Saint Mary’s University is grateful to the talented members of its board of trustees for their service and devotion to the betterment of the institution.

CAPTION: Kaye O’Leary, front right, with other SMU Trustees and administration on their spring trip to France.

Kaye O’Leary is a partner with Rock River Partners, a business consulting firm in Minneapolis. Following are excerpts from a recent conversation with the “Saint Mary’s Magazine” editor.

When did you begin serving on the board and what committees are you serving on?

I joined the Saint Mary’s Board of Trustees in 2011. Prior to that I had served on the Council of Regents for the Schools of Graduate and Professional Programs (SGPP). I currently serve on the advancement committee. I also had the opportunity to work on the strategic planning advisory committee during the development of the current strategic plan.

Why did you agree to become a member of the SMU Board of Trustees?

I strongly believe in the Lasallian mission to make education accessible to all, especially underserved youth. My parents were both educators and were firm believers in education as the best way to break the cycle of poverty. I joined the board because I believe that my business experience in finance and strategic planning, coupled with my passion for accessible education, will help SMU to build a strong future that will allow it to continue to offer educational opportunities well into the future.

What discussions have been the most interesting since you’ve joined the board?

The discussions during the strategic planning process were thought-provoking and focused on the challenges that Saint Mary’s faces as it enters into its second century. There are so many exciting changes that are occurring in higher  education and we had a lot of conversations on how to best position Saint Mary’s to address them and remain relevant. The SGPP has provided an interesting testing ground for the university in the use of online course delivery; it has been exciting to watch their online program develop and to learn how they can be deployed throughout the university.

We focused on how to continue to offer an intimate learning experience in Winona that leverages the best of new technology, but still offers an intimate opportunity to build relationships and a sense of community that will last a lifetime. The SGPP provides so many diverse adult learners with the opportunity to pursue a graduate or professional degree, and we discussed how to continue to position the SGPP in the Twin Cities for future success. One of my favorite experiences with SMU is to attend an SGPP graduation ceremony; it is humbling to hear the graduates’ stories about their sacrifices and triumphs in pursuing their degree, and it is a delight to see all of their friends and families cheering them on.

I also had the privilege to attend the offsite board meeting in Paris last year. It was a wonderful way to connect with the Christian Brothers’ Lasallian history and purpose. We walked in the footsteps of Saint John Baptist de La Salle and had the opportunity to meet many of the Brothers. Their passion for bettering children through education was moving and inspiring. With the beautiful backdrop of Paris, it was a special way to develop deeper connections with my fellow board members and with members of the leadership team.

What are your hopes and dreams for Saint Mary’s second century?

Ultimately, I’d like to see Saint Mary’s fulfill its vision of being a top-tier national university that is grounded in Lasallian heritage.

Saint Mary’s has a lot of strengths that differentiate it from other liberal arts universities and the strategic plan will continue to build on those strengths by focusing on strengthening our commitment to excellence in the sciences, developing leaders who are grounded in Lasallian principles of building a better future for their communities, and by continuing to utilize new tools in education — like online learning — to provide relevant learning experiences.

What is your current employment?

I am currently a partner with River Rock Partners in Minneapolis. River Rock Partners is a boutique consulting firm that focuses on transforming businesses, companies and cultures. Our clients vary greatly, from start-ups to Fortune 500 businesses and from publicly traded companies to not-for-profit organizations. My engagements typically focus on governance (e.g., helping organizations build stronger boards) and strategic planning.

What is your proudest accomplishment (personal and/or professional)?

On a personal basis, it is definitely watching my two sons, Kevin and JP, mature into wonderful young adults. On a professional basis, I am always thrilled to hear that I’ve made a difference in the career development of former colleagues. It is so rewarding to hear that you have made a positive difference in someone’s life.

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