Macalester’s returning alumni: student to staff


Graphic by Zander Leong ’26

Lauren Petro, Staff Writer

Many staff members who work at Macalester once attended the college, and this number has rapidly increased in recent years. More and more alumni are returning to work for the college where they once were students.

I moved here because I wanted to live in the Cities, so I didn’t stay around campus much,” Media and Culture Studies Professor Bradley Stiffler ’07 said. “You could leave and do whatever you want. I came here to be part of the city, and being a student was a small part of it.” 

Stiffler is originally from the small city of Bellingham, Wash., and wanted to experience major metropolitan life. During his time at Macalester, Stiffler recalls controversy, particularly in regard to the school’s choices regarding new student admissions.

“Blind admissions were getting removed,” Stiffler said. “It was controversial because it was going to make the student population wealthier and harder for working class students. I don’t think I would’ve gone to Mac if that was removed while I was applying.”

Some staff members have been living here their whole lives, so Macalester is a local school to them. Men’s basketball Head Coach Abraham Woldeslassie ’08 is a Minneapolis native who transferred from the University of St. Thomas his junior year.

“I was a sociology major, played men’s basketball and was the captain,” Woldeslassie said. “I was very lucky to come to school and play here.” 

For English Professor Emma Törzs ’09, life at Macalester was enriching. She made a lot of great friends, read a lot of books and was always learning new things. 

Overall, I loved college, and in some ways have structured my adult life around emulating the best parts,” Törzs said. “My time at Macalester introduced me to some of my favorite people, and for that alone, I’ll be forever grateful.”

Visiting Assistant Professor Elena Tonc ’13 also enjoyed her time at Macalester, appreciating the lasting friendships with people she went to Macalester with.

“I took classes that were interesting to me and that helped prepare me for the next steps after Mac while also being able to be involved in extracurricular activities, which was great,” Tonc said. “But the best part was the community I had at Mac through International Student programs, various student orgs, residential life and my majors. A lot of the folks I met at Mac are still big parts of my life and we travel to see each other for important life events.

There is a large range in how recently alumni faculty graduated. For example, chemistry lab instructor Maddy Rodemeier ’22 graduated last year.

“[Being a student at Macalester] was great,” Rodemeier said. “I really loved the community, specifically the chem department. It feels like a home to me. It was nice to stay.”

Since Rodemeier graduated so recently, she has not seen many drastic changes, though she did not expect to return so soon. 

“I did a lot of teaching while I was here as an SI and TA,” Rodemeier said. 

Like Rodemeier, Stiffler stuck around Macalester after graduating. He worked in both the mailroom and Cafe Mac while he went through grad school at the University of Minnesota. Even now, he continues to teach at both schools. 

“It was never a big decision, but an opportunity to teach, and convenient,” Stiffler said. “When I went to grad school at the U [University of Minnesota], I didn’t want to move and would take any teaching job locally. I’ll only take a job in the Twin Cities.” 

Woldeslassie took a different route, traveling around the country and coaching basketball after graduation for 10 years before returning. Some of the places he coached at include Dartmouth College, Davidson College, Siena College and the IMPACT Basketball Camp in Las Vegas.

“I had a great experience being a student-athlete here,” Woldeslassie said. “My goal was to bring that knowledge and experience to Macalester. Mac was the only D-III [NCAA Division III institution] I applied for, and I got in. I felt that our men’s basketball team could be a top 25 team. I like that balance of living in Minneapolis and working in St. Paul. It’s cool to be back.” 

After Törzs graduated, she had the chance to explore other experiences before returning to Mac. Some things she has done include working at a liquor store and restaurants, getting an MFA in fiction in Montana, writing lots of books and short stories and living in Mexico and Europe.

“I moved back to Minneapolis two years after graduate school because I’d found a strong community here after college, and as soon as I returned I started sending my resume into Macalester,” Törzs said. “I was sending my resume to all local universities, trying to get adjunct work, but also because teaching at Macalester had always seemed like a dream job to me. It’s not not my dream job, even now that it’s no longer a dream.”

After Tonc graduated, she worked as a lab manager for Professor Devavani Chetterjea and then got a PhD in immunology at Washington University in St. Louis. She was able to land a teaching job at Macalester that fall in 2021. 

When I got to Mac, I finally understood the power of a liberal arts education and the opportunities it affords for students beyond their major because they learn how to learn,” Tonc said. “I also admired the faculty so much for the work they were doing educating the students and also including them directly in their research. I was delighted and happy to come back.”

She planned to go to grad school, but during her gap year, Keith Kuwata asked if she could instruct some labs. Even if the return was sudden, Rodemeier is grateful for the opportunity.

“I’m glad he asked me,” Rodemeier said. “I love being back here another year. When I graduated, I felt like I wasn’t done here because I got COVID sophomore year.” 

Even though Rodemeier was glad to be back, her frame of reference was different. Being so recently graduated, she had to shift her perspective.

“I worried a little about coming back,” Rodemeier said. “You have to change your perception because it’s so easy to come back and feel like a student again. It’s very different being  faculty, especially being so recently graduated, but the chem department has been so welcoming and supportive.”

When it comes to differences that staff have noticed, there is a lot both physically and culturally. For example, Stiffler highlighted that during his  time, a lot of buildings were being renovated. 

There’s a lot of things different, but you see them from a different perspective when you’re a student versus an employee,” Stiffler said. “It’s also hard to tell when you see things from a different perspective.”

Although Stiffler feels connected to the collegiate environment, he does admit there are a few things that he wished were not so different. 

“The college feels slightly more business-like and profit-oriented,” Stiffler said. “Many places have been privatized and run by external companies. It makes Mac feel less like a community and more like a business.”

The culture at Macalester is also different. Woldeslassie has noticed that there is more emphasis on mental well-being.

“One thing I hear about now more than when I was here is mental health and mental fitness,” Woldeslassie said. “The emphasis both on physical and mental health for student-athletes is very different.”

With the rise of social media, coaching and being an athlete is also different from Woldeslassie’s time. Since he is now a coach who must recruit new players, social media has become more important than ever.

“Facebook was around, but most people didn’t have the internet at all times,” Woldeslassie said. “All you could do was call and text.”

Like Woldeslassie, Törzs has noticed the change in social media since being a student at Macalester.

A lot has changed, but I think the biggest thing is the internet, how everyone has it in their pocket now and looks at it first thing in the morning and last thing at night,” Törzs said. 

Tonc has also noticed changes since graduating, but she sees it more in the student culture and demographics.

“The student body is still that perfect Mac mix of academically-driven students who also care about social justice and are engaged with the community around them,” Tonc said. “The student demographics have changed quite a bit though, with a significant increase in the number of first-generation and BIPOC [Black, Indigenous and People of Color] students.”

Rodemeier credits Macalester and the chemistry department for being welcoming to her and is happy to be part of a community that loves her. 

“Now that I’ve worked here, it’s inspired me to want to come back in the future when I get my PhD and become a professor,” Rodemeier said.