Ole Achievers: 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 2022 Alumni Award recipients are Anne Dobmeyer ’93, an active duty psychologist in the United States Public Health Service; Louise Matson ’89, the executive director of the Division of Indian Work; Mark Murakami ’02, a medical oncologist who runs a research lab at the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute; Anna Palmer ’04, the CEO and founder of Punchbowl News; and Nils Snyder ’99, a partner with Kenwood Commercial Real Estate.
While on campus to receive their awards this fall, these alumni sat down with students Sandra Chimutsipa ’23 and Lucia Wyland ’23 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 their career path started at St. Olaf — and how it’s going.
Anne Dobmeyer ’93 ⋅ Alumni Achievement Award
When Anne Dobmeyer arrived at St. Olaf, she was planning to major in biology and get on the pre-med track. Then she took a few psychology courses.
“That seemed like a better fit for me,” she says.
It led to a career path she has excelled in.
Dobmeyer now serves as an active duty psychologist in the United States Public Health Service, providing leadership for the implementation of primary care behavioral health programs across the Department of Defense. She has expertise in disaster mental health following terrorist attacks and during public health emergencies, having responded to the 9/11 attack on the Pentagon, the Boston marathon bombings, the Ebola epidemic in Liberia, and the COVID-19 pandemic, among others.
The U.S. Surgeon General awarded Dobmeyer an Exemplary Service Medal, the Association of Military Surgeons of the United States honored her with the Humanitarian Assistance Award, and the United States Public Health Service gave her the Senior Psychologist Career Achievement award.
As a St. Olaf student, Dobmeyer had no idea this was the path her career would take. But she had faculty mentors who encouraged her to explore her interests and helped her pursue an Interim internship in clinical psychology. That gave her a better understanding of the type of work she wanted to do, and she went on to earn her Ph.D. from Utah State University. She completed a postdoctoral fellowship at Wilford Hall Medical Center and is board certified in clinical health psychology. Prior to her current position, she served for eight years as an active duty psychologist in the U.S. Air Force, completing two deployments in support of Operation Enduring Freedom.
Dobmeyer’s central professional interests include primary care behavioral health, biopsychosocial interventions for insomnia and chronic pain, and disaster mental health services. She has authored several books in her areas of interest, including Psychological Treatment of Medical Patients in Integrated Primary Care and the first and second editions of Integrated Behavioral Health in Primary Care: Step-by-Step Guidance for Assessment and Intervention. She has served as president of the American Board of Clinical Health Psychology and as a Trustee of the American Board of Professional Psychology.
As she worked to become a psychologist, Dobmeyer envisioned opening her own practice. No one is more surprised than she is at the fact that she ended up working in the government — but, she says, St. Olaf prepared her well for this work.
“I never thought I would join the military, but I spent eight years as an active duty Air Force psychologist. I never thought I would develop a background with expertise in disaster mental health and public health emergencies, but then I found myself working in a field hospital supporting patients with Ebola. Very, very unexpected turns that my career has taken,” Dobmeyer says. “I certainly believe that the good, solid foundational education at St. Olaf allowed me to have confidence that I can take this on. I can do these things even though it’s something new to me.”
Louise Matson ’89 ⋅ Alumni Achievement Award
Louise Matson ’89 came to St. Olaf without a clear plan for what she wanted to major in or the career she wanted to pursue. She simply knew that she loved music and wanted to be part of the college’s renowned choirs.
She ended up majoring in Asian studies because she loved the courses. She had strong skills in mentoring and advocating for others, so she earned a teaching license. And, of course, she sang. Along the way, she gained the confidence to realize that she has the expertise and talent to lead the work she’s most passionate about.
Matson, a member of the White Earth Band Of Ojibwe, is now the executive director of the Division of Indian Work. Established 70 years ago, the organization works to support and strengthen urban American Indian people through culturally based education, traditional healing approaches, and leadership development.
Matson is also a founding board member of Bdote Learning Center, a Dakota and Ojibwe Immersion School located in South Minneapolis. She is chair of the Phillips Indian Educators group, where she helps guide the implementation of a Memorandum of Agreement with the Minneapolis Public Schools Board of Directors to improve outcomes for their American Indian students. And she is vice chair of the Metropolitan Urban Indian Directors Council, a collaborative of over 25 American Indian organizations operating within the Twin Cities metropolitan area of Minnesota.
Through all of this work, she has served as a powerful mentor. In an interview with Minnesota Public Radio, Lt. Gov. Peggy Flanagan — who is currently the country’s highest ranking Native woman elected to executive office — named Matson as one of the people who has helped shape her career and work.
After graduating from St. Olaf, Matson earned a teaching license from Concordia College. She founded and operated the first Boys & Girls Club located in a school in Minneapolis before joining the Division of Indian Work in 2002. She directed the organization’s Youth Leadership Development Program before taking the role of executive director in 2014. Under her leadership, the Division of Indian Work separated from its founding organization in 2016, becoming an autonomous American Indian–led agency in 2018.
Matson served as a mentor for the Big Brothers Big Sisters mentoring network for over 10 years, and she was awarded Big Sister of the Year in 2004. She was the lead advisor for the Native American Mentoring Initiative of the Big Brothers Big Sisters of the Greater Twin Cities from 2008 to 2013.
All of this work is as rewarding as it is unexpected.
“It’s a path I never saw myself taking, but I’ve loved it,” she says. “A liberal arts background really, truly gives you confidence to explore, to fail, and to be exposed to a lot of different things so that you do have that strong background.”
Mark Murakami ’02 ⋅ Alumni Achievement Award
Mark Murakami ’02 arrived on campus knowing that he wanted to major in biology to prepare for a career in medicine. He even knew he wanted to pair that with a second major in Classics, which he had studied in high school.
What he didn’t know was the impact that a research program during his very first summer at St. Olaf would have on the trajectory of his career. That experience working in Professor of Biology Eric Cole’s lab sharpened his understanding of the importance of the scientific method and the research process — and it made him want to learn more. He continued working in Cole’s lab through his senior year, eventually traveling with his mentor to present their work at a research conference in Japan.
“It’s not that at that point I could envision exactly what I’m doing now, but it clearly shifted my focus more in the direction of scientific investigation rather than pure clinical practice,” Murakami says. “So that first summer where I was just exploring my interests proved to be very critical.”
Murakami is now an assistant professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School and an independent investigator in the Division of Hematologic Neoplasia at the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute. He treats patients with blood cancers, including those undergoing stem cell transplant, at Dana-Farber and Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston. He is dedicated to training the next generation of physicians and scientists who are passionate about developing tolerable and curative treatments for patients with blood cancers.
“I emerged from St. Olaf with a stronger desire to pursue a vocation rather than just a career,” Murakami says. “That sense of seeking purpose is part of what led me to clinical oncology.”
After graduating from St. Olaf, Murakami spent a year as a health care community organizer at the Minnesota Senior Federation in St. Paul as part of the AmeriCorps VISTA program. He then enrolled in medical school at Washington University in St. Louis, where he earned an M.D. and M.A. in biology and biomedical sciences. He served as an intern and resident in internal medicine at the Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston before advancing to subspecialty training in hematology and medical oncology at the Dana-Farber/Harvard Cancer Center.
During this time he realized his passion for treating patients with leukemia and lymphoma and initiated postdoctoral research in the laboratory of Dr. David Weinstock, under whose guidance he sought to define mechanisms of resistance to targeted therapies and nominate next-generation treatment strategies for patients with acute lymphoblastic leukemia. Murakami also obtained a Master of Medical Science degree in biomedical informatics from Harvard Medical School to develop skills that would complement his activities in genetics and experimental therapeutics.
Murakami joined the faculty of the Department of Medical Oncology at the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute in 2018 to lead an independent research laboratory focused on defining how tumor cells persist despite the presence of highly active therapy. His laboratory tests rational precision therapies to preempt or eradicate these persistent tumor cells in preclinical models, with the ultimate goal of advancing nominated therapies into early phase clinical trials.
It’s work that he’s passionate about, that he finds purpose in. And, he says, he’s grateful for a liberal arts education that enabled him to find this path.
“The further on I’ve gotten, the more I realized that people who are talented, creative, and resilient will find their way to something meaningful even with failures, even if they took a detour,” Murakami says. “There are many different ways to ultimately get to a very meaningful and impactful career — much less linear than I originally thought.”
Anna Palmer ’04 ⋅ Distinguished Alumni Award
Anna Palmer ’04 knew she wanted to be a journalist by the time she was in second grade. So when she arrived at St. Olaf, one of the first things she did was start working at the student newspaper. She followed that up with internships at various media outlets, honing everything from her reporting and writing skills to her on-air presence. And while many of her classmates went abroad, she went to Washington, D.C., and immersed herself in a program focused on political journalism.
Her drive and determination paid off.
Palmer is now the CEO and founder of Punchbowl News, a media organization focused on power, people, and politics. She has covered congressional leadership, the lobbying industry, presidential campaigns, and the politics of governing for more than 15 years. She has been writing partners with Punchbowl News founder Jake Sherman and co-founder John Bresnahan for 10 years.
In 2019 Palmer and Sherman authored The Hill to Die On: The Battle for Congress and the Future of Trump’s America, which was the inside story of Congress in the first two years of Donald Trump’s presidency. The book was an instant New York Times and national bestseller. Trevor Noah of The Daily Show said The Hill to Die On turned “Congress into a Game of Thrones book.”
A native of North Dakota, Palmer says St. Olaf prepared her well for a career covering some of the nation’s most powerful politicians.
“I grew up on a small farm. I graduated high school with a class of 47 people. I’ve covered really wealthy, mostly white men who had a lot more power than I ever did. And so I think especially as you start in your careers, there’s always a lot of imposter syndrome. Oh, do I belong in this room? How did I even get here? Who am I?” Palmer says. But she had learned to forge ahead. “I was really hungry for the story, and I think St. Olaf gives you a lot of confidence. You come here and you are able to ask questions, you’re able to fail … and you leave here with a sense of self.”
From 2016 to 2020, Palmer was the co-author, along with Sherman, of the top-rated POLITICO Playbook franchise, where they chronicled President Donald Trump’s first term and his relationship with top Congressional leaders. Under their leadership, the platform more than doubled in revenue and tripled its readership. They also created a widely acclaimed daily podcast, afternoon newsletter, and event series where they interviewed top political and business leaders across the country about pressing issues of the day. Palmer has spoken and moderated conversations at the World Economic Forum, the Milken Institute Global Forum, UN General Assembly, Aspen Ideas Festival, Texas Tribune Festival, and SXSW.
Palmer joined POLITICO in 2011 and was its senior Washington correspondent. She has also worked at Legal Times and Roll Call, breaking national stories on the business of Washington. She’s a frequent political commentator on CNN, Fox News, NBC, and MSNBC.
In addition to this work she led Women Rule, a nation-leading platform aimed at expanding leadership opportunities for women, and hosted the critically acclaimed Women Rule podcast.
“Helping mentor and bring up other young women and seeing them also now grow and flourish and become these amazing people is really satisfying,” she says.
Nils Snyder ’99 ⋅ Outstanding Service Award
Nils Snyder ’99 came to St. Olaf thinking he would either become a lawyer or pursue a career in politics.
He quickly ruled out going to law school. And although he majored in political science and worked with U.S. Rep. Jim Ramstad, he eventually realized that a career in government wasn’t the right fit either.
But a job writing alumni profiles for the student newspaper gave him an opportunity to meet a wide variety of Oles and ask questions about their career paths. One of these alumni, Steve Hufendick ’82, told him about working in commercial real estate.
“Commercial real estate is as close as you can get to politics without being in politics. That sounds right up my alley,” Snyder says. “You get to meet people, get to be part of the community, get to see things change. And that drove me right into real estate.”
He has gone on to develop a highly successful career while continuing to extensively support St. Olaf and its students.
After 20 years working in corporate real estate as a landlord and tenant advisor, Snyder and his partners opened Kenwood Commercial Real Estate. The original idea behind the formation of Kenwood is the partners’ desire to provide authentic, local, and knowledgeable service, tailored to each client’s unique objectives.
An established industry leader, Snyder is among the most successful and widely recognized industry veterans in the Twin Cities. Along with his business partners, Mike Doyle and Mike Brehm, Snyder works to provide clients with the best financial and employee solutions, with more than 40 years of experience.
Formerly a senior vice president with Colliers International in the Twin Cities, Snyder has completed over $1 billion in real estate transactions. His numerous industry recognitions include CoStar Power Broker, Minneapolis Business Journal 40 Under 40 honoree, Minnesota Business Monthly Minnesotans on the Move, Minnesota Business Real Power 50, several top 10 broker award wins, and membership in Colliers International’s Everest Club.
Snyder is an active civic leader, having served on the board of the Minneapolis Downtown Improvement District, as vice-chair of the Guthrie Theater Business Circle Committee, and as a Housing and Development Committee member with Project for Pride in Living. He is also a current board member of Special Olympics of Minnesota.
Snyder is also devoted to St. Olaf and its students. He has served six times on the steering committee for Ole Biz, a networking event for St. Olaf students, alumni, parents, and friends of the college who are interested and involved in business. He has also volunteered his time with the St. Olaf Piper Center for Vocation and Career in other ways to support and mentor students. Outside of his work with the Piper Center, Snyder has served on his reunion committee four times and worked as a Class Fund Agent.
Watch the full roundtable conversation with all of the Alumni Award winners below.