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Sisters share Saint Mary’s connections

January 26, 2023


WINONA, Minn. — When Maddie Bollig B’20 walked into a Saint Mary’s University biology class with Dr. Ray Faber, he did a double take.

“Didn’t I already teach you?” he asked with furrowed eyebrows.

Maddie explained that although she was new, she bore an admitted resemblance to two earlier sisters, Tera B’07 and Ashley B’15, both of whom had also enrolled in and enjoyed Dr. Faber’s courses.

The seasoned biology professor would be the only one all three sisters would share during their time at Saint Mary’s as they each pursued different academic interests: Tera public relations and literature; Ashley marketing and sport management; and Maddie environmental biology.

And, although all three ran track and cross country, most of their extracurricular interests also differed: Tera managed the Cardinal student newspaper; Ashley was more active with the PR/Business Club; and Maddie was in biology club and sang in concert choir.

But their shared college experiences are at the heart of their memories of Saint Mary’s.

It began with community.

Tera felt at home when she first visited campus, both because of the beauty of the area and because of how friendly and welcoming the community was. Ashley said she didn’t even consider any other schools. “I knew pretty early, I’d be going to Saint Mary’s, based on my sister’s experience and the sense of community and belonging that I felt when I visited,” she said. And then, when it was Maddie’s turn, “By that point, Saint Mary’s was our family. It was a bonus that they had a really good biology program,” she said.

Within the close-knit community, the sisters grew to be professional leaders, now successful in their careers: Tera as manager of internal communications at Children’s Minnesota, Ashley as senior science and academic coordinator at Academy of Neurology, and Maddie as a Geographic Information Systems (GIS) analyst for Saint Mary’s GeoSpatial Services.

All credit Saint Mary’s for preparing them for their careers.

Looking back at when she first arrived on campus, Tera described herself as shy and timid. “By senior year, I was managing the newspaper and a captain on the cross country team,” she said. “I became a leader and gained confidence because of the opportunities and support I received.”

She also credits the liberal arts for giving her such a rounded view of the world, and for professors who encouraged her to take a variety of courses and discover what she truly wanted to do. “Once I found my passion, they helped me hone in on the real-world practical skills I needed after I graduated,” Tera said.

Ashley chooses to work for organizations that are mission driven, something she values from her time at Saint Mary’s. She also appreciates her business courses, which taught her to think on her feet. “I learned about being able to deal with a variety of stakeholders in jobs on campus and through the real-world projects we did in classes, working with real businesses. It really helped me learn how to adapt quickly to changes. People really value that flexibility. The projects we did were so much more challenging than what my friends in other schools were doing.”

Working with GeoSpatial Services as a student intern eventually led to Maddie’s current position (even if she couldn’t have envisioned it at the time). She also had not envisioned attending graduate school until her adviser helped guide her academic career path. “In graduate school, one of the main reasons I was accepted was because of my connection to GeoSpatial Services. And when I got to grad school, I was ahead of the classmates I came in with because of what I had taken at Saint Mary’s,” she said. “There were so many classes waived (and that I didn’t have to pay for) because I already had taken them at Saint Mary’s; Saint Mary’s was teaching master’s-level courses at an undergraduate level.”

She also thanks her adviser for including her, as a student, on research about the relationship between needlegrass and spotted knapweed, now published. She added, “At Saint Mary’s, you’re more than just a number. I thought it was just a slogan but you realize, it’s true. Faculty are here to support you.”

Coming full circle, Maddie now helps conduct exit interviews with current Saint Mary’s students who have worked at GeoSpatial Services. They tell her they appreciate the real-world experience. “They enjoy contributing to national wetlands inventory that will benefit many researchers and landowners,” she said.

All three stay connected to their alma mater. Tera is even running in an upcoming Ragnar Relay race with college friends from 15 years ago. “I don’t know of another school where you build so many lifelong friendships, not just with classmates, but with faculty, staff, and coaches,” she said.