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Alumni Spotlight

Jill Doerfler and Tribal Citizenship

The French Connection

{La Filière Française}

Mikki Atsatt ’80, Marlys Dewor ’81, and Gabriela Gold ’81 all took French classes at UMD. They were cabin-mates at a French language immersion weekend, and Dewor and Atsatt went to Paris together for a summer. In 2010, all three contributed to a scholarship in honor of their French teacher, Associate Professor Milan Kovacovic.

“Milan opened the world to me,” said Dewor. When she says the world, she means it. Dewor’s title is Supervisory International Program Specialist for the U.S. Army. She has been stationed in Europe for 20 years and now lives in Heidelberg, Germany, managing the budget and personnel for G3, International Operations Division, United States Army, Europe. She has also served as the Chief of Treaty Compliance Branch with responsibility for implementing arms control treaties for the U.S. Army in Europe.

Like Dewor, Gold and Atsatt have successful careers. Gabriela Gold, who came to UMD from Bogotá, Colombia, is a senior management consultant at World Bank Group. She is currently working “on loan” with the Food and Agriculture Organization at the United Nations in Rome, Italy.

Jill Doerfler and Tribal Citizenship

Mikki Atsatt is the Deputy Director of the Budget Staff, Justice Management Division, U.S. Department of Justice and works in Washington, D.C. “Mikki inspired me to go into a career in government affairs,” said Dewor. Both Dewor and Atstatt studied at the University of Minnesota Humphrey Institute of Public Affairs.

“Milan is one of those people who in his own quiet way makes an indelible impression on people,” said Atsatt. “He has intellectual curiosity, and he encouraged his students to question assumptions and expand their horizons.”

Dewor agreed. “I came to UMD from a small town in Minnesota,” she said. “Milan had tremendous impact on me because he was, among other things, culturally sophisticated and worked to make it possible for his students to have various cultural experiences by bringing over musicians like Jacques Yvart and Eric Vincent. He was also politically attuned and historically knowledgeable and brought that into the classroom. Since I had hardly ever traveled out of the state before, just being involved on a day-to-day basis with foreign languages and cultures as well as literature, history, and politics was a real eye-opener for me.”

One weekend retreat remains memorable to these UMD alumnae. On the first weekend of May, the intermediate French class stayed in cabins in northern Minnesota and spoke only French. “That year it snowed in May, and there wasn’t any heat,” said Dewor. “We still had a great time. We have a picture of Milan pretending to be Toulouse Lautrec.” Atsatt remembers making coq au vin: a chicken dish made with bacon, onions, and mushrooms.
“In 1980, Mikki, some others, and I went to Paris for three months,” Dewor said. “We traveled to France with Milan and his family.” That year, the University of Minnesota chose France as one of the countries for its summer international learning project, Student Project for Amity Among Nations (SPAN). “Milan got all of the information for us and encouraged us to apply,” Dewor said.

“We did a lot together,” said Atsatt. “Once a month, Milan would pile us into his car and drive us down to the Minneapolis campus for the SPAN meetings, and once a week we would join the students and others who spoke French for lunch at the French Table.”

Dewor graduated from UMD with a major in French. At the end of her senior year, Kovacovic found another opportunity for Dewor. “He walked into the College of Letters and Science Dean’s office, where I worked, and handed me an application form,” said Dewor. It was a Fulbright Scholarship opportunity to teach English at a French high school for a year. “I sent it in, and I could hardly believe it when I got the scholarship. I taught for a year in Le Mans, France,” she said.

Dewor returned to Minnesota and earned her master’s degree in public administration. She went on to work with the Department of Defense, Office of the Inspector General in Washington, D.C. before taking an arms control specialist position with the U.S. Army, Europe in Heidelberg. Dewor has coordinated the U.S. delegation’s participation in the annual International Military Pilgrimage to Lourdes, France for the past 15 years. Dewor’s commitment to getting wounded military personnel to Lourdes for spiritual healing and reflection was recognized in 2001, when she was appointed a “Dame of the Order of Saint Gregory the Great” by Pope John Paul II.

Dewor is also committed to helping students at UMD. “All three of us, Gabby, Mikki, and I, were interested in doing something for UMD and when Adam Meyer [development officer for the College of Liberal Arts] suggested the scholarship in honor of Professor Milan Kovacovic, it was perfect,” said Dewor. “We named it Friends of Milan Kovacovic Scholarship Fund in French Studies.”

Atsatt recently heard a poem by Emily Dickinson, “The Props Assist the House,” and “it made me think of what Milan did for us,” she said. “The poem is about how scaffolding goes up while a house is being built, and the structure relies on that scaffolding. But when the house is done, it stands strong alone. That is what Milan did. We are better because of him.”

“Milan cared about his students,” Dewor said. “He would single me out to suggest a book for me to read. I credit him with teaching me about other cultures. He opened up a community of intellectual life I never knew existed. Milan changed all our lives.”

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Photos from a French immersion weekend in a northwoods cabin, (t-b) Marlys Dewor, Gabriela Gold, and Mikki Atsatt.

Here they are Today:

Dean Sue Maher and Mikki in Washington D.C. Dean Sue Maher and Mikki in Washington D.C.

Marlys visitng Gabriela in rome Marlys Visiting Gabriela in Rome

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