By Chloe Morrison ’17
At Saint Mary’s University of Minnesota, “it’s who knows you” is more than just a slogan. The personable and approachable faculty and staff, along with the tight-knit campus, bring the words to life every day.
At first glance, Agnieska “Aga” Kadej ’10, M’12 and Dr. Matt Nowakowski, D’10, don’t have much in common.
Kadej is originally from Poland. The young blond woman, petite in stature, came to Saint Mary’s in Winona in 2006 to study sociology and marketing on a joint scholarship from the Wasie Foundation and the Gostomski Family Foundation.
Dr. Nowakowski, who was serving as the director of M.B.A. programs at the time, remembers interviewing Kadej after she applied for the program, furthered by scholarship support.
We hit it off immediately, and it was clear we had much in common,” he said. “As her adviser, I followed her progress through the program. It was clear Aga was an exceptional student and person, so I introduced her to a group of Polish/Polish Americans in the Twin Cities to help her network. Our families are from the same area of Poland.”
After finishing the graduate program in 2012, Kadej decided to stay and work in the United States with her husband, Radoslaw “Radek” Tomczak ’09, who came to Saint Mary’s on the same scholarship. Their daughter was born in 2016. Kadej is currently a senior business analysis with Apogee Enterprises, Inc., where she specializes in business analysis and configuration of SAP ERP (Systems Applications and Products, Enterprise Resource Planning) software.
She and Nowakowski live fairly close and have stayed in touch through the years.
“We have an annual tradition of celebrating Polish Christmas Eve, Wigilia, by having dinner together, and we get together for other occasions too,” Kadej said. “Dr. Nowakowski and his family even met my parents during their recent visit to the United States.”
Recently, Kadej gave Dr. Nowakowski a crucifix from Poland that holds particular meaning to her and her family. Her father had climbed a ladder to retrieve it from the walls of a textile factory in the mid-1990s.
“Back in the day, when Poland was forced into communism after World War II, crucifixes were not allowed to be displayed in public places, but Polish people didn’t become any less religious,” Kadej explains. “Once the Solidarity movement started, they fought and won the right to hang crosses in state-owned manufacturing plants.”
Once communism ended, many of the manufacturing plants were shut down. Aga’s father was in charge of decommissioning a textile plant in Lodz, Poland, where he found the crucifix.
“The crucifix is a historically and spiritually significant icon to me, from the aspect of where it is from and the time in which it was made,” Dr. Nowakowski said. “It is a symbol of faith that withstood a difficult period of time in Polish history, and I think it represents the hope of a group of people who have gone through so much.”
Kadej continues to appreciate the advice and guidance Dr. Nowakowski has given her during her time at Saint Mary’s and beyond.
“Dr. Nowakowski is one of my many teachers who showed a lot of care and concern for me as an individual during my time at Saint Mary’s,” she said. “It meant a lot to know that he actually cared.”