CROOKSTON – After a 20-year career at the University of Minnesota Crookston that opened doors to a world of opportunity, Elizabeth Tollefson is embarking on a new journey.

Tollefson, university relations director of communications, retired earlier this month after working for UMC since 1999. During her time at UMC, Tollefson worked in the college library, for the UMC Alumni Association and in university relations. Tollefson attended classes during the first two years she worked at the university, earning a degree in scientific and technical communication in 2002.

She started as a part-timer in the library and alumni office. When she graduated, the university offered her a full-time position. She worked in the alumni office until 2006, when she moved to university relations.

During Tollefson’s two decades with the university, the most rewarding experiences have been spending time with, and mentoring, students, she said.

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“The opportunity to go back to school was a game-changer. Going to class with students, getting to know them, has been a highlight of my career,“ she said.

Attending class with the students broadened Tollefson’s worldview and made her realize people can have a wide diversity of opinion and still get along. Her positive classroom experiences made it easy to promote UMC when she became an employee, she said.

“I felt valued in the classroom. It was a remarkable experience for me. It was not only a game-changer, it was a life-changer," Tollefson said.

During her years working for UMC, Tollefson received help not only from her colleagues on campus, but also from mentors at UND, where she got a master’s degree in educational leadership, and from the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis. She said those unexpected twists and turns, along with opportunity to network, had a positive impact on her career.

As a supervisor, Tollefson’s aim was to give the student interns who worked for her at UMC the same positive experiences she had been afforded.

“This place changes lives every day,” she said.

Tollefson’s loyalty to UMC is obvious, said Rose Ulseth, who works for UMC Alumni Relations

“She has such a love of UMC, it’s contagious,” Ulseth said. Tollefson’s passion for the university and her respect for its staff, students and co-workers made her a joy to work with, she said.

"She's a person who I've always looked up to because of her professionalism, how she can handle different situations," she said.

In 2018, Tollefson received the Most Supportive of UMC Students Award, evidence of her dedication to the student body, Ulseth said.

Maggie Mills, a former UMC student Tollefson hired to be social media manager at UMC, calls Tollefson “the ultimate mentor." Mills hopes to be the same person for the students who will work for her.

Working for Tollefson taught Cassandra Morthera, UMC media relations specialist, how to navigate the communications world with grace, tact and professionalism, Morthera said. Meanwhile, Tollefson invited Morthera and Mills to events so they could see first-hand how to handle the job, Morthera said.

Like Mills, Morthera hopes to mentor students the same way Tollefson mentored them, she said.

“If we can do what she did for us, it would be amazing,” Morthera said.

Tollefson will miss her UMC job and coworkers, but is looking forward to spending more time with the two youngsters closest to her: granddaughter Elizabeth, 9, and grandson Magnus, 6. They live in Ohio.

Tollefson’s work schedule has kept her from attending her granddaughter’s school programs, which often fell during busy times in the UMC semester. But now she won't be constrained by a calendar or work obligations.

“I want to sit in the audience and enjoy them,” Tollefson said.