: Global Change Maker
Mysee Chang is this year’s recipient of the Rising Star Award, recognizing young alumnae making an impact.
A year after graduating from St. Kate’s with a degree in women’s studies and sociology, Mysee was named a Fulbright Fellow. For 14 months, she worked as an English teacher at Savannakhet University in Laos. Her work included creating the curriculum for two courses focused on Asian culture and Western culture, taught to Lao students in English.
Mysee also served as advisor to Savannakhet’s English club and coached students applying for international scholarship in the United States.
In addition to her duties at Savannakhet, Mysee volunteered for VivNcuas, Sisterhood for Development, in Laos’ capitol of Vientiane. The program helps skilled artisans build viable businesses selling their wares. She wrote grant proposals, and tutored program participants in English.
“I had a very full year in Laos,” Mysee says. “It was an amazing experience. I grew and developed so much.”
After returning to Minnesota, Mysee began working for College Possible as a program coordinator. She manages and advises eight coaches at three Twin Cities high schools. Her coaches serve 360 low-income students at these schools who are seeking college admission.
“I’m learning so much about being a manager,” says Mysee. “I have to think about the big picture and how we can have the most impact.”
Mysee has big goals for her career. Her passions are working with youth and education.
“I often think about how I will make change in the world,” she says. “Young people are the ones who will solve many of our problems. I want to empower them to find solutions.”
Mysee calls her St. Kate’s experience powerful. She had many mentors, and took advantage of programs offered. She studied in India, took internships through Community Work and Learning, and sought advice in the Center for Women.
In 2015, she joined the Alumnae Council, eager to surround herself with passionate, thoughtful people.
“I made it because so many people reached out their hands to me,” says Mysee. “I want to do the same for others.”
Mary Ellen Kennedy ’61: Educator and Volunteer
Throughout her life, Mary Ellen Kennedy has been a nurturer. From her career as an elementary school teacher to her extensive volunteer work, she has made a difference in so many lives.
As a child, she was inspired by her mother, also a teacher. Her parents instilled a value for education, and made sure both Mary Ellen and her brother could attend college.
“I’ve always felt that education is the thing that will help people improve their lives,” says Mary Ellen.
Mary Ellen had a successful 35-year career teaching fifth and sixth grade students, retiring in 1996. Along the way, she earned a master’s in elementary education at Purdue University.
One of the most rewarding parts of teaching for Mary Ellen was watching her students catch on to new ideas and seeing them get excited about their education.
Her advice to new teachers is to be as caring to students as possible. “No matter how a student might struggle, she is an important person and she is worthwhile,” says Mary Ellen. “I’ve had students tell me some of the little things I did really meant something to them.”
Volunteer work has been a big part of Mary Ellen’s life for one reason — it’s the thing that makes her happiest.
The list of organizations Mary Ellen has served is long. She’s participated in Big Brothers Big Sisters, and is still in touch with her Little Sister, now married and a mom to three children.
She has mentored women at the Shakopee Correctional Facility through the Amicus program, and tutored adult ESL students who are preparing for citizenship exams and job interviews. She’s a charter member of the Ignatian Volunteer Corps, and a tutor at Cristo Rey Jesuit High School in Minneapolis.
“It’s so important for me to be doing something for someone else,” she says. “There are such needs.”
Mary Ellen has kept close ties to St. Kate’s, serving on her class leadership team and Reunion planning committees.
“St. Kate’s gave something special to me,” she says. “My education has opened doors to really wonderful experiences. I also built lifelong friendships. My time at St. Kate’s was so worthwhile, and I’d like to give back.”
June Klaphake ’91: Mentor and Guide
When June Klaphake formed her consulting business in 2002, it was a result of turning down a full-time job offer that wasn’t quite the right fit for her. She asked for a consulting contract instead, which allowed her to work part-time hours for the same pay as the full-time position, while having the time with her children she craved.
Fourteen years later, Klaphake Communications is thriving. June has been back to working full-time hours for a number of years, and she has no shortage of clients.
“I do work that I love to do, 100 percent of the time,” she says. “I’m at a fabulous point where I can choose the clients and projects I want to take on.”
As a change consultant, June helps clients through complex organizational changes. She’s able to strip a situation down to the basics and put together a plan to move her client forward.
As a mentor to young professionals, she stresses the importance of participating in professional associations and networks, and taking every opportunity to learn and expand one’s skill set.
“Invest in education, and do it regularly,” she advises. “It builds confidence.”
Among the benefits of June’s work is the flexibility to focus on being a mom to her four children, Charlie (20), Ahna (18), Elizabeth (15) and Leah (9). All have been involved in scouting.
June is a troop leader and the volunteer coordinator for Girl Scouts at Nativity of Our Lord School in St. Paul.
“It’s an impressive program,” says June. “It’s so much more than crafts and hiking; it’s a leadership program. It’s developing little girls into strong women, which is a natural fit for me.”
As she prepares to celebrate her 25-year reunion, June reflects on what her St. Kate’s education has meant to her. She is reminded of role models from St. Kate’s who mentored her, and taught her how to do the same for other women. Among her St. Kate’s mentors were Deb Miner, Stacy Jacobson, Colleen Hegranes, Sandy Middendorf, Catherine Lupori, and Ellen Richter-Norgel.
“I left St. Kate’s with a sense that if I put my mind to any task, I can do it,” she says.
Judi Teske ’66: Healthcare Leader and Philanthropist
Judi Teske’s career in healthcare is long and accomplished. Yes, she’s been officially retired since 2005, but she’s still so involved in healthcare causes that it seems inaccurate to speak about her career in the past tense.
After graduation from St. Kate’s, Judi moved to Washington, D.C., and began working as a medical technologist. In the years to come, she served as a lobbyist, a fundraiser, a political appointee, and a leader at the world's top biotechnology corporation, Amgen. The common thread is healthcare.
“My grounding in science and healthcare gave me the wings to fly,” she explains. “Because of St. Kate’s, I was well educated and self-confident.”
Today, Judi remains active on the governing board of the Providence Health Foundation in Washington, D.C. She also serves on the advisory council for St. Kate’s Henrietta Schmoll School of Health.
Judi has remained closely tied to St. Kate’s since her graduation. When asked how St. Kate’s has impacted her life, she answers, “In every way possible.”
What Judi took away from St. Kate’s was what she calls “a first-class, Catholic, liberal arts education.” Among the gifts she received from St. Kate’s: expanded knowledge, a grounding in theology and philosophy, critical thinking skills, an appreciation for lifelong learning, and scholarships. While she didn’t know the names of her benefactors, she was aware of their impact. She endowed the Judi Teske Endowed Scholarship Fund to return the favor.
Judi gives generously to other organizations, too. The patient entrance of the newly remodeled emergency care center at Providence Hospital was named for Judi and her late husband Richard.
Growing up in Belle Plaine, Minnesota, Judi experienced community service and philanthropy in a natural, organic way. Neighbors helped neighbors. When she arrived at St. Kate’s, she saw more of this kind of service.
“The Sisters of St. Joseph were incredible examples,” she remembers. “They were strong, well educated, and had can-do attitudes. We knew we were being educated not just for ourselves but for the world.”
by Sara Berhow