St. Olaf Magazine | Winter 2020

The St. Olaf Alumni Board is Making a Difference

The St. Olaf Alumni Board welcomes eight new members, each of whom is committed to strengthening Ole connections and deepening alumni relationships with the college.
St. Olaf Alumni Board 2020 Front row, L-R: Eldri Wittkamper ’69, Mitchell Rennie ’14, Nina Palit ’93, Will Lutterman ’15, Brenda McCormick ’89, Aldra Allison ’77. Second row: Mariah DuBose ’16, Bill Lindberg ’70, Eric Johnson ’78, Sonja Clark ’03. Back row: Lee Sather ’66, Janine Braman P’17, ’20, Brad Hoff ’89. (Not pictured: Russell Ballew ’91, Bilal Alkatout ’07) Photographed by Kevin Healy


 Eldri Anderson Wittkamper ’69, P’00, P’04 * Anoka, Minnesota * Retired Preschool Teacher

For Eldri Anderson Wittkamper, St. Olaf College feels like an extension of her family. Her parents met in the St. Olaf Choir, and there are many Oles in her family, including husband, Michael Wittkamper ’67, son, Aaron ’00, and daughter, Becca Ostrum ’04. Wittkamper majored in home economics and earned an additional degree in early childhood education from the University of Minnesota. She retired in 2012 after teaching preschool for 30 years, the last 25 in the Anoka-Hennepin School District. Today this Ole choir alumna maintains her enduring love of sacred choral music as a member of the National Lutheran Choir.

What is your inspiration?

Serving on the Class of 1969 50th Reunion Committee last year provided the opportunity to renew friendships with old friends and make new connections with fellow classmates. Our task was to work together to make the reunion a meaningful experience and also provided numerous chances to laugh at ourselves. On reflection after the event, the word connect has greater meaning for me. It was a joy to connect with others and share experiences, both the good ones and the not so good. It was so delightful to be with these people. After the reunion, our committee members expressed the need to continue these times for connection in the future. St. Olaf has been good to us, and we want to return it.

What impact do you hope to make?

We Golden Oles are “vintage” people. This stage of our lives is a time to pause and give thanks for what has been, and look to the future as a gift. My hope is that St. Olaf and the Alumni Board can provide experiences for alumni to connect and enrich their lives. This can come through local chapter events, shared interest groups, lifelong learning opportunities, or travel groups. My focus will be on our largest alumni group located in the Twin Cities metro area. After being on campus and seeing the Piper Center for Vocation and Career and the Taylor Center for Equity and Inclusion, and learning about their programs, I’m so impressed with what the college is doing and how it is growing. It will be good to share this with other alumni.

Brenda McCormick ’89 * Edina, Minnesota * CFO and Senior Vice President of Finance at Children’s Minnesota

Brenda McCormick devotes her considerable experience in corporate finance, strategy, and operations to her role as CFO and senior vice president of finance at Children’s Minnesota. She joined the pediatric health system in 2019 after completing nearly 30 years in the for-profit business world, including stints at Pillsbury, Valspar, and Smith Medical. An economics and Asian studies major who planned on a career in business, McCormick earned an M.B.A. from the University of Minnesota. Volunteer work has always been an important part of McCormick’s life, and she recently completed two terms as a commissioner and former chair of the Edina Parks and Recreation Commission.

What is your inspiration?

I feel like you need to support the community and get involved in things that are so important to you. St. Olaf is one of those things for me. I’ve been involved with Ole Biz, and I also helped to start the Twin Cities Women’s Ole Network a few years ago. So when I was asked to join the Alumni Board, it felt like a good fit. I’m particularly looking forward to working with this great group of dedicated alumni and Ole parents to advance the college’s alumni engagement strategies.

What impact do you hope to make?

What I really like about the board is that everybody brings a different perspective. Some members are more business driven, and some are more service focused — and everyone is at different stages in their life. During my career, I’ve had opportunities to mentor many new graduates as they navigate careers in business, and I hope to bring that perspective to the board. Oles stand out in business. A liberal arts education gives graduates a questioning mindset and a willingness to see multiple viewpoints. I’ve found that to be a key factor of success. Networking is also important in any line of work, and I appreciate how generous Oles are in this area. One of the key strategies for the Alumni and Parent Relations Department for 2020 is around social media and creating new platforms for Oles to network outside of Facebook or LinkedIn. This is a great way to stay connected with St. Olaf and other alumni, and I’m excited to support this initiative.

Russell Ballew ’91 * Sacramento, California * Certified Financial Planner at Wellspring International Capital

Russell Ballew went to St. Olaf knowing that he wanted to make a difference in people’s lives. He designed his major in effective organizational development through the Paracollege (the predecessor to the current Center for Integrative Studies), got involved in multicultural student groups like Harambe, and activated his leadership skills as campus president. After graduation, Ballew devoted himself to social and economic development in at-risk communities, worked at the Baha’i World Centre in Israel, and engaged in corporate sales and finance. He then earned an M.B.A. with a focus on investment management from the University of North Carolina, ultimately pivoting to become a certified financial planner at Wellspring International Financial Partners. Throughout his life, Ballew has emphasized putting service over self and helping others. He makes good on these goals by leading a Junior Youth Empowerment Program in Northern California to inspire young people to lead lives of service.

What is your inspiration?

I think it’s fair to say that St. Olaf changed my life. It’s time to give back — it’s as simple as that. I was a young African American man living in Milwaukee, living in the ghetto, and I was desperate to make a change. Bill Green ’77 [then an admissions recruiter] told me that St. Olaf was looking for young people who want to change their lives. I literally went from below zero to a clean, wonderful campus where people were loving and kind. It allowed me to find my legs and thrive.

What impact do you hope to make?

I will serve in whatever areas they want me to serve. There are times when you enter a situation with a clear idea of what you want to do, and there are other times when you are open. You often get the chance to do the most good because you are receptive. Mother Teresa used to say, “I go according to the need.” I love that, and this is one of the things that I think St. Olaf represents. It’s a great place, and it tends to attract people who do good in the world. I’ll come to meetings and listen and learn where I can be of service, and that’s where I will go.

Nina Palit ’93 * Palatine, Illinois * IT Manager in Human Resources Services at Alight Solutions, Chicago

Nina Palit did not stay well-connected to St. Olaf after graduating with a degree in philosophy. Though she valued her education, she didn’t feel like she completely fit in as one of the few students of color. She moved east to earn a master’s degree in international relations from Boston University, then pursued a career in technology after receiving a second bachelor’s in computer science. Today Palit finds her liberal arts degree extremely useful for problem solving, critical thinking, and communicating on the job. She works as an information technology manager in human resources services at Alight Solutions in Chicago.

What is your inspiration?

I went for my 20th reunion at St. Olaf and I was mostly looking forward to a weekend with my friends. But I was really floored and just thought, “This place is fantastic.” When my 25th came around, I said I would love to help. Now I see why I went there. I was struck by how much I had in common with my classmates. It made me rethink my judgement that it was me and a bunch of Norwegian people who I have nothing in common with. It’s more shared values and what I learned at St. Olaf; it doesn’t have to do with race or religion or anything else. St. Olaf really aligns with who I am as a person — who I was then and who I am now. I am so impressed with the Taylor Center for Equity and Inclusion, and it is such a welcoming and thriving environment. It’s so diverse at St. Olaf now!

What impact do you hope to make?

I would really love to increase access for the whole spectrum of multicultural students, whether it’s access to St. Olaf, or access to activities, or retention, or access to jobs after St. Olaf. I have good connections to jobs in Chicago, and I would love to connect people here. I took a nontraditional route to technology, and I want to show students that you don’t have to be good at technology to be in technology. There are skills students gain at St. Olaf that translate to work skills, such as critical thinking, writing, speaking. St. Olaf didn’t help me get my first job, but it helped me be successful in my field.

Bilal Alkatout ’07 * Minneapolis * Senior Program Officer, Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Minnesota Foundation

Throughout his career, Bilal Alkatout has been steeped in social impact work. He is passionate about eliminating all manner of disparities, including health, racial and social, and environmental. Alkatout, who majored in chemistry and neuroscience, earned a master’s degree in public health from Emory University. He worked for several years in South Sudan, Ghana, and the United States before earning a Bush Foundation fellowship to delve deeper into philanthropy. Alkatout is coalescing all of his skills and experience at the Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Minnesota Foundation. As a senior program officer, he develops strategies for addressing access to health care and insurance and provides grants to community organizations.

What is your inspiration?

I have had exposure to nonprofits and different organizational models and approaches, but I realized that I didn’t have hands-on experience in governing organizations. So I’ve been on the board of the Coalition of Asian American Leaders and on the finance committee for the Headwaters Foundation for Justice. My philosophy is that a lot of the barriers and disruption to equity really lies in the inequity of power and wealth in this country. I was approached by St. Olaf to be on the Alumni Board, and I thought that it would be an interesting experience to gain skills and perspective from a very different institution. I’m interested in engaging St. Olaf students in the social impact network and some of the nonprofits I work with.

What impact do you hope to make?

I would like to be involved in the alumni awards, chapter engagement, and multicultural engagement. To be honest, I didn’t get the opportunity to do the self-identity work at St. Olaf that could have been really valuable. There was a real obvious connection to culture at St. Olaf and it was Scandinavian culture. That was fun and informative, but I didn’t get a chance to connect with people in an important way about my homosexuality, about my Palestinian identity, what those identities mean, and engage with other people who want to engage with their culture and identity. I think the board offers really good grounds for having conversations and figuring out how to do that more broadly.

Mitchell Rennie ’14 * Fort Collins, Colorado * National Sales Representative, Darwill, Inc.

When Mitchell Rennie embarked on life after St. Olaf, he knew he wanted to stay connected with the Ole community. He got active in the alumni group in Seattle and then later in Colorado, seeking to bring a piece of the Hill to others and himself. Now based in Fort Collins, Rennie serves as co-chair of the Colorado alumni group. He majored in history and media studies before beginning his career in sales and marketing for two software start-ups. Today Rennie works as a national sales representative for Darwill, a digital and direct mail marketing company.

What is your inspiration?

When I first started with the alumni group, I was looking to reconnect with folks that I had a lot in common with. St. Olaf was a unique, incredible experience, and there’s something to be said about the community that’s fostered at St. Olaf. It’s an awesome opportunity if I can help promote that community and offer opportunities to recent graduates who are looking to reconnect, or help reconnect folks who have been away for 30 or 40 years. I sang in the St. Olaf Choir, and Dr. Armstrong always said, “Go forth and do good works of service.” That resonated with me. St. Olaf develops individuals into hardworking, dedicated, forward-thinking people who are willing to volunteer their time and make the world a better place. I think Oles deserve to have a little of that turned back on them. We’re here to serve you too. That’s what drives me.

What impact do you hope to make?

I’m serving on the events committee, and we’re trying to establish great opportunities for Oles to reconnect with other Oles. If you just graduated and are looking to reconnect with a community that’s similar or you’ve been away for 25 years, we’re going to create the space to reconnect and allow you to have meaningful experiences with other folks from St. Olaf. Whether it’s through volunteering during an Ole Day of Service or just getting together at a happy hour and having fun, or helping plan your 25th reunion, maybe it will encourage people to give back to the school and the greater alumni community.

Will Lutterman ’15 * Evanston, Illinois *  Graduate Student in Higher Education Administration and Policy, Northwestern University

The genesis of Will Lutterman’s career came from his time working at the Piper Center for Vocation and Career, where he found fulfillment helping peers discover their path in life. He majored in economics and environmental studies and was involved with environmental causes, sustainability, and research. After graduation, Lutterman worked as a consultant for an energy management firm in Minneapolis, at a nonprofit trade association in Washington, D.C., and as a strategist for a high-tech digital agency. But it was volunteer work at a library in Virginia that reminded him of what he loved to do: build relationships with others and help them with career development. Lutterman is now completing a master’s degree in higher education administration and policy at Northwestern University in hopes of eventually working in a college career office.

What is your inspiration?

When I was asked to be on the Alumni Board, the first thing that came to mind was to pay it forward. I had so many alumni and faculty in my life who took the extra step to help me with what I wanted to do. The call to service is a Lutheran tradition, and it’s something I enjoy doing. I enjoy giving back to the community. I want to give an extra lift to others.

What impact do you hope to make?

Being a graduate student in higher education, I’m really interested in concepts and ideas about equity and access. These are big issues in higher education. I also want to engage all different segments of our alumni and really help bring people together who have traditionally not been engaged by the St. Olaf alumni community. I want to work with other members of the board to think strategically about how we can bring value to all kinds of different alumni. It’s about thinking outside the box about how to engage folks. It can be in-person events or virtual events — there are so many different avenues. We should think about new and novel ways to elicit feedback from different members of the alumni community about how we can create and foster the alumni community we want.

Eric B. Johnson ’78, P’22 * Bainbridge Island, Washington * Attorney

Eric Johnson may be a longtime resident of Bainbridge Island, but he will always be a Minnesotan at heart, despite leaving the state in 1986 to serve in the Air Force. He is an alumnus of St. Olaf College, received his B.A. in political science from the University of Minnesota, and earned his J.D. degree at Mitchell Hamline School of Law. Johnson, whose private law firm is located in Seattle, has practiced law throughout Washington, California and Minnesota for 26 years, specializing in civil litigation. His son, Sam Johnson ’22, is currently attending St. Olaf. Prior to joining the St. Olaf Alumni Board, Johnson participated in regional alumni outreach events as a member of the Seattle-area alumni steering committee. He loves academia in general, but especially loves St. Olaf, where he hopes to promote and foster the reach of St. Olaf in the great Seattle area.

What impact do you hope to make?

I hope to give back to a school that fostered my personal growth and self-esteem by providing a rigorous academic program within a tight-knit, broadly inclusive, and beautiful community.