University of Minnesota
Department of English

Department of English

Five X Friday

Past Alumni News Stories
Mary Petrie (PhD), writer & professor
Josh Ostergaard (MFA), writer
Mary Nyquist (BA), professor
Tom Rademacher (BA), teacher
Erik Storlie (BA), meditation teacher
Nadia Hasan (BA), lawyer
Naomi Ko (BA), actor and writer
Shae Moloney (BA), HR specialist
Swati Avasthi (MFA), novelist
Kate Hopper (MFA), writer & teacher
Kevin Fenton (MFA), writer & ad creative
Alex Mueller (PhD), professor
Ellen Boschwitz (BA), consultant
Ethan Rutherford (MFA), writer
Tina Karelson (BA), advertising creative
May Lee-Yang (BA), playwright
Elizabeth Larsen (MFA), writer/editor
Angela Smith (PhD), professor
Jerr Boschee (BA), social entrepreneur
Reina del Cid (BA), bandleader
Dr. Arthur Schuhart (BA), CC professor
Amanda Coplin (MFA), novelist
David Wojahn (BA), poet
Dr. Sarah Wadsworth (PhD), professor
Mark Baumgarten (BA), writer/editor
Andrew Nath (BA), banker
Esther Porter (BA), editor
Dr. Gerald Jay Goldberg (PhD), writer
Peter Geye (BA), novelist
Sam Kean (BA), science writer
Dr. Joyce Sutphen (BA, MA, PhD), poet
Susan Taylor (MFA), CC professor
Sheila O'Connor (BA), novelist
Susan Niz (BA), YA novelist
Scott Burns (BA), screenwriter
Swati Avasthi (MFA), YA novelist
Dr. Marilyn Nelson (PhD), poet
Garrison Keillor (BA), radio show host
Dr. Carol Mason (PhD), professor
Amy Shearn (MFA), novelist
Dr. Virginia McDavid (BA, MA, PhD), prof
Tim Nolan (BA), poet
Dr. Kevin Reilly (PhD), higher ed admin

Michael Tisserand (BA), journalist

Journey, Not Destination

Embracing challenges amid the changing health care industry

Mark Mishek“There continues to be a whole large segment of the population that believes overcoming addiction is a matter of willpower,” says Mark Mishek (summa cum laude BA 1974; JD with honors 1977), CEO and President of the recently merged Hazelden and Betty Ford Foundations. The former, which he’s led since 2008, has of course been a pioneer for 65 years in defining addiction not as a crime or character flaw but as a disease. Changing minds is still difficult. “The thing that’s helped right now in a sad sort of way,” Mishek notes, “is that with the opioid crises affecting young males more than any other population, more parents are realizing that it’s not a matter of willpower, it’s not a matter of more education, more self-knowledge, and so on. While that stuff’s important, it can’t get you well in and of itself.” How did Mishek come to lead the nation’s largest nonprofit addiction treatment provider? Two words: liberal arts.

1. You’ve worked in health care for more than 30 years—before Hazelden, as President of United Hospital of St. Paul and an Allina Hospitals Senior Vice President, as well as various legal positions for Allina culminating in General Counsel. How has your work life been supported by skills learned in the study of literature?

So much of my job involves reading, writing, and speaking. Today I’m presenting our town hall forums throughout the organization: All week I’ll be speaking for an hour two or three times a day, and I have to prepare the materials and so on. I had to pound the law school part out of me when I left as General Counsel at Allina in 2002 and moved into running Allina Hospital, because I wrote like a lawyer. I had to go back to and relearn the skills I had when I left the U as an undergrad, which is to be more conversational, to learn how to connect with my audience, to speak in terms that they understand.

What I got at the University of Minnesota was a great liberal arts education--not just in the English department, but great Philosophy professors, wonderful History professors. I left the U with critical thinking skills that helped me in law school for sure. As the years went on, I really got to appreciate the broad education that I got at the U—to have that set of eyes that look at the world in a much broader way than I would have had I gone to business school or had I been more vocationally oriented.

2. Liberal arts majors interested in working in business (nonprofit or for-profit) worry that it’s all about the business degree now. Are they right to worry? What can liberal arts majors do while they’re in college to add value to their resumes?

I’m a strong believer in getting internships; I think that’s huge. When we’re hiring here [at Hazelden], people who have had experience in the field and have had an internship or some experience where they know that they like what your area is doing, that really goes a long way. Summer internships, work-study jobs, I think are all really important.

In order to be a counselor here you have to be trained as a counselor. We have a graduate school, we offer a graduate degree. Many of our students are men and women who themselves have been in treatment and are in recovery. And they’re getting a Master’s Degree in addiction counseling. They have a wealth of wonderful backgrounds and degrees that have nothing to do with being an addiction counselor. They crashed and burned, resurrected their lives, and are back, wanting to give back.

I’ve always said, to my kids and everyone, you’ve got to have a solid undergraduate degree, but in this world right now, since we’re competing internationally, you’re going to have to think about graduate school. That’s just a reality. All my kids have been to graduate school, in different disciplines. But they all had great, solid undergrad degrees. My daughter is a critical care nurse at the University; got a political science degree at DePaul University. My son who just got sworn in at the bar got a degree in Arabic Studies. Having that really solid liberal arts experience I still think is just critical.

I don’t want to put down undergrad business majors, not at all. But I think that’s going to really narrow your opportunities as you go into the future.

3. What English class or professor do you most remember?

That’s really easy for me. It was Professor Tom Clayton. He received the highest award the U gives for professors: Regents Professor. I took every class basically that I could take from him and just found him to be a tremendous teacher: very passionate about what he was doing. But he was tough—tough in a good way. He required you to come to class, and he’d call you out if you weren’t there; he assigned papers and had high standards for grading in terms of being clear about what you were saying. He brought Shakespeare to life in ways that I’d never seen before. I just found him to be a real role model for me going forward. I’m glad he’s still there! [Regents Professor Clayton will retire this spring.]

4. If you could send a message to yourself as an undergraduate, what would it be?

I was very focused while I was in school on getting into law school, so that was kind of where my head was at. But I loved reading, I loved poetry, I loved Shakespeare, I loved being an English major—it was very enjoyable to do it. When I got into law school, I was like, “Oh God, this is really a grind compared to what I was doing before!” In my field, there are all these little sayings that Alcoholics Anonymous has, you know, One day at a time. Keep it simple, stupid. I would say if I could send a message to myself back then, it would be “Carpe Diem, one day at a time, live for the day,” because it was a great time.

5. Do you still read for pleasure? What’s the last book you loved?

Oh yeah. Absolutely. I’ve turned into a little bit of a history nerd. I would highly recommend Robert Caro’s series, the biography of Lyndon Johnson. He won a Pulitzer. They’re just really, really well done.

Send us your story! Share your announcements, awards, and news.

For other 5 X Friday interviews, go to our news page.


Facebook iconDepartment of English on Facebook