2013 - The year in review

December 20, 2013

Webster's defines leadership as the office or position of a leader, the capacity to lead or the act or an instance of leading.

By any definition, 2013 will be remembered as the year of the leader at the College of Saint Benedict and Saint John's University. In particular, three leaders stood out in 2013:

  • President MaryAnn Baenninger, who has led CSB for 10 years and elevated it nationally, financially and academically, announced in October that she will step down from her position June 30, 2014. A search for a new leader at CSB is already underway.
  • SJU alumnus Denis McDonough was named White House chief of staff for President Barack Obama in January. As chief of staff, McDonough typically oversees the actions of the White House staff, manages the president's schedule and decides who is allowed to meet with the president.
  • And, Rita Knuesel, provost of CSB and SJU, received the 2013 Council of Independent Colleges (CIC) Chief Academic Officer Award. The award was presented in recognition of her contributions to colleagues at independent colleges and universities and for contributing in a notable and exemplary way to enhance the role and work of the private college chief academic officers.

Here's a list of some of the top CSB and SJU stories of 2013. Listed first are highlights for both institutions, followed by two separate lists for CSB and SJU. All items are in chronological order. 

CSB and SJU Year-End Highlights

Feb. 10 - The Record, the student newspaper at CSB and SJU, won Best of Show in the four-year weekly broadsheet category at the 22nd annual Associated Collegiate Press' Best of the Midwest College Journalism Convention at the Radisson Plaza Hotel, Minneapolis. It was the third time in five years that The Record placed first in the category. Four student writers and photographers also captured individual awards at the event.

Feb. 23 - Students from CSB and SJU captured the top two spots at the E-Scholar Student Consortium elevator pitch competition at the Embassy Suites Hotel, Denver. An elevator pitch is a 90-second pitch to present a business idea to a panel of judges, who grade the students in 10 different areas. Tu Tran, then a CSB senior management major from St. Cloud, Minn., placed first in the competition with her venture concept - healthy vending machines. Anthony Retica, then an SJU senior management major from Minnetonka, Minn., was one of three students who tied for second place for his pitch, distributing interactive commercial breathalyzers. He had worked on the project with then CSB senior Claire Murn, who was unable to make the trip. CSB and SJU had four students place in the top 10 at the event.

Nov. 2 - Rita Knuesel, provost of CSB and SJU, received the 2013 Council of Independent Colleges (CIC) Chief Academic Officer Award in Pittsburgh. The award was presented in recognition of her contributions to colleagues at independent colleges and universities and for contributing in a notable and exemplary way to enhance the role and work of the private college chief academic officers. The honor was conferred by the chief academic officers of the CIC's 624-member colleges and universities. Knuesel, a 1975 CSB graduate, has served as provost at CSB and SJU since 2007, preceded by a year as interim provost.

Nov. 3 - The Fighting Saints Battalion (FSB) of ROTC cadets at CSB, SJU and St. Cloud State University won the Brigade level Ranger Challenge at Fort McCoy, Wis., with a nine-member team made up entirely of SJU cadets. Previously, the FSB won the Army Ten-Miler competition in the ROTC class Oct. 20 in Washington, D.C. for the third consecutive year. And in March, the FSB's five-person Civilian Light team won the 24th annual Bataan Memorial Death March at White Sands Missile Range, N.M. "It is worth noting that over the past 30 years, no other program in the nation has achieved what we have this year," said Lt. Col. Darrell Bascom, professor of military science at CSB and SJU and head of the battalion.

Nov. 11 - CSB and SJU were ranked No. 2 nationally among baccalaureate institutions with students who participate in mid-length study abroad programs, according to Open Doors 2013, the annual report on international education published by the Institute of International Education. CSB and SJU, which share the No. 2 spot with Colgate University, Hamilton, N.Y., had 360 students study abroad in mid-length programs during the 2011-12 school year, according to the most recent data released by IIE. CSB and SJU were the highest ranked Minnesota colleges in the category. It was one of four categories that CSB and SJU were ranked among the top schools nationally for study abroad and international students studying in the United States.

CSB Year-End Highlights

Jan. 20 - The CSB Dance Team was crowned the 2013 Universal Dance Association (UDA) national champions in the Pom Division at the UDA 2013 College Cheerleading and Dance Team National Championships in Orlando, Fla. CSB defeated second-place Orange Coast College (Calif.) and third-place St. Cloud State University to win the Pom Division. "When the results were announced, we were a bit shocked at first, but super excited and so happy with what we accomplished," then CSB sophomore captain Tori Grootwassink said. Going into the final round, CSB was in second place in the Pom Division. The team also took second place in the Jazz Division.

April 10 - Rachel Mullin, then a junior at CSB, was one of 62 students from 54 U.S. colleges and universities to be named a 2013 Truman Scholar. The list of scholars was announced in Washington, D.C., by former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, president of the Harry S. Truman Scholarship Foundation. Mullin was selected from a group of 629 candidates nominated by 293 colleges and universities. Truman Scholars were chosen by 17 independent selection panels on the basis of their academic and leadership accomplishments and their likelihood of becoming public service leaders. She was the fourth student from CSB to receive the honor, and the first since 1998, when Amy Hertel received the honor. SJU has produced two Truman Scholars. Each Truman Scholar receives up to $30,000 for graduate study. Mullin, a native of Humboldt, S.D., is a political science and history major at CSB.

June 28-30 - Approximately 1,450 alumnae came to the All-School Reunion to celebrate CSB's Centennial, "A Century of Connection." The All-School Reunion attracted Bennies from 38 states and seven countries (including one graduate from Australia), and from ages ranging from one 96-year-old to seven 18-year-olds, who began college life in August at CSB. Among the activities were the Blazer athletic Hall of Fame induction; a kick-off celebration attended by over 1,000 people at the Benedicta Arts Center's Escher Auditorium; a gala dinner; and a Mass at Sacred Heart Chapel. CSB also launched a mobile app to honor of the centennial year. CSB Connect is available in both the Apple Store and on Google Play.

Oct. 22 - MaryAnn Baenninger, the 14th president of CSB, announced she will step down from the presidency on June 30, 2014, at the conclusion of her 10th year. "I've made the decision that this is the right time for a transition for me and for Saint Ben's," Baenninger said. "We will have concluded our centennial celebration year and a very successful decade for the college. My husband Ron and I are also ready to be closer geographically to our children and grandchildren at this point in our lives." The CSB Board of Trustees began a search immediately, with the expectation that a new president will take office on July 1, 2014. "The college's accomplishments under MaryAnn's leadership are too numerous to list comprehensively," said Lynn Newman, chair of the CSB Board of Trustees. "She has elevated the college nationally, financially and academically in extraordinary ways. She has been a champion for our students and passionate about our mission as a residential liberal arts college. The legacy MaryAnn leaves will reverberate throughout the next century of the college."

Nov. 13 - CSB received $240,539 in donations during a 24-hour period from alumnae, students, parents and friends during the "100K in a Day" challenge. A total of 780 donors contributed gifts ranging from $5 to $15,000. CSB surpassed its original $100,000 goal at 11 a.m., and received $106,200 in matching funds from 13 donors. Every gift made will be used to support Saint Ben's students. Last year, CSB participated in "Give to the Max," an online event designed to increase donations to Minnesota-based nonprofits. This year, CSB took a different approach to celebrate the school's 100th anniversary and help maximize the impact that these contributions have on CSB students.

SJU Year-End Highlights

Jan. 25 - SJU alumnus Denis McDonough was named White House chief of staff for President Barack Obama. McDonough graduated summa cum laude in 1992 with degrees in history and Spanish and played on the Johnnie football team for John Gagliardi. McDonough was a 2012 recipient of an Alumni Achievement Award from SJU. "The Saint John's community is extremely proud of the public service of our alumnus Denis McDonough. We applaud President Obama's selection of Denis as his new chief of staff. We are absolutely confident that Denis will serve with the integrity and character he has demonstrated throughout time at Saint John's University and beyond," SJU President Michael Hemesath said.

Feb. 10 - SJU graduate Joe Mailander '08 won a Grammy Award in Los Angeles. Mailander's group, the Okee Dokee Brothers, won the Grammy Award for "Can You Canoe?", one of five nominees in the Best Children's Album category. "All right," Mailander shouted as he received the Grammy with Okee Dokee Brothers' bandmate Justin Lansing. Mailander thanked Lansing for "making music with me since we were children." The two grew up together in Colorado. Mailander also gave a shout-out to the "Mississippi River for inspiring the music." The pair took a 30-day trip down the river by canoe to St. Louis in 2011. Lansing said the bluegrass duo based in Minneapolis "never saw this coming."

April 28 - The SJU rugby team captured the National Small College championship with a 31-16 win over Duke University at Infinity Park, Glendale, Colo. Then SJU senior Nick Gardner (Gaylord, Minn.) was named the tournament's Most Valuable Player and was one of five Johnnies named to the 15-man all-tournament team. Joining Gardner on the all-tournament team were then seniors Mitch Thune (Le Sueur, Minn.), Colin Merrigan (Minneapolis) and Tom Ortlieb (Algonquin, Ill.), and then junior Joe Thompson (Detroit Lakes, Minn.). Ortlieb also received the Heart and Soul Award. Rugby is a club sport at Saint John's. A total of 211 teams competed for the National Small College championship, which is based on men's enrollment (schools must have fewer than 4,500 male students to compete in this division).

Sept. 20 - Fairbanks, Alaska, Bishop Donald Kettler was named bishop of the St. Cloud Diocese Sept. 20. Kettler graduated from SJU in 1966, and graduated from Saint John's School of Theology•Seminary in 1970. Kettler was an undergraduate student at SJU for the latter half of the Second Vatican Council, which ran from 1962-65 in Rome. He said it was a "blessing" coming to SJU during the Council. "It was an extremely important experience to be able to hear about Vatican Council II firsthand," Kettler said. While an undergraduate student, Kettler was taught by Fathers Godfrey Diekmann, Michael Marx and Colman Barry, who was president of SJU from 1964-71. Diekmann had a leadership role as a theological adviser with the Council in the drafting and implementation of the Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy. "They would go to the Council in the fall, and come back and teach courses in the spring. That was an unbelievable experience."

Sept. 27 - Saint John's Abbey and University announced their latest and most ambitious capital campaign, Forward Ever Forward. The goal for the campaign, which runs through 2016, is $160 million, of which $108 million has already been committed in gifts, pledges and future expectancies. Among the priorities are $114 million at SJU to support a state-of-the-art learning commons; substantially increased scholarship programs for undergraduate students, including those who are the first in their families to attend college; new and enhanced athletic fields and facilities; and innovative educational programs such as the Center for Global Education, the Benedictine Institute, the Chair in Global Business Leadership, the Entrepreneurship Center, the Center for Interfaith Learning and the Center for the Environment; $20 million for Saint John's Abbey;  $16 million for the Hill Museum & Manuscript Library and $10 million for the Saint John's School of Theology·Seminary.