Creating Success

umrCREATING SUCCESS– Women in leadership at UMR reflect on what it takes to craft a fulfilling career

With more than 700 students enrolled at the University of Minnesota Rochester (UMR), the institution’s campus in the heart of the city is now a bustling place, filled with students, faculty and staff. UMR’s impressive growth since its designation as a full and official coordinate campus of the University of Minnesota system in 2006 has been overseen by a talented group of dedicated leaders. 

RochesterWomen talked to three women in leadership roles at UMR to learn about the paths that led them there, discuss what it takes to make a successful career in academia and glean their insights on what success really means.



As prospective students consider UMR, one of the first groups of people they come in contact with is the staff in Karen Reilly’s area. She and her team focus on student recruitment, admissions, enrollment and retention.

A native of North Dakota, Reilly joined UMR last fall when the position of director of enrollment management was created. Prior to that, she served for ten years as director of enrollment services at North Dakota State College of Science (NDSCS). That followed a six-year stint in management at the communications company US West/Quest in the Twin Cities.

Reilly realized after several years that her work in the telephone industry, although lucrative, was not the right fit. She felt she had been more fulfilled at a job she had soon after she graduated from North Dakota State University, working in college admissions for NDSCS. When a recruiter position for her former employer opened up, she was torn. It was a job with a dramatically lower salary than her current position, and she wasn’t sure it was worth it. But she took a leap of faith. 

“My job at Quest was very demanding. I was gone or working all the time,” says Reilly. “I knew I had been much happier doing college admissions. My soon-to-be husband and I talked it over. He strongly encouraged me to apply. I did, and I got it. It was such a dramatic change, but it was the right one.”

After several years, Reilly was promoted to director of enrollment services where she oversaw admissions, records, financial aid and career services. With a job change on her husband’s horizon last year, it again came time to reassess. UMR’s enrollment position was attractive for a variety of reasons.

“UMR’s emphasis on students having a full community and collegiate experience was appealing. I also appreciate UMR’s holistic approach to admissions,” she says. “This position offers me new challenges to help me grow as an individual and to take my career to the next level.”

In reviewing her career to this point, Reilly is able to clearly define what success means to her. “I am a spotlight operator, not someone in the spotlight,” she says. “My measure of success is to see someone else be successful and know I made a contribution to that.”




As one of the first three faculty members hired at UMR, Dr. Molly Dingel has been involved firsthand in the university’s development and growth. 

A medical sociologist, Dr. Dingel teaches a variety of sociology courses at UMR. This year, she also was elected to lead UMR’s Directorship Committee for the school’s Center for Learning Innovation. The group works with faculty to create an active, student-centered environment at UMR that incorporates new and creative methods for teaching and learning.

Dr. Dingel came to UMR after earning her master’s and doctorate degrees at the University of Kansas and teaching for a year at North Dakota State University. She also completed a postdoctoral fellowship at Mayo Clinic. 

“UMR’s focus on teaching was a big part of what drew me here. I love doing research, but I also love being in the classroom. Engaging students and making a classroom environment that’s fun and challenging is exciting,” she says. “At UMR, we are committed to education innovation. I see that as a big plus professionally because it increases the likelihood that I’ll stay emotionally engaged in teaching over the long term.”

As a college professor, Dr. Dingel knows finding a position that’s a good match for an individual’s interests and background can be difficult. Flexibility often is key to making it happen. 

“There aren’t a ton of job openings in academia. When there are, it’s almost as if the stars have to line up: there has to be an opening in your area of expertise at the time you are looking for a position,” she says. “If you don’t have the ability to be geographically mobile, it can be a large barrier to advancement. I feel fortunate to have a supportive husband who has been willing to move. That has made a big difference.”

For those thinking of pursing an academic career, Dr. Dingel offers this advice: “If you’re just starting out to pursue a degree, especially a Ph.D., you have to be clear in your mind why you want it. See your goal before you start the program. It’s a tough road. Without that set goal in mind, it is very difficult to get through it. It will help tremendously if you know where you want to go and why.” 





When Sarah Oslund began spearheading UMR’s communication and public relations in 2008, the school had 28 people on staff and no students of its own. As UMR has evolved, so has her job. 

Today Oslund fields inquiries from local, regional and national media. She coordinates the university’s brand strategy. Leadership communication, publication production, content development and many other communication tasks also fall within her purview.

“As UMR changes, many of us are still designing our positions,” says Oslund. “I’m a one-person shop. That means I need to wear a lot of hats. I joke that my official job description is ‘other duties, as assigned’ because I regularly handle tasks that just don’t fall anywhere else.”

Oslund came to her work in communications through an untraditional route. Working in social services at Zumbro Valley Mental Health after she graduated from Minnesota State University, Mankato, there was an opportunity to develop the organization’s newsletter. She took on that role and was soon promoted to a newly created position of marketing/communications coordinator. After that, she worked briefly for the Rochester Downtown Alliance before joining UMR. 

Navigating new responsibilities and gaining the skills she needed to do the job wasn’t always easy. But Oslund found an approach that has helped her keep her footing and gain confidence. 

“I’ve learned to become comfortable being uncomfortable. When I started at Zumbro Valley, I had to present at a meeting of about eight people, and I was terribly nervous,” she says. “Fast forward several years later. I gave a presentation at a national education conference about UMR’s mascot campaign. It wasn’t a problem. Sometimes you have to immerse yourself in something you know isn’t going to be the most pleasant experience at the time, but will force you to reach a better place.”

As for her view on achievement, Oslund sees it as an inside job. “We each need to define success for ourselves,” she says. “You can make comparisons, but at some point almost everyone will come up short if you judge yourself by someone else’s values or standards. If you are reaching your own goals and you are fulfilled by that, in my book, you are a success.”