RSDP Happenings - Spotlight: Mary Hannemann
Mary Hannemann (Photo credit: University of Minnesota Institute on the Environment)
by Elizabeth Braatz
The University of Minnesota Extension Regional Sustainable Development Partnerships’ (RSDP) goal is to connect Greater Minnesota communities to the University of Minnesota. We’ve had many successes, from Deep Winter Greenhouses to helping preserve high quality lakes. However, to most effectively connect the broader region to the University, we also need to keep strong ties with the myriad of student communities on the University of Minnesota campuses. This is where Mary Hannemann comes in.
RSDP is excited to welcome Mary Hannemann onto the team. Hannemann is the Sustainability Education Project Coordinator for the University of Minnesota Institute on the Environment (IonE). Because of this new partnership, she is currently spending a quarter of her time working with RSDP to help us work with students more effectively. One of her new coworkers, RSDP Assistant Statewide Director Caryn Mohr, reflected that “Mary has this incredible ability to build genuine relationships across settings. When she joined us for statewide meetings this summer, she instantly fit in as though she'd been here for years. I’ve seen her do the same with students — taking time to really understand their needs. She has this special touch for building relationships and authentic connections.”
Hannemann has been helping people build connections throughout her career, whether by helping students find opportunities, creating friendships across cultures, or strengthening partnerships across borders.
A global citizen
Hannemann became involved in making connections across cultures early. After graduating from Iowa State with a B.S. in Chemical Engineering and working for 3M in Los Angeles, Hannemann joined a faith-based nonprofit devoted to helping the less fortunate. Initially Hannemann focused on supporting microfinance groups with villages in Uganda, managing data and finding ways to improve the program. Later she moved to Mombasa, Kenya, where she worked for three years. While in Mombasa, she helped run an educational program that kept children who had lost parents to HIV/AIDs in school. As Hannemann described, “It was very challenging, but very meaningful.”
By the time Hannemann decided to move back to the Midwest for her masters in public policy, she had discovered her passion: empowering students and connecting people.
The RSDP connection
RSDP provides a wide variety of graduate and undergraduate student research and work opportunities through its ties to Greater Minnesota. These include community-based projects through RSDP’s regional boards, a longstanding partnership with the Center for Urban and Regional Affairs (CURA), and RSDP’s Mary J. Page Community-University Partnerships Fund, as well as internal office projects. In the words of Southwest RSDP Executive Director David Fluegel, “One especially valuable thing that students can take from working with RSDP is a better understanding of rural from a community and regional perspective. These days a lot of U of M students grow up in metro areas. By working on projects alongside residents in Greater Minnesota, one of the outcomes we hope for is that students gain an appreciation for the aspirations, challenges, and opportunities of living in a rural area. Students can play a really important role in the interdependent relationship between rural and urban.”
RSDP has had meaningful engagement with students on a wide range of community-based projects, but felt that there were even more ways to support students in their education and community engagement. In some cases, students may not be aware of the opportunities that exist.
“I hope that we can raise the awareness of RSDP among students, especially for students who are interested in our four focus areas,” Hannemann said. “ Many here at the U of M are interested in RSDP’s work [in Greater Minnesota], so increasing that awareness is huge.”
On the flip side, IonE has developed as a respected and sought-after resource for students on campus, but has been aiming to become more involved in Greater Minnesota communities, especially engaging rural voices. Increasing partnership between RSDP and IonE was an ideal opportunity for both.
“The work of the Partnerships really resonates with a lot of students today,” said RSDP Statewide Director Kathy Draeger. “We see this especially in areas like clean energy and local foods. It was time for us to be more intentional about providing experiential learning opportunities for students that came from community ideas, innovation, and needs. We saw IonE as a natural partner as another non-degree granting institute that is working towards a sustainable future.”
An important part of Hannemann’s initial months with RSDP has been learning the needs of the five Regional Partnerships (Northeast, Northwest, Central, Southeast, and Southwest) in engaging student researchers and workers. RSDP staff have also requested more structures and guides to streamline RSDP’s student engagement efforts. Hannemann is also reaching out directly to students. She gathered names of students interested in learning more about RSDP’s opportunities through recent outreach events, such as the Graduate School orientation and IonE’s Sustainability Action! open house for incoming freshmen.
Mary Hannemann and Greg Schweser connecting with grad students at Northrop.
At the recent outreach events, Hannemann and RSDP colleagues have explained how students can get involved with RSDP. Specifically, students who are interested in food systems, resilient communities, natural resources, and clean energy (RSDP’s focus areas) have opportunities to join projects. RSDP can hire students for semester-long, paid opportunities to help with projects as they become available. Furthermore, the Clean Energy Resource Teams (CERTs) — which provides RSDP’s energy programming — offers opportunities for students to fulfill service-learning class requirements to combine formal training with real-world experience, in addition to community- and office-based work and internship opportunities.
Hannemann recently sent the first of what will be semester updates to students interested in RSDP opportunities. “Mary has already significantly advanced our student outreach efforts,” Mohr said. “For those of us who have been out of school for a while, it can be hard to know what materials will speak to students at different levels. Mary has helped us target our messages and develop engaging marketing materials like stickers students can place on their water bottles.”
Hannemann also brings an understanding of how to help student groups related to the environment make better connections with each other. An ongoing issue for student groups has been a lack of communication between like-minded groups. In her role at IonE, Hannemann and IonE Associate Director Megan Voorhees arranged a large meeting between almost a dozen different environmental student groups. By the end, all of the groups agreed to collaborate on an Earth Day joint event. Furthermore, they made plans to continue the dialogue and work together on common projects for the upcoming semester. Interest in the group was so high that four of the student leaders decided to work together to organize a leadership retreat for the group. As one of the attendees, I (Elizabeth Braatz) can personally attest that it was an amazing meeting.
Mary Hannemann and Caryn Mohr connecting with students at Sustainability Action! Fair.
Ultimately, Hannemann is working on bridging gaps between students and the excellent resources offered by RSDP and IonE, and that is exactly where she wants to be. As Hannemann explained, “College is a time to explore and learn and find new options, but it can also be very stressful. So the more we can help students connect their skills and interests with their passions the better. I find it very meaningful to be a part of that process.”
Family connectionsAs much as Hannemann enjoys being part of the campus community, she also has plenty to do at home. Hannemann enjoys gardening, and her plots this year have been thriving. In addition, Hannemann has three brothers and three sisters, and all of them live in the Midwest. Consequently, this summer and fall Hannemann has been enjoying many visits to friends and family. Between getting to help students during weekdays, gardening, and family, Hannemann reflected, “I’ve been having a lot of fun.”