Hamline News


Legacy of leadership

Whether just beginning their careers or capping a lifetime of achievement, Hamline grads succeed and lead in countless ways 

By Julie Kendrick



Owner, Cake Plus-Size Resale
Majors: German and global studies
Age: 31
Hometown: LaCrescent

Her story is a modern twist on the traditional retailing blueprint for success. For Cat Polivoda, it’s a journey that’s allowed her to be creative and strategic while staying true to her values.

Polivoda’s clothing shop operated online for three years before she completed a successful crowdfunding campaign, secured loans, and moved to a brick-and-mortar location in South Minneapolis. 

“It’s a joy to create a space where plus-size shoppers are seen and valued,” said Polivoda, who describes herself as a “shop owner, consultant, and woman on a mission.”

Cat Polivoda Image 2

Her entrepreneurial advice? “Have a plan! Your plan can grow, modify, pivot, or be tweaked, but you’re infinitely more well-positioned for success if you have one.”

How are you using your leadership skills day to day as an entrepreneur?

Every job I’ve ever worked at, I have gone above and beyond, given more than I needed to, kept my mind busy with ways the company could improve, and taken on projects outside the scope of my role because they were a fun challenge.

At some point, I decided that I’d rather take that energy and put it toward my own business that’s aligned with my values.

What challenges are you encountering at the start of your career? How did Hamline help prepare you?

I’ve had to learn a lot of business skills as I’ve gone. Some things have come very naturally to me. Others I’ve had to work at and have had to find resources to support me.

My time at Hamline helped me become more creative, inquisitive, critical, and strategic. Plus, I had the opportunity to practice all of those things through work and leadership positions while I was a student.


Maykao Hang DPA ’14

President and CEO, Amherst H. Wilder Foundation
Age: 46
Hometown: Saint Paul

MayKao Hang took on her current leadership role at Amherst H. Wilder Foundation—which has more than 450 employees and an annual budget of nearly $50 million—while still a student in Hamline’s Doctorate of Public Administration program.

“My first year on the job, the organization was in the midst of a big transition,” she said. “I needed to help set a vision for where we would go in the next three to five years, downsize by 15 percent, and complete the comprehensive exam.

Maykao Image

“As challenging as it was to be on those parallel tracks,” she added, “I found synergy between what I was learning and where I was leading. My academic experience gave me a window into how to provide leadership in a community context. I was able to use what I was learning about serving people in the community and making new things happen in intensely practical ways.”

As you look back on your career, what would you have done differently?

I would have asked for help earlier and used my own judgment to make decisions earlier too. Now, when I find myself wading into waters I don’t fully understand, I gather those far smarter and wiser than I am for advice.

As a naturally reserved person, I’ve learned to push out of my comfort zone to socialize more in groups. That was one of my biggest professional hurdles my first few years at Wilder—to be visible and to be social to so many people wanting to get to know me. In an externally facing role, the expectations for social engagement are numerous. I should have done it more and earlier to build relationships sooner.

How have you effected change in your community and/or workplace?

I’ve worked hard to not be in an echo chamber of my own ideas, to listen deeply to different perspectives, and to be a resource for people and the community to succeed on their own terms. I’ve worked to create a purpose-driven and effective organization, which means more diverse teams, collaboration, and a culture of cross-disciplinary learning. If we see problems from just one perspective, it limits our solutions.

I also helped start the Coalition of Asian American Leaders (CAAL), recognizing that, though Asian Americans are one of the fastest growing demographics in the state of Minnesota, this emergent and powerful force was largely invisible on education, workforce, leadership, or any policy issues. CAAL is in its fourth year with about 2,000 leaders.


Joel Oberstar ’97

Executive vice president, PrairieCare
Majors: English and biology
Age: 43
Hometown: Chisolm

Finding a community need and working to fill it—that’s a common life experience for many Hamline graduates. Child psychiatrist Joel Oberstar has directed his career in response to a lack of sufficient mental health resources for children and adolescents.

Joel oberstar image

After six years as CEO of PrairieCare, a physician-owned and -led provider of mental health services for youth and family, he’s taken on a new role overseeing a collaboration between PrairieCare and Bay Area Clinical Associates (BACA), splitting his time between Minnesota and California.

“I learned so much about leadership at Hamline by working on The Oracle and serving on student government and advising faculty committees,” he said. “I saw different leadership styles in action, and I learned to admire those who were leading toward consensus but who also understood when it was time for a decision.”

How have you effected change in your community and/or workplace?

Beyond helping patients and their families overcome psychiatric illnesses, I hope I’ve been successful in helping combat stigma related to mental illnesses.


Katie Mattis Sarver ’98

Vice president of partnership sales and activation, Minnesota United FC
Major: communications studies
Age: 42
Hometown: Anoka

Katie Mattis Sarver’s student work in Hamline's Communications Office gave her early opportunities to engage diverse communities.

For professional soccer team Minnesota United FC, she’s built on her undergraduate experiences to reach even larger audiences.


Sarver has moved up the ladder of leadership for a number of professional sports teams, including the Timberwolves, the Lynx, and Real Salt Lake soccer club.

In that last position, she opened the team's new stadium, a career highlight she'll be replicating when Minnesota United begins playing at Allianz Field in spring 2019.

Sarver and her team are already working to integrate with the neighborhood in an authentic way.

"To be opening a mile down the road from Hamline means something special to me," she said. "I'm excited to see how we can become a hub for the community."

What career advice would you offer for those just starting out?

Be humble, be honest, and—most importantly—don't be afraid to be who you really are.


Tom Van Horn ’68

Major: economics
Age: 72
Hometown: South Saint Paul

When students are surrounded by people who want them to succeed, they’re setting a strong foundation for future leadership. That was the experience of attorney Tom Van Horn during his years at Hamline.

“Because my professors cared about me, they provided knowledge, encouraged me to work hard, and taught me how to succeed,” he said.

Tom Van Horn

After graduating from law school, Van Horn went on to become head of the Criminal Division in the Dakota County Attorney’s Office and special metropolitan prosecutor for the seven-county metropolitan area. He has successfully handled more than 50 cases in which an innocent person was killed by the negligence or intentional acts of another.

Van Horn’s leadership philosophy is simple and direct: “I always saw my job as a search for the truth with an emphasis on fairness.”

What advice would you share specifically as it relates to leadership?

You will make mistakes—count on it. If you make a mistake, don’t be afraid to admit you were wrong.


David Kaplan ’82

Major: English
Age: 57
Hometown: Skokie, Illinois

Dubbed “the sports media king of Chicago” by the Chicago Sun Times, David Kaplan has built an impressive career. He hosts daily radio and television shows on ESPN and NBC Sports Chicago as well as Chicago Cubs pregame and postgame shows, and he provides basketball coverage for NBC Sports.

David KaplanKaplan describes his management style as “boiler room, not top-down,” and he encourages everyone on his staff to present him with their best thinking.

“I understand that people have different work styles, and I try to manage to that to help them do their best,” he said.

What advice would you share specifically as it relates to leadership?

Never ask someone on your team to do something you wouldn’t do yourself. And, if you want to enjoy life and be successful, the single most important thing is finding what it is you’re passionate about and then not giving up on it. It takes guts to chase a dream.

In your experience, how is leadership best developed?

Expect greatness out of everyone and see who exhibits the leadership qualities you seek in your company.