A Conversation with Alumnae: A Reflection Across Generations

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The beauty of our journey in life lies not only in where we come from and where we are going, but also in those intrinsic virtues we gain that enrich our experiences along the way.

We recently sat down with three generations of alumnae for a conversation about how St. Catherine University influenced their journeys.

Although they were meeting each other for the first time and are each on their own unique path, the discussion led to the inherent commonalities that make them all Katies.

Allie Oelfke '13

I grew up in a Minneapolis suburb and started my education at a community college close to home to get a few credits under my belt. I became interested in nursing and began considering my options. A family friend introduced me to St. Kate's. I really admired her and already had a good impression of the University. When I was accepted and transferred, I quickly realized I was definitely interested in healthcare, but not necessarily nursing. I had an amazing experience working with my advisors and faculty to discover which path was right for me. With a more intimate learning environment and smaller class sizes, etc., I had the freedom to do some exploring and eventually landed on healthcare sales—a degree I'm putting to good use today! 

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Allie Oelfke '13: BS, Healthcare Sales. 3M Global Channel Services, Inc. Marketing and Sales Analyst. St. Catherine University Alumnae Network at 3M Co-Chair.

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Leah Mtegha '07: BS, Management Information Systems. University of Minnesota Carlson School of Management Event Coordinator. The Greenclean Crew Owner and Founder.

Leah Mtegha '07

My journey here started from much farther away, in my home country of Malawi, Africa. It's interesting there. After secondary school, there are only about five government-run universities that serve the entire population. It's very competitive, and you have to pass a rigorous test to get in. When I didn't pass, my father was certain that my education was over and encouraged me to find a job. I quickly set out to prove him wrong. I always believed that there was something more for me than the status quo, and I didn't want to settle. That was my drive, and I pushed until I could find a way. I was very diligent and applied everywhere I could, including in South Africa and the United Kingdom. My search eventually led me to St. Kate's. While growing up, I attended an all-girls, Catholic boarding school, so the Catholic tradition and focus on women were appealing to me. I felt that – although I was coming from a different country—this would help me feel more at home. 

Amy Lindgren '83

I was in the first generation in my family to pursue college. I knew I wanted to go to an ACTC (Associated Colleges of the Twin Cities) school. I understood the relationship between the five schools and thought it would be a good value to enroll at one and have options to take classes at the others. At 17, and paying my own way, I was independent and entrepreneurial by necessity—working multiple jobs and pursuing several of my own businesses. In fact, I operated and closed two businesses while I was a student. In total, I held about 50 jobs both on and off campus in the seven years it took to finish my degree. Hustling like that was just about the only way I could afford rent and tuition. I took advantage of the opportunity to transfer into the Weekend College, when it started a few years later. I ultimately became a re-entry program adult student so I could finish my degree while working toward my professional goals—like starting the two businesses I still operate today, 35 years later. 

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Amy Lindgren '83: BA, English. Prototype Career Service President and Founder. National Employment Columnist. Author of the Pocket Job Series.

Leah: Yes, working was a big part of my educational journey as well. When I arrived in 1997, I was 20 years old, making my own way in a new country with no family. Even though I was classified as a traditional day student, my major was an evening-and-weekend program, so that allowed me to work full-time and was so helpful.

Allie: Me too! I worked two jobs as a receptionist and nanny almost daily, and I took evening classes. It was a juggle at the time, but I'm proud of this experience. I think this helped me develop my grit. I know what it takes to work hard, manage my time, and achieve my goals. I don't feel entitled to anything.

Katies at the Core: Impact of St. Kate's on Your Journey

Leah: Coming to St. Kate's from Africa was a little shocking. I was like, "Where are all the black people?" Looking back on it now, my St. Kate's education gave me more of a global perspective about what life is like across cultures than I might've expected at first. It's an understanding that, for most of us, our plights are more alike than we realize – regardless of where we come from. As human beings, we all deal with many of the same challenges in life. It really opened my eyes to social justice issues in Minnesota and beyond, and how we can address them. As a result, I started volunteering and giving back. I currently serve on the Board of the African Development Center, an organization that helps African immigrants start their own businesses, buy homes, and be financially savvy in the U.S. 

Allie: St. Kate's also enhanced my perspective of the world and has proven to be very valuable in my international sales career. I learned a lot about the Hmong community in my Global Search for Justice classes, for example, and understanding the culture helps me work more effectively in Southeast Asia. My theology classes also helped me appreciate and respect people with different histories and worldviews. And of course, thanks to the focus on women, I believe I'm more empowered to overcome obstacles in my professional career – I'm not afraid to ask for what I want. 

Amy: The Reflective Woman and Global Search for Justice core curricula were not initiated yet when I was here. Back then, St. Kate's had a focus on writing and communication, which I'm very grateful for as those skills have been critical to my professional success. Interestingly though, I did develop a stronger voice as a woman in other ways. 

The early 1980s was such a different time for St. Kate's, for the Catholic church, and for women. One year, I learned that three women had become pregnant and left school. I didn't think that was fair, and was frustrated that the health center didn't address birth control for students. Not growing up Catholic, I didn't understand all of the issues at the time. They were, of course, upholding the values of the Church. Even so, I continued to advocate for what I believed to be a critical, basic need in a college made up entirely of women. We met resistance, as you might imagine, but we persisted and started the Feminist Interest Group in 1980. Then, with the support of Campus Ministry and other key folks, we eventually launched the Women's Resource Center, the precursor to the Abigail Quigley McCarthy Center for Women. We wanted to create a safe space for all women to discuss issues of importance in their lives, including sexuality and sexual identity. We started Violence Against Women Week—also controversial at the time—and brought in speakers to educate students about dealing with domestic violence situations. 

Looking back, it was an interesting dynamic. I was a young woman negotiating with women in leadership positions. This experience empowered me to use my voice effectively with anyone in a position of power throughout my life, regardless of gender, and to never give up on something I believe in.

Leading and Influencing, Then and Now: How Your Education Prepared You for the Future

Amy: Advocating for and developing the Women's Resource Center was perhaps the most influential part of my St. Kate's journey. As a working-class, non-Catholic student, who was somewhat disengaged from traditional campus activities, it was a part of campus that I felt absolutely rooted in because it reflected my values. We created something that helped people, and I've been doing the same thing with my own career counseling business for more than 30 years. I'm working with people to find the right jobs and advance their careers, and I've also created jobs for my employees. It's all really rewarding. 

Allie: Similar to Amy's experience, my expectation coming to St. Kate's was that my education would prepare me to use my voice regardless of the professional path I chose—and it has. This has been so valuable, especially in sales, which is historically a male-dominated profession. Having women leaders from 3M speak in my classes allowed me to see that it is possible for women to drive sales, business, and excellence in all they do. I also learned early in my business classes about the correlation between preparation and demonstrating competence. This skill has helped me immensely as I grow in my career, and it has enabled me to speak up confidently in rooms full of men. 

Leah: I agree, the confidence I gained at St. Kate's is invaluable. Just coming from a different country forced me to get out of my comfort zone and persevere. But because of how my mentors prepared me and encouraged me to believe in myself, I've had the ability to pursue and secure great jobs at organizations like Wells Fargo, Health Partners, and the University of Minnesota. And even though I didn't know what my journey would hold when I graduated, I knew that I was going to start something—and I did! In addition to my role managing events at the University of Minnesota Carlson School of Management, I am also an entrepreneur. I founded my own green cleaning business in 2013 and it continues to thrive today.

All Roads Lead Home: What St. Kate's Means to You Now

Leah: St. Kate's will always be a part of my story. It represents a dream I had since I was young, and it is a source of strength. When I feel discouraged, I think about coming to pursue my education at St. Kate's from Malawi. If I can do that, I can do anything! In fact, every so often, I will come back to campus and just sit by the Dew Drop Pond to relieve my anxieties. I don't always know what I will face in life, but when challenges arise, it's so great to come back and reflect on the strength that St. Kate's has instilled in me.

Allie: My family has taken Christmas photos by the pond! For me, St. Kate's represents community in a larger sense than I think I would've found elsewhere. I had a tremendous amount of support — not only graduating, but also securing my position at 3M. Now, I co-chair the St. Catherine University Alumnae Network at 3M, and I help current students envision what their futures can look like if they work hard. I speak in the classroom, help with the career fair, and connect students to other alumnae at 3M. Empowering current Katies to pursue their dreams is a way I can give back to the community that helped get me where I am today. 

Amy: As you might imagine, the campus has physically changed a lot since I graduated in the 1980s. But truthfully, St. Kate's represents one of the most stable things in my life. Coming from a relatively unstable family background, the fact that St. Kate's still physically exists and upholds the same values as it did when I attended is incredibly important to me. The University today still has a really strong ethical core: social justice, service, community. And although there aren't nearly as many CSJs physically on campus and on the faculty today, you can still really feel their presence in the mission. Students know that when they come here, they aren't just going to be taking classes for the sake of getting a degree. They are rooted in something larger. 

by Jill Braun, from St. Catherine University Magazine Summer 2019 issue