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Feature

Neil Brodin.

Neil Brodin, B.A. '81 (see story below), who produces memorial bronze statues for police and firefighters, is among the 87 survey respondents who work in a creative field.

Weighing in

Stories from the U's biggest alumni survey

by Buffie Shannon

From M, fall 2006

The recent alumni survey taught us many things, but especially this: a degree from the University can set one on a fascinating path, both in work and in life. The ways alumni are making a difference in our world are as varied as the graduates themselves. Here's what just a handful have been up to since leaving the U.

PARI BEYZAVI
Survivor's tale
"We came from Iran with one suitcase, my husband, my two-year-old son and myself," says psychologist Pari Beyzavi, M.A. and Ph.D. '93. "At the University I learned life was not over...I could survive and be someone." At her Plymouth clinic she now helps other struggling refugees adjust. "I was born a Muslim and [this] gives them comfort," says Beyzavi. She uses her native language, Farsi, and interpreters for Hmong- and Arabic-speaking clients. Beyzavi encourages clients to cope with past events and move on. "Many come to me speaking no English and are illiterate, but are now successful," she says. "I tell clients to set goals, take advantage of the education. This is the land of opportunity."

14 percent of respondents work in the medicine/health care field, tying with education as the highest-ranked employment sector. NEAL BRODIN
Forging tributes
Starting a company that specializes in memorial bronze statues for police and firefighters was a logical step for Neil Brodin, B.A. '81. Brodin is a 20-year veteran of the Minneapolis Police Department. "I started the studio to help my brother Roger, an artist. Some of our designs were originally Roger's. We restructured after his death in 1996 and began specializing in statues for fire and police departments," he says. Brodin received the commission for the George Mikan statue at Target Center and sells art across the country. He recently relocated to Litchfield to be closer to his studio's foundry, but business remains strong. "It's mostly word of mouth," says Brodin. "Because we come from law enforcement, we walk the walk."

87 percent of respondents have produced or published artwork, books, plays, musical scores, articles, educational material, or assessment instruments such as tests. AMY MICHIELLE FREEMAN
Fortunate by design
"In 2004, I launched my clothing line," says Amy Michielle Freeman of Minneapolis, B.S. '98. "I also talk to high school students about dressing." Her designs include clothing made from recycled vinyl billboards and she has been nominated for "Best Female Clothing Designer" for the 2006 Twin Cities Fashion Awards. "I love taking something we take for granted and making it into something beautiful," says Freeman, whose designs are favored by emerging entertainers and artists who want to make an impact. "I've been fortunate in achieving my goals in a short period of time." "I mentor a clothing design student, and help the Spanish speaking learn English." She also gives time to The Links, an African American service organization, and to her church. "I've been a volunteer my whole life."

69 percent of respondents volunteer, with 25,785 giving between 1-9 hours a month to nonprofit or charitable groups. CURT BURNS
A return to the land
"I always wanted to be a farmer and a Golden Gopher," says Curt Burns. After graduating in agronomy in 1992, Burns returned to his parents' farm in Stewart, Minnesota. Over the next 14 years, he restructured the farm to meet shifting economics. "To compete, we doubled the acres to 1,200," he says. "We grow cash crops and over 70 percent of our corn goes to ethanol production" To diversify, Burns developed an agricultural consulting business that serves 75 customers in four counties. With a supportive wife and two children, he finds fulfillment many ways. "Learning how to adapt, helping customers get ahead, contributing to the community...all this is possible because of my contacts and degree from the University of Minnesota."

89 percent of alumni respondents say they are satisfied with their University student experience. ELIZABETH ABRAHAM
Back door CEO
Originally brought in by her husband on a special project, Elizabeth Abraham, M.B.A. '81, is now the CEO and owner of Top Tool in Blaine. The firm manufactures precision metal stampings and components for the electronic and medical industries. Under Abraham's steady hand it has become a leading small business. "Setting the direction and the vision is a lot of fun," says Abraham. Although clearly her focus, manufacturing was not Abraham's initial career. "I started as a psychologist and returned to get an MBA. Manufacturing fell into my lap. You can always grow," she says. The University of Minnesota was instrumental to her success. "My education was outstanding," says Abraham. "And the faculty, alumni, and networking continue to be helpful."

Nearly 7,100 respondents own a private business. Just over 2,000 carry a business card that reads, "Board Chair," "CEO," or "President." EUDALD CANADELL
Finding Minnesota
"Arriving from Spain," says Eudald Canadell, M.S. '88, "I found Minneapolis a city with great art, music, cinema, and a welcoming population." Later, Canadell found the U in unexpected places. "I had a meeting with a Standard & Poors representative who held a Ph.D. from Minnesota. We immediately hit it off." Today Canadell is director of Standard & Poors Index Service Europe and divides his time between Paris and London. "With S&P the quality of the people is amazing. It is a pleasure to work them," says Canadell. And how did the U prepare him? "The best thing I got was the frame of mind that made me capable of handling many different things."

There are 6,919 U of M alumni known to be living abroad. KEN BECK
Paving a path to meaning
When Ken Beck, B.E.E. '67, closed a successful career as a high-tech exec, he built another at The Crossings, a progressive learning center, meeting place, and spa in the Texas hill country outside Austin. "We focus on wellness...and on helping people find meaning and inspiration in their lives." "After 35 years with large companies, I had no experience with a start-up," says Beck. Now, The Crossings' award-winning facilities and undulating 210-acre campus draw guests-and praise-from around world, and employ more than 100. Beck attributes his success partly to the problem-solving discipline he learned as an engineering student: "It has served me well in every position."

80 percent of respondents say they are satisfied with how the U prepared them for career success. LINDA RODGERS
Bridge builder
From classroom volunteer to official in the state's largest school district, Linda Rodgers has worked for 20 years to bring together families, communities, and schools. One result is the Anoka-Hennepin Parent Involvement Program she directs, which manages more than 9,000 volunteers and staff in what Rodgers calls "productive volunteerism." Its scope extends to the 100-plus local nonprofits affiliated with children. "We teach them how to run an effective organization," she says. "I love watching people grow." Rodgers, whose sons Ryan and Brennan are also alums, earned a BS in 1983 and completed an MA at the Humphrey Institute in August. "I'll miss being in an environment where learning is the norm, the goal, and the treasure."

20 percent of respondents listed "educator" as their profession. Next highest were "retired" and "practitioner," with 18 percent each. LOIS LANG
Decisions, decisions Finding
"I always wanted to be an attorney," says Lois Lang, B.A. '77 and J.D. '79. "But after 15 years of private practice, I was looking for a new challenge," adds the first woman judge in Minnesota's ninth judicial district. Originally appointed, she was elected in 1996 and again in 2002. Her Grand Rapids courtroom handles "every type of case, from the most serious criminal to traffic tickets, complex civil litigation to small claims, probate, family, and juvenile law," she says. "I try to give each case special attention." Lang never underestimates her responsibility. "I enjoy it, but it's hard work because your decisions affect any number of people and the public."

1 in 4 respondents reported holding an elected office. TIM GOODMANSON
Setting the stage
"Everyday there is a new series of sets to prepare," says art director Tim Goodmanson, B.A. '86 from the Morris campus. Goodmanson designs and executes sets for the soap opera, As the World Turns. And he's among the best in the business, having won four Emmy Awards. "We build everything here at the Brooklyn studio," says Goodmanson from his home in New York. "There are 70 permanent sets...and we are constantly taking them down and putting others up." Goodmanson is a native of Canby, Minnesota, who believes his strong Midwest work ethic and hands-on experience at Morris' summertime theater were "great preparation" for his career in television. After 11 years, his enthusiasm remains high: "I feel lucky to get paid to work with really talented people."

4,973 respondents report having won a national or international award or honor.

For more findings on the survey, and more alumni profiles, see the "Connecting With Our Alumni" Web site.