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Mike Russell

Mike Russell: Second Homecoming

After serving as president of the Winona State University Student Senate as a junior, Mike Russell ’84 decided against a second term to cap his senior year.

Campus politics had nothing to do with it; he stayed on as a senator. It wasn’t the demands of two jobs to pay for school. It wasn’t the things that would commonly occupy college seniors: sending out resumes, practicing interviews, pondering what the future might hold.

Instead, Russell was humbled by his leadership role. While he had used his year in office well, had pointed Student Senate in the right direction, he felt that his fellow senators were just as talented, capable, and committed as he.

Nearly thirty years later, Russell is bringing a similar attitude back to Winona State and his position as chair of the WSU Foundation Board of Trustees.

The position marks a sort of second “homecoming” for Russell. Adopted as an infant, his family picked him up in Winona. He grew up in Medelia, just west of Mankato, and turned into a good high school distance runner and drew attention from several universities until he injured his knee. WSU remained in the game and, although he says he had little encouragement, Russell returned to Winona to continue his education.

He ran for a year before realizing he needed to focus on finances. Jobs at Gordie’s Amoco and Kato Liquor Store followed, but the outgoing Russell was encouraged to run for Student Senate. He was elected as a senator his freshman year, vice president as a sophomore, and to the top office as a junior.

Russell found a career during his final year when Gavin Strand, then director of Career Planning and Placement, suggested he try Federated Insurance. He was hired after a practice interview, and has built a 27-year career with the business insurance company. He’s now national account executive.

Around 2002, raising a young family in the Phoenix area, Russell began thinking about “things that made an impact on me, how I wouldn’t be what I am without my experience at Winona State.” Russell strengthened his ties with the university and returned to Winona a second time as a WSU Foundation trustee.

He has since moved to Federated’s home office in Owatonna, and upped his commitment to Winona State as board chair.

Russell hopes to lead the board in clarifying how it can best help Winona State “thrive, not just survive” during turbulent times for higher education. He foresees a greater need for the Foundation to expand support as state funding for the university continues to diminish.

And when his two-year stint is up, Russell plans to yield the chair to one of his “incredibly intelligent, skilled” fellow trustees. Just as he did, years ago, as Student Senate president.

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About Winona State University

Founded in 1858, Winona State University is a comprehensive public university with more than 8,500 students. The oldest member of the Minnesota State Colleges and Universities System, Winona State offers 80 undergraduate, pre-professional, licensure, graduate, and doctorate programs on its three campuses: the original Main Campus in Winona, the West Campus in Winona, and Winona State University-Rochester.

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