Ole Achievers: Announcing This Year’s St. Olaf Alumni Award Winners
Each year, St. Olaf College recognizes alumni whose service and leadership exemplify the ideals and mission of the college. In honoring these graduates for their exceptional achievements and professional contributions, they become an integral part of college history and a testament to St. Olaf’s tradition of excellence.
The 2023 Alumni Award recipients are Daniel Grossman ’03, an emergency medicine physician and business leader; Julie Paulsen Keller ’88, the co-founder and president of a foundation that provides economic empowerment opportunities to people living in Kenya; Rachel Sattler ’03, a Wisconsin-based civil rights attorney and a social entrepreneur; and Renée Jones Schneider ’01, an award-winning multimedia photographer at the Minneapolis Star Tribune.
While on campus to receive their awards last fall, these alumni sat down with students Leini Miranda Condori ’24 and Zane Ross ’24 for a conversation about the powerful, impactful work they’re doing around the world. In the videos below, watch each Alumni Award winner share how they’ve developed their career path.
And if you know a St. Olaf graduate who should be considered for an Alumni Award, use this form to nominate them now! The deadline for 2024 Alumni Award nominations is February 24.
Daniel Grossman ’03 * Distinguished Alumni Award
Daniel Grossman ’03 came to St. Olaf knowing that he wanted to pursue a career as a medical doctor.
“Medicine was always the plan,” he says.
Then he had several internships that allowed him to see the business side of healthcare — including an impactful experience working with Fairview Clinics President and Senior Medical Officer Lois Lenarz P’07. Grossman realized that in order to deliver innovative care to patients, he needed to understand the business behind it. As a student, he called hospital administrators, asked thoughtful questions, and added a management studies concentration to his biology major and biomedical studies concentration.
“As I was at St. Olaf, there was an evolution in my career path from pure medicine to the combination of medicine and business,” says Grossman, who went on to earn his M.D. from the University of Illinois at Chicago College of Medicine and M.B.A. from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign College of Business as part of the Medical Scholars Program.
That evolution has fueled a powerful career focused on patient-centered healthcare innovations. Grossman currently serves as the chief growth and strategy officer for Mayo Collaborative Services, the customer-facing business for Mayo Clinic Laboratories and other Mayo Clinic diagnostic businesses. In addition to his business work, he practices emergency medicine at both Mayo Clinic Hospital, where he is an assistant professor in emergency medicine at Mayo Clinic College of Medicine and Science, and at Stanford University, where he is a clinical assistant professor in emergency medicine at the Stanford University School of Medicine.
Prior to his business role at Mayo Clinic, Grossman was the first-ever chief medical officer at Best Buy, where he was responsible for providing clinical leadership and for guiding strategy and corporate development for Best Buy Health. Grossman also spent time at Medtronic, the Minneapolis-based medical device company. He founded and led Medtronic Labs, a business dedicated to transforming healthcare for underserved patients in emerging geographies, and he advised Medtronic on business development, strategy, and the changing environment of healthcare delivery in the U.S. and internationally.
“If you can take what you learn from those individual patient interactions and evolve them into systemic change and tie them into new business models, you can create impact at scale for many more patients.”Daniel Grossman ’03
While Grossman loves the one-on-one interactions he still has with patients as an emergency department physician, he says the work he’s doing on the business side is critical to ensuring broad changes in the way care is delivered.
“If you can take what you learn from those individual patient interactions and evolve them into systemic change and tie them into new business models, you can create impact at scale for many more patients,” he says. “And, importantly, you can do that domestically and internationally. You can have the same impact in West Africa — you just have to pause and listen and then think about what the local innovation has to be in order to be impactful in that region.”
Having a commitment to global healthcare is something Grossman has been passionate about since the early days of his career as a doctor. He trained in emergency medicine and completed a fellowship in international emergency medicine at Stanford University, where he served as a chief resident. While at Stanford he practiced clinically at John F. Kennedy Hospital in Monrovia, Liberia; worked with GVK Emergency Management Research Institute (EMRI) in Hyderabad, India, to design curricula and to teach courses for physicians from district hospitals; and was a visiting professor at the University of Zimbabwe and Parirenyatwa Hospital in Harare.
“My experiences practicing medicine in Liberia and in India helped inform a lot of how we approached our work at Medtronic and Medtronic Labs,” Grossman says.
“I love working on those transformations that require the translation of medicine to business and business to medicine — merging these industries that really speak different languages.”Daniel Grossman ’03
Another experience that has helped inform Grossman’s work in healthcare is the spinal cord injury he suffered in 2017 while mountain biking with friends in northern Minnesota. Following the crash, he spent five months in a variety of hospital and rehabilitation settings, where he worked tirelessly to hit his goal of returning to work as an emergency medicine physician within six months. He met it — and along the way, he gained a newfound understanding of what it’s like to be a patient.
His own experience receiving care and interacting with health insurance companies led Grossman to a role as the medical director at Bright Health, a health insurance company. “It was a way that I could take what I learned and make an impact on the lives of others,” he says. “I love working on those transformations that require the translation of medicine to business and business to medicine — merging these industries that really speak different languages.”
Grossman’s business experience also includes work for Boston Consulting Group, Paramount BioCapital, and Mayo Medical Ventures, and he has consulted for venture capital firms in the San Francisco Bay Area, Seattle, Boston, and in Israel. To serve and give back to his communities, he also serves on the boards of the Walker Art Center and the Yaya Foundation for 4H Leukodystrophy.
“My practice of medicine has helped inform my business roles, and my business roles have helped inform my practice of medicine,” Grossman says. “It’s important to me to do this broad set of things. I use my brain differently in each one of those. I use my skills in a transferrable way across all of them, but have to adapt them for what I’m doing that day. And for me that’s exciting.”
Julie Paulsen Keller ’88 * Alumni Achievement Award
Julie Paulsen Keller ’88 vividly remembers the Sunday morning nearly 20 years ago that she met the woman who would change the course of her life.
“My husband and I had sort of tripped our way to church with two very small children. I was really tired, and we barely got to church on time, so I sort of had that disorganized vibe going,” she recalls.
After the service at St. David’s Episcopal Church in Minnetonka ended that morning, Keller went down to the fellowship room to grab a much-needed cup of coffee. In the back of the room sat a woman she didn’t recognize. Keller sat down next to her and struck up a conversation.
She was soon engrossed in conversation with Mama Ada, a woman from Kenya who was visiting family in the area. By the end of their conversation, Mama Ada asked Keller a simple question: Could she come to Africa to meet her people?
“In my head, my immediate reaction was ‘no.’ I thought of a thousand practical reasons not to go — I mean, we could hardly get to church. But my heart said ‘yes.’ So I found myself on a plane a few months later,” Keller says.
That visit proved transformational. In 2008 Keller co-founded The Mama Ada Foundation, which provides economic empowerment opportunities to people living in Kenya. In its first year, the organization gave tuition funds to five students and provided seeds to several farmers. In 2023 the organization awarded scholarships to 291 students to attend high school or college. It also served 150 farm families through an Agriculture Pilot Project that provided seeds and fertilizer, as well as agricultural training.
“Mama Ada’s invitation gave me the opportunity to do something in the world,” says Keller, who serves as president of the foundation. “I could have just walked out of church that day and forgotten her. But because I listened to her and let my heart run with it, I’ve had this beautiful, rich vocation in Kenya.”
“Mama Ada’s invitation gave me the opportunity to do something in the world.”Julie Paulsen Keller ’88
And that vocation has benefitted Keller as much as those The Mama Ada Foundation serves. Keller lost one of her legs two years ago due to an amputation needed to eliminate a malignant tumor. “I kept stubbornly working in Kenya through that time on chemotherapy and radiation. And I really did it with the conviction that the world needs us engaged even when things are hard for us,” she says. “That could have been the time I pulled back, but I didn’t because I believe so much in the students and the farmers and the work that we do, and that wasn’t going to wait.”
Keller says persistence and resilience are core qualities that she learned during her time on the Hill. “St. Olaf asks for excellence, and it pushed me to strive,” she says. “That became really beautiful later in life when I felt like I had the strength to do what I needed to do.”
“I’ve been a huge proponent of liberal arts education for a very long time because I feel like there could be no better preparation for what I’ve done.”Julie Paulsen Keller ’88
After majoring in English at St. Olaf, Keller went on to study at the Hubert H. Humphrey School of Public Affairs at the University of Minnesota, earning her master’s degree with an emphasis in nonprofit and public management and social policy.
She began her career working in several nonprofit capacities, including Big Brothers/Big Sisters and a center for people with disabilities. She then worked for Head Start at the Minnesota Department of Education. She has also done consulting work for nonprofit and government entities, including grant writing, program evaluation, and strategic planning.
“I’ve been a huge proponent of liberal arts education for a very long time because I feel like there could be no better preparation for what I’ve done,” Keller says. “One of the things that I remember about my professors is that they expected us to share our ideas, and they expected us to listen. And in this big world, if you’re able to capture that magic dialogue and be in that sweet spot when people are talking and listening back and forth, new ideas happen and new plans happen. And if you’re able to be someone who’s helping facilitate dialogue or at least participate in it, that’s a huge skill that I believe is very important for our world and very desirable to employers.”
Rachel Sattler ’03 * Alumni Achievement Award
Growing up, Rachel Sattler ’03 had always been told that she would be a great lawyer.
Driven academically and rounded by extracurricular activities like varsity swimming, Sattler spent her entire time at St. Olaf assuming she was on the fast track to law school.
Then, during her senior year, she began filling out law school applications. The form required her to write a personal statement in response to a simple question: Why do you want to go to law school?
“I got the worst case of writer’s block that I’ve ever had. I remember sitting in my room in my Honor House at the desk for days on end just trying to figure out what to say,” Sattler says. “And I just kept saying to myself, ‘The only reason I want to go to law school is because people tell me I’d be good at it.’ And I finally realized that that’s not a good reason to go to law school.”
So Sattler took the scariest risk of her life and decided not to go to law school. Instead, she applied to work with AmeriCorps VISTA, a national service program designed to alleviate poverty. That role led her to work at a nonprofit preschool for abused and neglected children in Minneapolis.
In both of those roles, people came to her with pressing needs: help for a friend with immigration issues who was being deported, help getting a restraining order for an abusive partner, help navigating an eviction notice.
“They would always say, ‘What can I do? Where can I go for help?’ And we never had the answers at those organizations, and that felt really bad to me,” Sattler says. “And I realized that those are legal issues with legal solutions.”
She finally had her reason for going to law school.
Five years after graduating from St. Olaf, Sattler earned her J.D. from the University of Wisconsin-Madison Law School. And it turns out that the people who told Sattler she would be a great lawyer were right.
As the senior managing attorney at LOTUS Legal Clinic, she oversees a team of impact litigation attorneys who provide free legal representation to survivors of sexual violence and human trafficking. Sattler is also the founder of two organizations that develop solutions that make it easier for survivors to connect with local post-assault support: a nonprofit, DaneMAC, and a tech start-up, OurMAP, LLC. Prior to her current work, she served as a sensitive crimes prosecutor for 10 years before starting the Crime Victims’ Rights Project, Wisconsin’s first network of attorneys specializing in victims’ rights law.
“It was through that experience working in the criminal justice system for a long time that I figured out new and alternative ways to do legal work within a system that is pretty entrenched in tradition and pretty oppressive,” Sattler says. “So I sought different ways to try to create systemic change through my legal work and then through the nonprofit that I founded and the company that I’ve started.”
“I sought different ways to try to create systemic change through my legal work and then through the nonprofit that I founded and the company that I’ve started.”Rachel Sattler ’03
Sattler was recognized as a 2018 Legal Innovator of the Year, 2021 40 Under 40 Leader, and 2022 Wisconsin Innovation Award finalist. She has published several articles on victims’ rights issues, developed consequential legal precedent, and teaches other attorneys, judges, law students, law enforcement, medical professionals, and advocates.
“Victims’ rights law is a very new field and one that is really exciting to be a part of,” Sattler says. “I think learning about the issues surrounding gender-based violence is important because it is sort of a hidden global pandemic. When it comes to really digging into finding out how to address the root causes of gender-based violence, encouraging others to speak openly about their experiences, and figuring out interesting solutions, there’s a tendency to want to avoid the topic of conversation because it’s really uncomfortable.”
A liberal arts education provides a great space for learning to have those uncomfortable conversations, Sattler says.
“At St. Olaf, I felt really supported and encouraged to try new things, take classes that weren’t necessarily in my wheelhouse, and learn from the people around me.”Rachel Sattler ’03
“At St. Olaf, I felt really supported and encouraged to try new things, take classes that weren’t necessarily in my wheelhouse, and learn from the people around me,” she says. “It wasn’t one experience that directed me toward this career path, but it was more a sense of collective interest in creating a culture that emphasizes fellowship and community, and also learning about yourself and learning about others around you so that you have an awareness about how you fit into the world and how you can impact the world. And I think that was what shaped my willingness to take risks and try different things in my career.”
Renée Jones Schneider ’01 * Alumni Achievement Award
Renée Jones Schneider ’01 took the road less traveled on her journey to becoming an award-winning multimedia photographer for the Minneapolis Star Tribune.
Unlike many of her colleagues, she didn’t attend journalism school or pursue internships at large newspapers as an undergraduate. Instead, she majored in studio art and took a wide range of liberal arts courses.
It gave her a unique perspective and a different eye for photos that quickly propelled her professional career forward. After graduating from St. Olaf, Jones Schneider started working at small newspapers and connecting with other journalists. By age 24, she had landed a job as a photojournalist at the Star Tribune.
“Brian Peterson is a famous photojournalist, and at the Star Tribune they paired me up with him as my mentor — it was a ‘pinch me’ moment. I mean, he was my idol and now he was my mentor,” she says.
For two years Jones Schneider worked alongside Peterson, and he looked at all her photo takes and provided feedback.
“I remember one time he was looking at some of my photos and he was like, ‘Why didn’t you follow this photo?’ It was kind of an odd photo, and he’s like, ‘Why didn’t you work that more?’ And I said, ‘I think I just took that with my hip by accident.’ And he said, ‘Well, those happy mistakes you should look in, lean into them more.’ So he really opened my mind to seeing past my instincts and pushing for me to see things differently.”
“For me, the experience of taking photos is much more interesting than the results. I love going out and meeting people. I love just experiencing all walks of life and different situations. It’s been such a gift in my life.”Renée Jones Schneider ’01
A liberal arts background, combined with mentorship from photojournalists like Peterson, have led Jones Schneider to an impactful 20-year career at the Star Tribune. Her long-term projects, shooting both video and stills, include stories examining why so few rape and sexual assault victims in Minnesota get justice, farming deaths, radicalization, the decline of honeybees, and Minnesota’s broken special education system. She was named Journalist of the Year in 2016 in the Society of Professional Journalists Minnesota Chapter, won several Upper Midwest Emmys, and received a World Press Award in 2004. Her work on the story “Denied Justice” was a finalist for the 2019 Pulitzer Prize for Local News, and she was part of the Star Tribune’s 2021 Pulitzer Prize for Breaking News for coverage of the murder of George Floyd and its aftermath.
“I’m passionate about what I do,” Jones Schneider says. “For me, the experience of taking photos is much more interesting than the results. I love going out and meeting people. I love just experiencing all walks of life and different situations. It’s been such a gift in my life. So for me it’s more just the experience of photography that’s really rewarding.”
A decade ago Jones Schneider also became interested in documentary filmmaking, and began working on video projects. “Now there are new things like drone photography, and so photography is always changing,” she says. “I like to say that my job is all about variety. Every day is something different. I never really photograph the same thing twice.”
Variety is one of the things that Jones Schneider appreciated about a liberal arts education, too. She took a range of classes on the Hill, sought out mentors, and leaned into hands-on learning opportunities.
“I grew up with dyslexia, so education has always been tough for me. Although I was very interested in traditional education areas like science and English, I never really felt like I succeeded. It was very challenging for me. So I never seriously considered anything except visual arts or some kind of arts. Something that was hands-on for me,” she says.
“Everything good that’s ever happened to me, I really had to push myself to do that. So what I like to tell people is ‘Just be brave.'”Renée Jones Schneider ’01
Leaning into her strengths and challenging herself, Jones Schneider says, is what eventually led her into her dream career.
“Everything good that’s ever happened to me, I really had to push myself to do that,” she says. “So what I like to tell people is ‘Just be brave.'”