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We Are Liberal Arts: Mary's Story

Mary Hamel, Immediate Past Director at Metro Independent Business Alliance
February 9, 2017

Portrait: Mary Hamel
Mary Hamel
BA '85, international relations

In We Are Liberal Arts profiles, we ask our alumni to talk about their career journey, reflect on how their liberal arts education shaped them, and what it taught them to do.

As executive director of the Metro Independent Business Alliance (MetroIBA) for the last eight years, I worked to support and advocate for locally owned, independent businesses in the seven county Twin Cities metro area. My job was about building connections, recruiting new business partners, promoting their products and services, and raising awareness about the importance of these businesses to the community.

To work toward a common goal

Majoring in international relations, I studied in France and also worked on projects where I was in the minority. I had to communicate across language and cultural barriers, learn to solve problems, and critically analyze situations to build connections with others towards a common goal.

The combination of competencies I studied helped me become confident and effective at communicating and networking, especially in novel situations, or where I need to recruit from underserved communities.

In a liberal arts education, communication assignments are so prevalent. I can't imagine today what I would do without the ability to write effectively across multiple platforms as well as formal and informal public speaking engagements.

To build a nonviolent society

In October 2016, I was the India Association of Minnesota (IAM) at their annual Non Violence Day that pays tribute to the spirit of Mahatma Gandhi. IAM recognizes individuals and organizations who illustrate a pathway to build community and a nonviolent society. IAM recognized MetroIBA’s and my efforts to integrate the economic potential of small independent businesses with community building.

MetroIBA is very inclusive and seeks out relationships in the nonprofit, educational, business, media and government arenas. My education in the liberal arts at the U of M, focusing on language and cultural competencies both on campus and abroad, helped me connect with a broad array of constituencies.

To see through a new lens

I had a wonderful intercultural communications class where we had an assignment to seek an experience where we could be in the minority. I chose to attend a Sunday morning service at a Hmong church in Minneapolis.  I remember very vividly that is helped me look at things through a totally new lens. Growing up in Minnesota, there were few—if any—opportunities for a person of northern European descent to experience, if even for a few hours, what it was like to be the minority in a group. 

I also had a French teacher from Madagascar who inspired me to go back to France to study further. 

I believe that cultural immersion programs, learning foreign languages, and/ or studying abroad are some of the most beneficial investments young people can make in their educations. For me these experiences were life changing, and many years later continue to inform how I view the world and make lifestyle decisions. 

For current students in CLA we are highlighting career readiness as an integral part of their education.