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A Life in Government: Making the Complex Understandable

English alum Ann Glumac served with two Minnesota governors and led the MPCA
February 5, 2020

Freshly graduated from the University, BA alum Ann Glumac took a reporting job with the Duluth News-Tribune, in her hometown. But soon enough her life took a turn: Glumac was hired in 1985 as Deputy Communications Director for Governor Rudy Perpich, another northlander. A succession of increasingly prominent government executive positions followed, including Deputy Commissioner for the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA) for six years and Manager of State-Tribal Relations (the first person to hold that position) for Governor Arne H. Carlson.

Back in Duluth after a decade, Glumac spent three years as President of the Iron Mining Association of Minnesota before departing in 2000 to shepherd the Great Lakes Aquarium through its first years of operation, as President. In 2002, she founded Glumac Executive Enterprise and continues to work as a consultant on communications, public affairs, community outreach, and organizational development. Glumac has also served on the boards of health, education, and environmental organizations (including eight years with the Bell Museum).

Along the way, a private writing habit went public: Glumac’s 2014 collection of poetry, A Skim of Ice on Still Water, was nominated for a Northeastern Minnesota Book Award. Asked to pick a favorite job from her wildly diverse resume, Glumac unsurprisingly notes that what she's most enjoyed over her career has been “taking on new challenges and pushing myself beyond my comfort zone.”

"For students interested in public
service, strive to understand the
issues. But don't stop there. . . .
Become a lifelong student of the
public decision-making process."
                - BA alum Ann Glumac

You've had such a varied and interesting career path: What do you see as the through line? What skills learned at the U were most helpful?

My English degree reinforced the power of harnessing words to communicate effectively, to create shared meaning with an audience. Studying literature to capture the nuances of meaning gave me skills that transferred into being able to study complicated or complex topics and translate them into messages for policymakers and the public, who need accurate and understandable information to participate in our public decision-making process.

Advice for students interested in careers in government? In communications?

For those interested in government or public service, strive to understand the issues—whether public health or mass transit or wildlife management. But don’t stop there: The facts are just the starting point for a complicated process that involves multiple stakeholders, different perspectives, political maneuvering, and human frailties and foibles. Becoming a lifelong student of this public decision-making process will put you in the best position to be successful.

For those interested in communication, keep your focus on the intended audience for your messages. Too often, public communication is designed to satisfy the organization trying to communicate: it’s full of inside jokes or jargon or overwhelming amounts of data. It fails to create shared meaning with the intended audience, which is the purpose of communication in the first place.

Are there University of Minnesota professors or classes that stand out for you?

Professor Thomas Clayton made Shakespeare not only great fun but also incredibly relevant and alive, both on the page and in the reading. Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales was not an easy read for me; however, Professor John McNally’s enthusiasm for the language and the stories—I recall him clapping his hands together and calling one passage “delicious”—was infectious.

What book are you recommending these days?

More and more frequently, I rely on reading to ground me in the midst of the chaos that seems to be growing in our nation and the world. One book that has helped is Braiding Sweet Grass: Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge, and the Teachings of Plants by Robin Wall Kimmerer, a beautifully written hymn to the natural world and humans’ place and responsibility in it. I read only a few pages every morning, almost as a meditative practice; I may need to do it again!