Awesomely Urban : Gophers At Work

From Minnesota Alumni Magazine Fall 2016

Alumni networks in the office benefit employers and employees.

By Suzy Frisch

Caption: Members of Best Buy's alumni network at the company's headquarters. Left to right are Michael Dunn, Jeff Thaler, Chris Woodbury, Jason Bruce, and Natalie Fogal. Photo by Jayme halbritter

With more than 10,000 employees in the Twin Cities, U.S. Bank's workforce is larger than the population of many Minnesota towns. Sensitive to the need to keep its employees connected, the company has organized affinity groups, called business resource groups, to bring together workers who have shared experiences.

So it wasn't a surprise when the bank formed a network for University of Minnesota alumni. The bank launched its Minnesota network about two years ago to connect alumni with one another and to bolster its potential employee pipeline of graduating seniors and alumni.

"We viewed this as a great way to engage our University of Minnesota alumni with the bank and with each other and give them a chance to expand their networking opportunities," says Stephen Heinen (B.S. '82, M.B.A. '88), vice president and commercial banking portfolio manager. "It creates a smaller community within the greater bank."

The response has been strong. The bank's network hosted several gatherings for its 400 members, including speeches by former football coach Jerry Kill, hockey coach Don Lucia, and an event at Surly Brewery featuring its founder, Omar Ansari.

From United Health Group to Ameriprise and Target, many Twin Cities employers are experiencing the benefits of forging robust ties between the U and their alumni employees. Some are new, while others were Carlson School of Management groups that expanded to include all alumni. Overall, they strive to take the University into the workplace and the alumni workforce back to the U through networking, professional development, and engagement, says Jon Ruzek, senior director of alumni networks at the University of Minnesota Alumni Association. "We have so many alumni working at these corporations," Ruzek says. "These employers want to empower our alumni to tell others what great places those are to work."

As a Carlson School graduate and mentor, Best Buy employee Natalie Fogal (B.S.B. '07) aimed to continue building ties between the U and her coworkers. Shortly after she started at Best Buy in 2007, she helped start a Carlson network. Fogal, an e-commerce global planner, has been working since last summer to expand it into a global U network so that all Best Buy Gophers could benefit as she did from her connections.

The network has about 150 members and several committees, including volunteering, networking, and mentoring. Events range from sitting in the U of M section at a Twins game to exclusive meetings with Best Buy executives. In addition to gaining different leadership skills from her job, Fogal names many other benefits of membership: "Knowing people who attended the U and are at Best Buy means that's a network I can always tap into- I have a connection with them," she says. "It's great to feel involved with a community with a common passion."

Charlie Montreuil (M.A. '06), senior vice president of compensation and benefits who earned his master's in human resources and industrial relations from the University, backs Best Buy's Minnesota alumni network. He views it as a powerful tool for building connections between all Best Buy employees and an excellent vehicle for giving back to the community.

"Very rarely does a decision get made in this organization that doesn't take a collaborative, cross-functional effort," says Montreuil. "By getting this group together, we're starting a network where people can make connections outside of their own function."

Workplace alumni networks are mutually beneficial for employers, staff, and the University. They serve as a front door to the U for employers and graduates, and build enduring links between fellow alumni and the school that helped give them a start. If you want to learn more, contact Jon Ruzek at


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