New president wants students to find vision at St. Kate’s

| May 9, 2016 | 2 Comments
Public health/pre-physician assistant major Sundus Sabrie, class of 2017, gets a presidential selfie with Becky Roloff May 6. Courtesy St. Catherine University

Public health/pre-physician assistant major Sundus Sabrie, class of 2017, takes a selfie with ReBecca Roloff May 6. Courtesy Rebecca Zenefski, by Rebecca Studios

ReBecca Koenig Roloff calls her new appointment as president of St. Catherine University “humbling and thrilling.” A 1976 alumna of the St. Paul institution, she said the new role — leading the nation’s largest Catholic women’s college — will be like coming full circle after 11 years as president and CEO of the YWCA of Minneapolis and previous work in for-profit business.

“It’s my dream job,” said Roloff, who goes by “Becky.” “It’s a chance to continue my work I was doing at the YWCA, and hopefully my whole life, of advocating for women in education. Here [at the YWCA] it was early childhood and girls and youth, and now I get to tell the story at the other end of the pipeline of education for women within the liberal arts and the Catholic tradition of the Sisters of St. Joseph.”

St. Catherine announced the appointment of its 11th president May 4. Roloff succeeds Sister Andrea Lee of the Servants of the Immaculate Heart of Mary, who announced in the fall she planned to step down after leading the university for 18 years and plans to begin a new job as president of Alverno College in Milwaukee this fall.

Roloff will begin at St. Catherine July 1. She graduated with a bachelor’s degree from what was then the College of St. Catherine before earning an MBA from Harvard University in 1982. She served as a trustee of St. Kate’s board of directors from 1983 to 1995, with the last four years as its chairwoman.

That board experience early in her career prepared her for other leadership roles in the community, she said, which then helped her to transition from corporate business to nonprofit leadership.

The YWCA is Minnesota’s largest nationally accredited early childhood provider and has a large program for children and youth in Minneapolis public schools.

“We work a lot with families who are challenged by poverty,” she said. “I understand the barriers that can occur financially [even] when parents understand that education is the road to a better life.”

Education was “the ticket” for Roloff, she said. She grew up in Dickinson, North Dakota; neither of her parents went to school beyond eighth grade. Her father owned a gas station, and her mother was his bookkeeper. She and her siblings put themselves through college.

Prior to working for the YWCA, Roloff was senior vice president of global financial advice and systems at American Express Financial Advisors. She has also worked for Pillsbury and Cargill. She hopes her experience helps her lead the institution well and be a role model for students. Her husband, Mark, is also a “Katie,” having earned a master’s in theology there.

With nearly 5,000 students on its St. Paul and Minneapolis campuses, St. Catherine includes a baccalaureate program for women, and graduate, associates and certificate programs for men and women. It was founded in 1905 by the Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondelet. Roloff, a Catholic, is the first president of St. Catherine who has never been in religious life.

While the school has changed since she attended 40 years ago, the spirit is the same, said Roloff, who received The Catholic Spirit’s Leading with Faith Award in 2003.

“The technology changes, but the need of a student, a young woman, to find and develop a vision for her life, and have it be part of a supportive environment, I don’t think that ever changes,” she said. “My vision is that we help every woman who comes here find her vision.”


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