In many ways, Woodbury native Caitlin Stene is your typical college student.
She started at North Dakota State University with a major in marketing. She transferred to Winona State University in 2007 after visiting her older brother Jared, then a student at the college, and falling in love with the atmosphere and the campus. She declared a second major in public administration after taking a few classes on the advice of her brother. She approached the college experience as a way to discover her calling in life and benefit from new and interesting opportunities.
But here is where her path diverges.
In November 2007, Caitlin’s brother Jared passed away unexpectedly at the age of 22, only months after accepting the title of Student Senate President at Winona State. Months later, the cause was determined to be Wilson’s disease, a rare genetic disorder that had gone undetected his entire life.
Caitlin said her parents gave her the option of transferring to another school. Many people might have taken the easy way out and started anew, avoiding the sad memories and sympathetic gazes. Instead Caitlin felt an obligation to continue her brother’s legacy at WSU and found strength in all that he had accomplished before her.
“Knowing how much Jared loved WSU really helped me to get through it, and the community really supported me and my family,” Caitlin said.
Just like Jared, Caitlin got involved in student government, serving as both Student Senate Vice President and President, the first elected female president in more than 10 years.
She interned for Congressman Tim Walz in Washington, D.C., focusing on constituent outreach and research on healthcare reform.
She worked for Minnesota Secretary of State Mark Ritchie on voter outreach and first-time voter workshops, discovering a passion for civic engagement and educating people on the political process.
She became the vice chair of the Minnesota State University Student Association, a state-wide organization serving more than 75,000 students at Minnesota’s seven state universities: Bemidji, Mankato, Metropolitan, Moorhead, St. Cloud, Southwest and Winona.
Caitlin, who graduated alongside 1,000-plus other students Friday, May 6, is contemplative about everything that has come together to make her the person she is today: “I owe a lot to WSU. When I came here, I didn’t know what I wanted to do with my life. But through all my experiences and opportunities at WSU, I’ve discovered my calling in life.”
Caitlin will attend the University of Kansas to pursue a master’s degree in public administration and hopes to have a career working for a non-profit organization or state agency.
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