Judy Streifel-Reller “Grace Ann” attended the University of Minnesota Crookston and studied fashion merchandising and retail
management from 1981 to 1983. She learned about the university when a recruiter from the admissions office, Jack Bywater visited her high school in central North Dakota. He energetically told her she’d fit in on campus, so she signed up for a visit and ultimately registered for classes. Her transition from high school to college was a pivotal point in her life, as she took on leadership roles and had to get comfortable with being uncomfortable. “UMN Crookston was the key part of my journey of self-discovery and my personal branding,” Streifel-Reller said. She developed essential core skills in public speaking, project management, conflict management, impromptu speaking, creative problem solving, and team building.
Streifel-Reller wasn’t always as scholarly and focused as she is today. She actually chose a two-year program because she knew her study skills weren’t very strong. Going into algebra, she knew she was going to need help. Her professor, Bill Peterson tutored her while she was in the course and never shamed her for lack of understanding. He took Streifel-Reller where she was at and helped her continue to learn. “If I wouldn’t have gone to UMN Crookston and been impacted by those experiences, I don’t think I ever would’ve gone on to get my bachelor’s degree, master’s degree, and completion of doctoral level courses,” she said.
As for fashion merchandising, Streifel-Reller had an abundance of unique learning opportunities. They held fashion shows featuring clothing from downtown Crookston or Grand Forks, N.D. The large windows in the business conference room were utilized as mock displays for storefronts and they had the opportunity to study and sometimes try on the historic costume collection full of period to 100-year-old garments. They even went to New York City for a fashion field trip. She was also involved in collegiate Distributive Education Clubs of America (DECA) as a state officer and apparel and accessories event competitor. One year, they went to Texas for nationals travelling in 15-passenger vans, stopping at Niagara Falls on the way. Streifel-Reller would love to give a shout out to her fellow fashion merchandising majors and DECA team members. She had a lot of fun experiences on campus such as hanging out with friends in Bede Lounge, watching hockey games in the packed arena, going to dances in Bede Ballroom, and enjoying seven-course meals prepared and served by hotel restaurant management students.
After her two years at UMN Crookston, she went to work at a store in fashion merchandising and management. Whether she was running a meeting, showing a coworker how to complete a task, or demonstrating how to wear something for a customer, Streifel-Reller noticed she was doing a lot of teaching. This is when she realized her passion and went on to get her bachelor’s degree in marketing education. She completed her student teaching in a high school and her first teaching job was at a technical college in South Dakota. This ultimately led her back to the University of North Dakota (UND) where she became a graduate teaching assistant and earned her master’s degree in career and technical education. “I saw exemplary teaching at UMN Crookston, which made me think I could make a difference in someone’s life if I was a teacher,” she said. Streifel-Reller ended up coming back to UMN Crookston to teach and advise students in the business division from 1989 to 1992. Based upon her master’s degree in independent study of research of top U.S. post-secondary fashion merchandising programs, she put her own personal mark on the fashion merchandising program. She viewed courses from an industry trends and student perspective, combined those that made sense together, and eliminated those that no longer served the program. This full circle experience bettered the University and allowed her to give back to the place where she learned so much.
From this point on, Streifel-Reller has continued to career pivot through multiple roles in a variety of settings, which have included: management in a retail environment; a human resources business advisor at a multi-state gas and electric utility company; working in the K-12 school setting; a faculty member and staff development coordinator in higher education; she worked as a regional education association director; was a talent development director at a regional accounting firm; and now she is a solopreneur, where she focuses on organizational ecosystems, talent development and social leadership, and inspired philanthropy for transformational consulting. With an ongoing belief in community stewardship, Streifel-Reller also co-founded a women’s leadership cooperative with eight other women in Grand Forks. They are in their third year and have about 85 members. She is the philanthropy director and their goal is to provide a holistic approach to leadership and well-being.
Another success Streifel-Reller is proud of is quite the theatrical accomplishment. She auditioned for the musical, Fiddler on
the Roof, in 2018. At the audition, Streifel-Reller emphasized she didn’t know how to sing but completed the dancing portion and the group song. As people were packing up, the director stopped her and said, “Hey, I didn’t hear you sing!” Upon agreement, Streifel-Reller kept it simple and sang “Happy Birthday”, nerves and all. The director started laughing, and it wasn’t until she got home and explained everything to her husband that she realized she had been singing the Marilyn Monroe version of happy birthday. Based on this crazy but entertaining performance, she got a part in Fiddler on the Roof and was able to cross something off her bucket list. Aside from her occasional outburst in song, Streifel-Reller has a new fondness for pickleball, has a daily yoga and meditation practice, utilizes integrative health, is an organic gardener, and has a goal to complete a yoga tree pose in every US National Park.
Today, Streifel-Reller serves on the University of Minnesota Crookston Campus Advisory and Advancement Board (CAAB) and is grateful to have the opportunity to support the overall mission of the campus. She is an empty nester and proud and blessed parent of three adventuresome, career-minded young adults. As a lifelong learner, she takes part in weekly webinars, is studying Theory U by taking classes through MIT’s Presencing Institute, participates in online book studies, is focusing on building her listening skills, learning conscious business approaches, and practices daily gratitude. One of Streifel-Reller’s mottos is, “It’s a big world, small world.” Networking and establishing positive connections with others allows for future reconnections that may lead to personal or professional opportunity. For example, fellow alumna Kimberly Clark 1983 was a friend she met in Crookston and has been a high school teacher for all three of her children, and now they serve on CAAB together. Overall, Streifel-Reller has been on a journey of personal transformation from the moment she stepped foot on UMN Crookston’s campus.
Written for the Spring 2021 Torchlight e-Newsletter.