Times Talks: Carol Bruess


On Wednesday, Sept. 20, the St. Norbert Times had the opportunity to sit down with Carol Bruess and speak with her about her experience at St. Norbert College so far this year.

How do you feel to be back at SNC? What has been your experience thus far?

“The two words I would use are ‘surreal’ and ‘incredible.’ It truly is amazing.

“Whoever would have thought that we would be back here working with and serving the kinds of students that we were? It feels so right to be back here: it’s been one big blessing day after day.”

How has the college changed since you were a student here?

“The most obvious change is the incredible physical growth. What’s so heartening, though, is that St. Norbert really is so much the same. Every student and every human feels valued and welcomed; feels like they can belong here.

“That’s why I chose it for my undergraduate degree. I was a first-generation college student and knew that I needed a place just like this – this kind of love, care, attention and advising. That’s still the same.

“There’s also the profoundly impactful liberal arts education. It couldn’t make us more proud or excited to be here and to be part of a really thriving liberal arts institution in higher education.”

What are some differences and similarities between the University of St. Thomas and St. Norbert College?

“The University of St. Thomas has over 5,000 undergraduate and almost 5,000 graduate students, and Twin Cities communities are bigger and more diverse than De Pere. However, at the core, these colleges are very similar. The ethos at UST is ‘all for the common good,’ both in and of the community.

“It is so exciting to be able to know that Brian and I will go from working at two incredible institutions to working at the same institution. It truly is a homecoming, and this place is in such incredible shape. It’s been comforting too; there hasn’t been a single moment of doubt.”

How do you hope to bring your research and work in interpersonal communications to St. Norbert College?

“I’d like to focus more on my research and writing. I’ve often had to squeeze it between other things, but I can focus on it more this year, as well as community work. I’d like to learn about the communities here. I hope to listen to students’ needs and see where the needs are greatest. For instance, if the need is for more collaborative research and writing, I’m all for it.

“I’m also very interested in researching the impact of our beautiful digital devices on us, especially in our closest relationships. I love them all, but we also know that there’s a discomfort as we grow with them: our brains aren’t as focused, our conversations aren’t as robust. I feel it, as well.

“I love the classroom; I’ve been teaching since I left St. Norbert College. If that’s a need, maybe there’s a J-term course I could do in the future. But, let me be clear, I have zero expectations. I simply hope to see where my talents can meet some needs.”

You have a lot of experience working with media to bring knowledge to the public: do you hope to do the same at SNC or in the greater De Pere/Green Bay community?

“I absoutely would be interested in and open to that. It will be two years this fall that I’ve done a spot on a local news station for the Twin Cities on relationships: Relationship Reboot.

“My interest in media, student and local, started right away after St. Norbert. I ask: how can we take research and make sure that it’s making a difference in everyday lives? I got involved in Tommy Media at UST. I’m not a journalist, but it is so fun and such a blessing to be in a department that was really cutting edge with all the professional journalists and learn all about these developments.

“I see myself as a student of journalism. I’m obsessed with punctuation; I’m out to change the world one semicolon at a time!

“I went from a bachelor’s degree in art to a Ph.D. in interpersonal and family communication. In so many ways, it’s such a perfect building on what I learned here as an art student. Both fields are about telling a story, creating a message. The classroom is a creative space: different learning styles and needs require different theories and angles. As an artist and as a teacher, you construct a message so that it appeals to different audiences.”

What is your understanding of heritage and mission at St. Norbert College?

“I believe we can never understand our present without understanding our history, because it does inform us. We are human beings in context.

“This is the only Norbertine college in the world, and it has a tripartite heritage: Norbertine, Catholic, and liberal arts.

“If we don’t look to our past to understand how profound that was as we make decisions in this current time, in what for lots of people is a tumultuous time, we’re likely to make the wrong choices, to stray in the wrong direction.

“We need to celebrate our heritage and keep it front and center as we face moments of decision. We must have this designated intentional time, these rituals, these ceremonies. When institutions and organizations can do these things, no matter the institutions, you’re going to be better off in the long run. We use our heritage as our campus.

“Take the inauguration, for example. The inauguration is not about Brian J. Bruess. It is about this institution. Every time we have a transition, we should celebrate it by way of saying that we are wanting this place to thrive and we want to look to our past to do this.”

How would you like to see heritage or mission incorporated into SNC in the coming years?

Even though we’re alums, we’ve been so focused on ensuring that our work at St. Catherine and St. Thomas is quality that in some ways we are outside observers.

“We’ve gotten to see President Kunkel’s amazing work as he wrote to alumni and students. And being here now with a front-row seat is a learning process. We’ve seen how mission and heritage are manifested in student orgs, departments, divisions and programs. I have zero ideas, to be honest, because I feel like I’m still learning.

“It’s been incredibly impressive to see the ways that mission is present here: it’s in every building. It’s not like that at every institution. Even at opening celebrations, it’s incredible to see the way people are talking about communio. It’s not just a hashtag. It feels like we really want to provide the hospitality that we say we want to provide.

“We can always do better, of course. We can and should say things are good when they are good, but we should also listen to the experiences of the people who aren’t experiencing communio in the same way. We have to look and listen harder.

“One of my commitments is to listen and look harder for where those hearts and souls aren’t feeling like this place isn’t as hospitable as it could be. That’s been our life commitment. We don’t always do it perfectly, but it’s our commitment.”

What is your favorite meal at the caf so far?

“I haven’t had many meals there yet, because I’m not here often enough. I can’t wait; get me to the caf!

“Dining Services is incredible. Chef Dan’s chili has made it clear that I can’t be a vegetarian now. I also love how they obtain their ingredients; [Brian and I] are into sustainable, locally-sourced food.”

Is there anything else you want to share with us and the college community?

“This might be self-evident, but I’ll say it anyway: One of the things I have always believed is that when we keep students at the center, your needs, your passions, your desires, how we can serve you best, we can’t go wrong. A lot of institutions lose sight of that.

“As alums, we’ve been proud to see that students here are at the center. It’s something we have to say aloud and keep doing. The question at the end of the day is ‘How does this serve all students?’”

“That’s my commitment to being a member of this community in a new way. To do radical, open listening to as many students as I can and to other members of the communities. I won’t always get it right; Brian won’t always get it right; faculty won’t; staff won’t. But that is my ultimate commitment.

“We must be ready to just continue to listen, the hardest of the easiest tasks: there are no shortcuts, no apps. We cannot really do the work without listening. It’s an intense human process.

“And, one last thing: I think we should be making fresh caramel corn in the caf every day. I love it!”


The St. Norbert Times thanks Carol Bruess for taking the time to speak with us and share her experiences and thoughts, as well as her love of caramel corn, with us and with the college community.


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